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Novatel U727 & CradlePoint CTR350 First Impressions

The package arrived today.

The Novatel U727 EVDO Rev.A USB modem, 1 GB microSD card,  and the CradlePoint CTR350 EVDO Router.

Both the modem and router are fairly small.  The router is even more surprising since it’s just a bit wider than a deck of cards.

Modem

The U727 came preactivated with Sprint Broadband from evdoinfo.com.  I installed the Sprint Mobile Broadband dialer and drivers into my Samsung Q1 with the included CD.  It gave a message to update the software but I was able to connect right away.  I slide in the 1GB microSD card into the U727 and copied the software and drivers from the included CD on to it.  The CD came with Mac drivers as well so having the software stuck in the modem’s microSD card may be handy in case I need to connect with other computers.  You can use up to a 4GB card in the U727.

Although it’s around the size of a thumbdrive, it does stick out quite a bit from the Q1.  It comes with a rubber cradle and small USB extension cord that’s designed to attach the modem to an LCD screen.  Unfortunately, the Q1 has so much depth, the cradle won’t attach easily.  I imagine I’ll use velcro or just plug the modem into the router when I need to get connected with the Q1.

Battery drain isn’t too bad.  With WiFi and Bluetooth off, NHC was showing the Q1’s battery drain was around -12W to -14W.  I’m imagining an average 1W drain from the modem but can probably peak to 5W.

The GPS seemed to work when using it with Sprint’s dialer.  It comes with a Location and Search Services feature for searching nearby point of interests, like the nearest restaurant.  After submitting a search, the results are brought up on a Sprint web page with a Microsoft Virtual Earth map showing where you are and icons displaying the search results.

 

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I couldn’t get iGuidance GPS navigation software to find the GPS receiver though.  I will try again later.  I’m assuming it should work since a GPS COM port is showing up in the device manager.

 

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Router

There’s not much to this router.  On the face, there’s 4 LED indicators.  Power, WLAN, WAN, and USB.

On the left side, there’s a single USB port.

On the right side, there’s a reset button, ethernet jack, and power.  The ethernet jack is only used for WAN connections for connecting to a DSL modem or a hotel network jack as another means to a source connection.   It cannot be used to share the USB EVDO connection to, let’s say, a desktop with an ethernet jack.

The package contains a sheet of instructions on how to update the firmware and a CD with the actual firmware.  It was suppose to come shipped with the latest firmware but it wasn’t.  Mine was installed with 1.4 and when plugging  the U727 into the router, nothing happened.

After updating the firmware to 1.6 through the web admin interface, it recognized the modem right away and started working.

It’s really that simple.  Just plug the USB modem into the router and it connects right away.  The router even allows hot swapping.  I can insert or unplug the U727 without restarting the router.

It comes with the default setting of entering a password to get online.  So anyone can’t hop on your network from the get go.  When you first connect, you are redirected to the router’s interface, similar to connecting to hotel or T-Mobile’s WiFi network.   You can however change to using WEP or other forms of security instead of using the web password form.

There are many options in the admin screen.  It’s definitely a full featured router which can easily run your home wireless network.  One thing it doesn’t show is the signal strength of the USB modem.

 

Battery Powered!

Luckily, one of the tips that comes included with the Tekkeon MP3400 battery fits into the router.  Since the router only uses 5V, it will last a very, very long while time while connected to the Tekkeon.  If it can power my Q1 for 3 hours, then there’s nothing to worry about in the battery life department.

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WiFi Devices

I pulled out other WiFi gadgets to see if they could connect.  But first I set the wireless security of the router to use WEP since not all of my devices have a web browser to type in a password.  All the devices connected to the network with ease.

iPhone –  Browsing was fast.  I could connect to the iTunes WiFi Music Store.  The music previews wouldn’t play for some reason.  I bought a song and it downloaded fine.

PSP – Browsed web sites fine.  Left a tweet.  Didn’t try multiplayer games.

Sansa Connect – Connected and streamed LaunchCast radio fine.  Didn’t try downloading tracks but I assumed it would work.

Speed Test

Test Setup

Samsung Q1 900Mhz Celeron 2GB Windows XP Tablet Edition.

These tests are with the U727 directly connected to the Samsung Q1’s USB port using the Sprint Mobile Broadband dialer.

Tests

In my house.  The signal strength isn’t all that great.  I’m getting -88dBm for EVDO.

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The speed is a lot faster than EDGE though.  Here’s two speed tests (below).  I’ll probably expect that range in my area.  Hopefully higher when I go outside and close to a tower.

I tested downloading a file from download.com (below).  I could live with this.

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Connected through router

Here’s some tests with the U727 plugged into the EVDO router which was then plugged into the Tekkeon MP3400 battery.

 

Not sure why the difference but it fluctuates a lot.

I’ll do more tests in a better location and compare the results.  Pages certainly come up fast so this is working out alright.  With EVDO Rev.A I should be able to get around 1.2Mbps in a good area.  My town isn’t particularly great in terms of high speed.  DSL and cable is slow and there’s no HSDPA coverage.  So I’m probably going to expect normal EVDO speeds here.

Conclusion

Hey it works.  I have a portable WiFi network that’s powered with an external battery in a compact package.  How freaking awesome is that?

I will continue to post my thoughts as I use this set up.

The modem sticking out does concern me when I want to connect quickly.  It seems plugging it into the router, then plugging the router into the battery pack is a lot faster solution though. When sticking the modem straight into a device, it first has be recognized by the computer, you then have turn off WiFi, and finally launch the Sprint dialer to get online.

Either way, it’s still a pretty darn convenient and fast way to get connected, with almost any device.