Sprint Overdrive Mobile Hotspot Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Unlimited 4G plan ; Good speeds and backward compatibility ; Informative display ; Doubles as file server

The Cons

Slow to start up ; Short battery life ; Runs hot Bulky

Verdict

This mobile hotspot combines the speed of 4G with the dependability of 3G, but battery life is short and temperatures run hot.

The Overdrive is not just another hotspot that fits in your pocket. It delivers high-speed Mobile WiMAX 4G service (where available; 27 markets and counting) and 3G everywhere else. It's like a MiFi with a speed boost, plus a small LCD tells you when you're in 4G range. This clever $99 dual-mode device creates a Wi-Fi network that can support up to five devices at once which, according to Sprint, could easily include the data-starved iPhone. Throw in a memory card slot for shared storage, and you have all the makings of a compelling device. However, flaws such as short battery life, hot temperatures, and slow start times diminish this gadget's appeal.

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Plan and Coverage

To use the Overdrive, you must purchase Sprint's 3G/4G Mobile Broadband Connection Plan. For $59.99 per month, you get unlimited bandwidth in 4G coverage areas and a maximum of 5GB in 3G areas. If you exceed the 5GB limit on 3G bandwidth, you'll be hit with an overage charge of 5 cents per MB.

Design

At 3.1 x 3.1 x 0.6 inches and 4.5 ounces, the Overdrive is quite bulky for a mobile hotspot. The 3G-only Novatel MiFi 2200 weighs in at only 2.1 ounces with a much slimmer profile of 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.4 inches (Verizon's MiFi device, also by Novatel, is similar in size and weight).

Unlike the MiFi units, the Overdrive is too large to fit into most shirt or pants pockets. If you're in a cramped space like an airport, you'll likely have to put this device in your notebook bag, balance it on your lap, or put it in the seat next to you.

Heat

Of course, you wouldn't want to put the Overdrive on your lap or in your pocket, anyway. During our surfing test, the bottom of the unit reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and the top was an even hotter 107 degrees.

Display

One of the most innovative features of the Overdrive is its large LCD. Unlike the MiFi devices, which only have a status light to tell you whether they're connected, the Overdrive's large display panel shows the connection status, remaining battery life, elapsed minutes of connectivity, and signal strength. The display also reveals the Overdrive's password and SSID, just in case you forget them.

Boot Time

Given its brief battery life (more on that below), you'll want to conserve power by turning the Overdrive off when not in use. However, the device takes longer to boot than all but the slowest notebooks. In our tests, the Overdrive took 1 minute and 28 seconds to go from power off to a working 3G connection.

4G Performance

To test the Overdrive's 4G performance, we traveled to the Philadelphia metro area, which is lit up with Mobile WiMAX. We tested the Overdrive in four locations: near the window at the Liberty Plaza food court in downtown Philadelphia, more than 100 feet away from the window at the Liberty Plaza food court, a house in Cherry Hill, NJ, and on platform 3 at Philadelphia's 30th St. station.

In addition to the Overdrive, we tested the Clear 4G Mobile USB modem, which operates on the same 4G network, and the T-Mobile webConnect Rocket, which uses T-Mobile's new HSPA+ 3G service. To get a baseline, we also tested the 3G-only Sprint MiFi 2200 in a couple of locations.

In each location, we ran a bevy of upload and download speed tests. To get a baseline number, we visited Speedtest.net, a popular benchmark site. Next, we visited the home pages of three popular sites (NYTimes.com, CNN.com, and ESPN.com) three times each and took the average of the two fastest load times. We then used FTP to upload a 5MB file and download a 50MB file. Finally, we streamed 360p and 720p videos from YouTube and used Flash 10.1's logging system to measure the frame rates.

Location #1: Living Room in Cherry Hill, NJ

Test

MiFi 2200 (3G)

Overdrive (4G)

Clear 4G

webConnect Rocket

Speedtest.net Upload/Download

0.4/0.6 Mbps

0.7/3.4 Mbps

0.9/4.4 Mbps

0.7/0.8 Mbps

Website Load Time (sec)

17.3

12.1

12.2

15

FTP 5MB Upload (min:sec)

1:15

0:55

0:48

1:17

FTP 50MB Download (min:sec)

10:22

2:51

2:11

11:40

YouTube 360p/720p

30/14 fps

30/22 fps

31/22 fps

30/13 fps


In this location, we were able to compare the Overdrive not only to the Clear 4G Mobile USB modem, which uses the same WiMAX network, but to two different 3G devices. In addition to the 3G-only MiFi 2200, we noted that the T-Mobile webConnect Rocket, while capable of HSPA+ speeds, operated at only standard 3G speeds outside of the Philadelphia city limits.

In this location, the Overdrive illustrated why we can't wait for 4G to blanket the entire country, as its upload speeds were as much as twice as fast than 3G, and its download speeds were up to six times faster. The Clear 4G Mobile USB modem was a little bit faster, but that device only accommodates one user.

Even the fastest device was not fast enough to stream a 720p video from YouTube without constant stuttering and buffering. So if you want to stream high def movies, be prepared to hit the pause button and wait a couple of minutes for the content to download before you start viewing.

Location #2: Near window in Liberty Place Food Court, Philadelphia

Test

Overdrive (4G)

Clear 4G

webConnect Rocket

Speedtest.net Upload/Download

0.8/2.3Mbps

1.1/3.2 Mbps

1.3/4.5Mbps

Website Load Time (sec)

12.7

13

10.1

FTP 5MB Upload (min:sec)

0:51

0:48

0:35

FTP 50MB Download (min:sec)

4:14

2:51

1:35

YouTube 360p/720p

29/9fps

30/11fps

30/24 fps


Signal strength was very good close to this window in downtown Philadelphia, but the Overdrive, while impressive, was a bit slower than its competitors on all tests. Now that we were within T-Mobile's HSPA+ coverage area, the webConnect Rocket outperformed both WiMAX devices.

