Kyocera’s sleek KPC680 ExpressCard ($50 with two-year contract and online discount) is a smart choice for business travelers looking to get work done on the go. It connects the latest laptops to Verizon Wireless’ high-speed EV-DO Rev. A broadband network, and it delivers significantly better performance (especially on the upload) than its closest competitor. Those sick of dealing with Wi-Fi hotspots will be happy with this device, and you can take your pick from two pricing plans: $59.99 per month for 5GB of data and $39.99 per month for 50MB.
The KPC680 is a slim, light card that slips easily into a notebook’s ExpressCard/34 slot (a PC Card adapter is available for systems with that slot). A dual-colored LED light on the exterior indicates connection status; a blinking blue light let us know that we were connected to the broadband network. The corkscrew antenna on the side of the card swings away from the device to improve reception and sensitivity, but it felt flimsy; we were fearful that it might snap off.
Installing the KPC680 was simple using the included VZAccess Manager CD-ROM. We connected to the broadband network via the VZAccess Manager, and the bottom right of the window displayed our connection signal and the network (EV-DO, 1XRTT, etc). The interface was easy to use and contains more tools than Sprint’s mobile broadband cards. Shortcuts to Verizon’s text-messaging service and our default e-mail program increased productivity by letting us skip the step of having to launch our Web browser and enter the URL.
We tested the KPC680 in a few locations around Manhattan by downloading a 7.2MB file from an FTP server to our notebook and uploading a 991K file to the same FTP site. Not surprisingly, where signal strength was good in a Starbucks, downloading the file took just under 2 minutes (at 505 Kbps), and uploading took between 24 and 36 seconds (220 to 330 Kbps).
When we moved to a deli a few blocks downtown and sat near a window, downloading the file took under a minute and a half at 696 Kbps and upload upload performance was 232 Kbps. At that same location we tested the Novatel v740 from Verizon Wireless, the only other card in the carrier’s lineup that fits into a notebook’s ExpressCard slot. Download speeds were moderately slower, at 662 Kbps but upload speeds were dramatically lower, at 95 Kbps. That’s pretty surprising given that the Novatel card costs $130, versus only $50 for the Kyocera.
We also had no problems browsing sites with the Kyocera KPC680 in a conference room in a New York City high-rise (NYTimes.com took 4 seconds to load), listening to streaming music via Pandora, and reading our e-mail. At the deli we had no problem making clear Skype calls. Browsing was also smooth during a 35-minute train ride to Long Island, and we rarely lost a signal on our trip. We were able to browse our favorite blogs and instant message through Google Talk without a hiccup.
Where signal strength was marginal to poor, however, such as the concourse level of New York’s Penn Station, we had serious difficulty connecting to Verizon’s network; the KPC680 got stuck on the authenticating step for a minute. Once we were finally connected, we were able to access our Gmail, but waiting for the NYTimes.com main page was reminiscent of dialup days. It took us an average of 8 minutes (121 Kbps) to download and 1 minute and 50 seconds (72 Kbps) to upload our files. In these situations, Verizon Wireless’ network is typically stronger with notebooks that have integrated mobile broadband.
Kyocera KPC680 ExpressCard Verdict
If your notebook has an ExpressCard slot, the KPC680 is the best way to go for Verizon customers. For only $50, you get an accessory that delivers a true broadband experience practically anywhere you roam, and the new $39.99 monthly access plan makes this card that much more attractive to road warriors on a budget.
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