- Editor's Rating
The Sierra Wireless Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot allows you to create your own personal hotspot wherever you are, connecting with up to five devices at once. Sprint currently offers the device for $99.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate with a new two-year service contract.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Overdrive modem is quite small, measuring 3.14 inches square and just 0.61 inches thick. It weighs just 4.5 ounces, and has a small enough footprint that you won’t really notice the extra bulk or weight when you toss it into your gear bag. It’s solidly made and well constructed, and while I wouldn’t abuse it, I see no reason to do much more to protect it than to find it a nice little compartment or zippered pocket in your bag to keep it away from sharp objects.
The corners of the device are angled, which is the only bit of “design” you’ll see on the Overdrive — this is a workhorse sort of product, not a stylish one. It does have a glossy black finish, and it’s a total fingerprint magnet. That shouldn’t bother anyone, because this isn’t something you’ll be looking at all the time — the tiny little screen does show status information, but nothing else.
The battery compartment on the back of the modem is secured with an easy-to-remove cover that fits tightly in place. The charging port is located on the bottom, along with a microSD slot that can serve as shared network storage for all connected users.
The card slot is protected by a permanently attached cover, and is deeply recessed. Unless you have long fingernails, you’ll definitely want to have a letter opener or some similar tool handy, or you’ll be quite frustrated when you try to insert or remove a memory card.
The display is actually under the exterior case of the device, which is nice — there aren’t any seams or recessed corners that will fill with lint. The display is relatively small, but it is easy to read and offers all of the pertinent information at a glance: 3G or 4G network, connection status (including length of time connected and amount of data transferred), battery status, etc.
Buttons & Controls
The power button is located on the front of the device. It’s recessed so you won’t hit it accidentally. Press it for a couple of seconds to turn the Overdrive off or on. When you’re connected, a short press of the power button activates the display if you need to check status information.
On the top, you’ll find the sound control; you can turn off alerts if you need to use the Overdrive in a business meeting or other import function.
The Overdrive works exactly as advertised, with a couple of caveats. Getting a connection is as simple as turning it on and initiating the signal on your laptop, iPad, or other WiFi-equipped device. It does take quite a long time to turn on, which can be frustrating if you just have a few minutes and want to check your email. It also times out and goes to sleep after just ten minutes of activity, which you will likely want to increase to a longer value in order to stay connected with fewer hassles.
Administration and setup are controlled by typing the word Overdrive in your Internet browser — no long and convoluted numeric address required; you will then be prompted to log in with the administrator password. From there you can change all of your preferences, from the timeout length to the connection password. This is also how you’ll check for firmware updates.
Everything is nicely laid out, and you can get information on signal strength and other statistical details if you’re into that sort of thing.
The Overdrive is a hybrid 3G/4G wireless modem. I tested it extensively over the past couple of months, and found that I was never able to get a 4G connection using this device. I know it isn’t just my location, because Sprint offers 4G services in Dallas, and I was able to connect to that 4G network with no problem when I was testing the HTC EVO 4G a short while ago. I have the Overdrive set to prefer a 4G connection, but it fell back to 3G every time I used it.
The Overdrive is equipped with an 1830 mAh battery, and is rated for three hours of battery life. It came fairly close to that standard in my testing. During a rundown “torture test,” I was able to get a maximum of two hours and 31 minutes when I had 60% signal strength on the 3G wireless network.
That isn’t the greatest result, and I suspect that the connection time would be even shorter on a 4G network, but it’s not too bad — especially since you can charge the device while you’re using it by connecting the included USB cable to your laptop.
The Overdrive works well, and though I am disappointed with my inability to get a 4G connection, I am pleased with its performance. It has definitely helped me out when the WiFi network at my office was having problems, because I tend to get the shakes (if I’m awake) and I have to go longer than 30 minutes without an Internet connection.
Whether or not the Overdrive is the right device for you is determined by your needs and your budget. Depending on the service plans available in your area, it may be cheaper than an equivalent smartphone data plan. More and more smartphones are offering mobile hotspot functionality, but those services sometimes come at a relatively high price. If you need data for your laptop, iPad, or similar devices, the Overdrive can be a cost-effective choice, especially if you don’t need a mobile phone and the voice plan that goes with it.
- Internet access anytime, anywhere
- Connect up to 5 devices at once
- Surprisingly long startup time
- Battery life shorter than advertised