A mobile broadband card jutting out from the side of your laptop isn't that attractive, but if your notebook doesn't have a PC Card or ExpressCard slot, take a good look at the Verizon Wireless UM150. Although it's on the bulky side, this USB modem's good throughput and built-in microSD Card slot, which allows it to double as a flash drive, make it a versatile mobile companion.
UM150 USB Modem Design
At 3.6 x 1.5 x 0.7 inches and 1.6 ounces, the rectangular UM150 is reasonably portable but large compared with the sleeker $149 Verizon Wireless USB727 Modem (2.8 x 1.0 x 0.5 inches and 1.1 ounces). Since the black modem stands upright when its rotatable USB port is plugged into a notebook, keeping it plugged into your system while your notebook is in your bag--as you would with an ExpressCard or PC Card--isn't advisable. On the plus side, we had no problems plugging the UM150 into the ultra-thin MacBook Air.
On the face of the card are four blue lights indicating signal strength. Two other small red and green LEDs indicate whether the unit is powered and if a card has been inserted. A built-in, flimsy retractable antenna is located on the top. A slot on the side accepts microSD Cards and turns the device into a flash drive. We took advantage of the UM150's microSD slot by transferring photos from one laptop to another.
Setup and Ease of Use
Installing the UM150 on an HP Pavilion dv6500 was simple with the included VZAccess Manager CD-ROM. We connected to Verizon Wireless' EV-DO Rev. A network via the VZAccess Manager, and the bottom rightof the window displayed our connection signal and our network. The interface was easy to use and contains more tools than Sprint's mobile broadband portal. 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 manually enter the URL.
We tested the USB modem's connectivity in a few locations around Manhattan by downloading a 5.7MB file from an FTP server to our notebook and uploading a 990K ZIP file to the same FTP site. In a deli where the Rev. A signal strength was excellent, downloading the file took just under a minute (at 791 Kbps), and uploading took between 26 and 33 seconds (282 Kbps to 304 Kbps). These speeds are better than what the Kyocera KPC680 Express Card turned in at the same location within the same half hour.
The UM150's downlink performance in a 21st-floor conference room was nearly as fast, offering 778 Kbps downlink speeds for the same 5.7MB file. The Kyocera card was just behind with a throughput of 718 Kbps. The UM150's uplink performance (377 Kbps versus 316 Kbps) was also better.
On the basement level of New York's Penn Station, where signal strength was poor (just one bar of service), we had difficulty connecting to the network; it got stuck on the authenticating step for more than 2 minutes, and downloading our 5.7MB file took an average of 7 minutes (111 Kbps). In this location the Kyocera KPC680 offered slightly better performance (121 Kbps downlink).
During a train ride to New Jersey, browsing was mostly smooth but choppy when we went under overpasses. Under a bridge, we lost the signal completely but were able to reconnect in less than a minute.
In general we prefer the KPC680 ExpressCard because it costs $30 less and fits into an ExpressCard/34 slot, which is a sleeker solution for mobile users. However, the UM150 is a good choice for notebook owners who want a little more throughput and the option of using their USB modem as a flash drive. We just wish it were a little more compact.