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Hands-on with the FreedomPop Overdrive Pro

It has potential, but Sprint's spotty coverage means it won't hit a home run for all users.

The FreedomPop Overdrive Pro is a mobile 3G/4G hot spot that includes 500MB of free data per month.
The FreedomPop Overdrive Pro is a mobile 3G/4G hotspot that includes 500MB of free data per month.

About two weeks ago, wireless Internet provider FreedomPop introduced the Overdrive Pro, a Sprint-powered 3G/4G mobile hot spot with a tantalizing price tag: $39.99 for the hardware, 500MB of data per month absolutely free, and low rates on additional data.

FreedomPop's previous products all relied solely on Clearwire's WiMAX network, which left users like me (who live where there's no coverage) out in the cold. But the Overdrive Pro changes that, and so I was excited to test-drive one.

Which I've been doing for the past few days. The good news is the Sierra Wireless-made Overdrive Pro is a solid piece of hardware, with a roomy, color status display, a microSD slot for wireless storage access, solid battery life (around four hours), and, as noted, support for both 3G and 4G connectivity.

The bad news: in my neck of the woods (metro Detroit), Sprint's 3G coverage is pretty dismal -- and 4G is nonexistent. On the main floor of my house, I barely get a connection. Contrast that with the AT&T service on my phone: I get 3-4 bars in my basement.

Now, I can't really fault FreedomPop for this. I've tried other Sprint-powered mobile hot spots and they've all delivered similarly poor performance. The sad fact is that Sprint coverage just isn't very good where I live.

That's why I'm glad I'm not paying $40-$50 per month for two years as part of a hot-spot contract. Rather, I'm keeping the Overdrive Pro for when I travel, for those times when there's no Wi-Fi available. Even if I get a similarly slow connection elsewhere, it'll be better than no connection. (I'll be doing some additional out-and-about testing in the coming weeks, including a trip to California, so stay tuned for updates.)

Once I burn through my free 500MB, I'm on the hook for just 2 cents per megabyte -- or, if I anticipate heavier usage, I can switch to the 2GB/month Premium plan, which costs $19.99. Those are some decidedly competitive rates.

Even so, I must admit to being disappointed the Overdrive Pro didn't fare better in my house. I'd like to have a pinch hitter for those times when Comcast is down, but until Sprint rolls out 4G in these parts, this isn't it. Until then, I'm jazzed to take this out on the road and see how it performs. In the meantime, let me know if you've had a chance to try the hot spot yet, and, if so, how (and where) it worked.