Location #3: Far from window at Liberty Place Food Court

Test

Overdrive (4G)

Clear 4G

webConnect Rocket

Speedtest.net Upload/Download

0.02/1.3Mbps

0.03/0.6 Mbps

1.3/2.8Mbps

Website Load Time (sec)

47.5

41.4

11.5

FTP 5MB Upload (min:sec)

Too slow to measure

Too slow to measure

0:36

FTP 50MB Download (min:sec)

Too slow to measure

6:47

6:02

YouTube 360p/720p

30/21fps

31/9fps

Wouldn't play/20fps


Far away from a window, the Overdrive's upload speeds fell to a miniscule 0.02 Mbps, which made it impossible for us to upload a file via FTP.

Location #4: 30th Street Station, Track 3 (underground)

Test

MiFi 2200 (3G)

Overdrive (4G)

Clear 4G

webConnect Rocket

Speedtest.net Upload/Download

0.6/1.5Mbps

0.4/1.5Mbps

0.03/1.4 Mbps

0.03/0.1Mbps

Website Load Time (sec)

13.9

13.4

Too slow to measure

Too slow to measure

FTP 5MB Upload (min:sec)

1:03

1:18

Too slow to measure

Too slow to measure

FTP 50MB Download (min:sec)

6:05

6:14

8:40

Too slow to measure

YouTube 360p/720p

31/18fps

30/17fps

30/17fps

Too slow to measure

In this location, the Overdrive was able to switch into 3G mode and get a solid connection that made it more than adequate for surfing the web, uploading/downloading files, and watching standard-def videos. The Sprint MiFi 2200, operating on the same 3G network, produced similar scores.

3G Performance

To see how the Overdrive performed outside of the 4G-powered Philadelphia area, we did a set of tests in our 3G-only Manhattan apartment, about 15 feet from the window. This time, we did not test against other devices, as we were only interested in what to expect from the Overdrive.

Test

Overdrive (4G)

Speedtest.net Upload/Download

0.3/0.9Mbps

Website Load Time (sec)

20.4

FTP 5MB Upload (min:sec)

1:30

FTP 50MB Download (min:sec)

8:55

YouTube 360p/720p

30/19fps

In this case, speeds were slower than those measured on the train platform in Philadelphia from either the Overdrive or the 3G-only MiFi. However, it was fast enough to surf the web at reasonable speeds and to watch standard-def video. We wouldn't give up our home Internet for it, but it was workable.

Battery Life

Unfortunately, you won't be able to leave the Overdrive sitting in your bag or on the other side of your desk for long before you need to plug it into a USB port for more juice. Using our Wi-Fi surfing test, in which we set a notebook to automatically visit a new web page every 30 seconds, the Overdrive lasted a mere 2 hours and 31 minutes. That's barely long enough for many commuters to go back and forth from work.

Worse still, the Overdrive takes an eternity to charge. The device can get juice either from a power outlet or from your notebook via its USB port. When plugged into an A/C outlet, the device took a couple of hours to reach capacity, but when attached to the USB port on our desktop workstation, we waited well over 5 hours for it to reach 80 percent capacity. Expect to keep the Overdrive plugged into your notebook on longer trips.

Control Panel

Just like your home router, the Sprint Overdrive has an extensive online control panel. When connected to the Overdrive, you can point your browser to http://overdrive and enter an admin password to get to the controls. Once logged in, you can change the Wi-Fi security settings, SSID, password, and more. You can also set the device to 3G- or 4G-only modes.

Tethering

If you plan to keep the Overdrive connected to a single computer, you can connect it via USB and use the control panel to disable Wi-Fi. This allows the device to operate in tethered mode, sending data directly over the USB connection and saving some battery life on your notebook.

Storage and GPS

In addition to offering 3G/4G mobile broadband, the Overdrive can also serve as a file server. A tiny slot inside of the device can hold microSD Cards up to 16GB in capacity. Users connected to the Overdrive can browse, read, and write to the drive by pointing their browsers to \\Overdrive\shared. Settings in the control panel allow you to set permissions for the file sharing. We found that transferring files to and from the Overdrive was fast and painless; it took approximately 42 seconds to copy a 48MB file to the device, and 38 seconds to download the same file back from it.

The Overdrive also has GPS functionality that you can activate from within its control panel. Clicking on the Map Me menu allows you to see where you are on a Google map and get local points of interest like hotels, gas stations, and restaurants. We found this feature less than useful because the Overdrive was unable to get a GPS connection from our office. When in our home, the device mapped us to a location that was more than a mile away.

Verdict

The Overdrive combines the high speed of Sprint's 4G network with the rock solid performance of its 3G service so that you can get online for work and play no matter where you are. Sprint's $59.99 3G/4G combination service is a strong value, but we're less effusive about the Overdrive because of its weak battery life, bulky chassis, slow start time, and hot temperatures. If you can keep the Overdrive charged, you'll really appreciate its high-speed and bonus features like shared storage. However, if you want longer endurance, you may want to consider a 3G/4G USB stick modem like the Sprint U301 (free with contract).

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
VPN Support
Ports microUSB
Supported Protocols 802.11b/g
Security Features
Data Connection WiMax
Data Connection EV-DO Rev. A
Data Connection CDMA
Warranty/Support
Size 3.1 x 3.1 x 0.6 inches
Weight 4.5 ounces
Company Website www.sprint.com