The Sprint Compass 597 offers fair performance in good coverage areas, but it's limited by an inconsistent signal and awful data speeds in poor coverage areas. At $49.99 (with a two-year contract and rebates), it's more expensive than comparable USB broadband modems on other carriers, but this device's fast Web page load times make it one for Sprint customers to consider.
The Compass 597 has a more obnoxious light than the Verizon Wireless KPC680 ExpressCard: it's large, bright, and flashes yellow. It was an embarrassment to use--especially on a darkened train during a morning commute. You can add a microSD Card to use the device as storage, or add your own antenna to boost performance, although we didn't use one on our tests. The software installs off the device itself, so an installation CD isn't required.
Indoors in a New York City conference room on the 21st floor of an office building, the Compass 597 delivered average download and upload speeds. It was able to download a 25MB file in 4:16 (785 Kbps) and upload it in 9:31 (352 Kbps), the fastest among USB modems, and second only to the Verizon Wireless KPC680 (804 Kbps) among broadband cards we've recently reviewed. When uploading the file, the Compass 597 was outpaced by both the AT&T USBConnect Mercury (1.1 Mbps) and the KPC680 (537 Kbps). Web sites loaded pretty quickly, though. CNN.com, NYTimes.com, and ESPN.com loaded in 15, 13, and 20 seconds, respectively. The only faster card for loading Web sites was the Sprint Merlin EX720 ExpressCard.
Like the Sprint Merlin EX720, the Compass 597 performed terribly in Penn Station, the location we use to challenge modem performance in patchier environments. The Compass 597 had a fluctuating 40 to 80 percent signal most of the time, rarely registering full EV-DO signal. However, even in those instances, after connecting the modem would revert back to the much slower CDMA 1RXTT technology. When we tried downloading and uploading our 25MB file, it was so slow that it timed out after 40 seconds. The Compass 597's average download speed of 8.36 Kbps and upload speed of 128 Kbps were the worst of all broadband cards we've reviewed recently. We watched the grass grow while CNN.com loaded in 1:31, ESPN.com in 2:05, and NYTimes.com loaded in 2:05.
In Long Beach, Long Island, the Compass 597 downloaded the 25MB FTP file at a rate of 960 Kbps, which was the fastest among USB modems, but slower than both the Sprint Merlin EX720 (1.2 Mbps) and the AT&T Option GT Ultra Express (1 Mbps). It uploaded the file in 4 minutes and 20 seconds, a rate of 772 Kbps, which was slower than the AT&T USBConnect Mercury, which uploaded the file at 1.5 Mbps. In this location, Web site load times were excellent: 13 seconds for CNN.com, 16 seconds for ESPN.com, and 15 seconds for NYTimes.com.
The Sprint Compass 597 is a decent USB card for its $49.99 price tag, and its Web site speeds were generally faster than other broadband modem cards we've reviewed recently. If you're on Sprint, this is the card to go with over the Merlin EX720, but we wouldn't recommend it over cheaper cards on other carriers that perform better in more places.