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Novatel Ovation U720 EVDO USB Modem Review

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Friday, 15 December 2006

Novatel Ovation U720 USB EV-DO Modem Review for Sprint

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IMPORTANT UPDATE!
The Sprint U720 has been discontinued

Check out these newer Sprint USB modems

USB - The new EVDO Form Factor?

The Novatel U720 is the second USB device that is available from Sprint. The first USB device was the Franklin CDU-550 introduced a few months back. Below we see the size comparison of a PX-500 PCMCIA Rev A Card, Novatel U720 USB Rev A and a Franklin CDU-550 Rev 0 USB Device.

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This device is the first Sprint labeled USB modem that includes the following features:

  • EVDO Rev A capable
  • GPS Built-in (not full functioning GPS, but can use Location Bases Services -LBS)
  • Antenna port for expanding coverage/signal (see U720 Antennas and amplifier)
  • Dual USB Cable for additional power and for better signal


Unboxing

In the box you get:

  • Windows 2000/XP CD
  • Novatel U720 Device (with removable cap)
  • 3-ft dual USB Connection Y Cable
  • Quick Start Guide
  • 3.3v (nominal) for longer laptop operation, 700mA peak, standby 150mA, standard USB interface



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EVDO Rev A

Sprint got a jump on the competition by shipping EVDO Rev A hardware with EVDO Rev 0 sofware in the firmware. Now that the EVDO Rev A firmware is available, your Ovation U720 *may* need to go through a firmware upgrade before you can use it. The good news, this happens automatically when you first install it (of if you order your U720 pre-activated, we do it for you).



Performance

When we first heard of the Ovation U720, we thought that a USB device could possibly not "keep up" with a PCMCIA EVDO Card. However, we were pleasantly surprised at the performance of the Novatel U720 vs. Merlin U720 PCMCIA card. One issue with USB is that when you are in a weaker signal, your device may need extra power in order to perform well (or pull in the signal). Included with the U720 is a Y Cable that allows you to plug into 2 USB ports in order to draw extra power. Your 2 USB ports need to be next to each other (the cable isn't log enough to plug into USB ports that are on different sides of your laptop).

Novatel U720 Rev A vs. Franklin CDU-550 Rev 0

The Franklin CDU-550 is smaller, sexier and out of the gate Mac compatible (drivers built-in to Mac OS X 10.4.7). From a performance point of view, the Novatel U720 beats the Franklin U720 in both speed and signal.

We recently tested the CDU-550 vs. a Novatel U720 at the Las Vegas Airport (which is EVDO Rev A). Here is the CDU0550 Signal and benchmark:




Same laptop, now we tested the Novatel U720 and we saw the following signal and benchmark:




So the signal was a -87dBm / 450Kbps up 118Kbps Down on the Franklin CDU-550 and on the Novatel U720 we saw a signal of -75dBm / 637Kbps down and 222Kbps upload. These are NOT stellar results for Rev A, however, this is at a busy airport and EVDO is usually heavily used - so the speed results will usually be a lot lower.

When you are in a lower signal level, plugging in the USB Y cable into 2 USB ports, can give your U720 extra power to perform better.

Novatel U720 Rev A vs. Novatel S720 PCMCIA

During our testing of the U720 vs. the S720, we saw comparable downwload and upload speeds. The only difference we saw, was the S720 has slightly better ping times. For the latest discussion, see our U720 vs S720 discussion on EVDOforums. When we were not at busy airports, we regularly saw speeds over 1Mbps:

 

ImageMac OS X compatibility

Though Sprint and Apple will probably tell you otherwise, the Ovation U720 works with every Mac running OSX 10.3.9 or higher and has an available USB port. This includes iMacs, iBooks, eMacs, Desktop G3/G4/G5 Macs, 12" PowerBooks and Mac Minis, G4 or Intel. Keep in mind though, that Sprint does not sell the U720 "ready for mac use", nor does Sprint offer any level of Mac Tech Support... no matter what the kid in the Sprint store tells you. In addition, though Apple has released drivers that allow the U720 to work on its intel laptops, Apple does not provide any EVDO Tech Support.

No EVDO support from Apple, no Mac support from Sprint... What's a Mac User to do? That's where 3Gstore.com comes in. When a Mac user buys their U720 from us, here is what we do for them.

Ovation U720 and the Kyocera KR1 EVDO Router

Most EVDO routers do not have a USB port. The Kyocera KR1 router does have a USB port and the Novatel U720 CAN be plugged in to the KR1 allowing the EVDO bandwidth to be used by multiple computers over WiFi/Airport or even by ethernet cable. The latest firmware for the Kyocera KR1 (RK1008) does not provide support for the Novatel U720 but the u720 does work in the KR1 . Until Kyocera provides firmware that officially supports the U720, there will be a performance issue. using the current RK1008 firmware, we never got above 500kbps download speeds when using the U720. Update: With the latest KR1 firmware RK1010, there is now full support for the Novatel U720/USB720! Read more about it here.

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External Antenna

Novatel manufactured the U720 and included an external antenna port that allows for external antennas and amplifiers. Click here to see our complete line of U720 accessories and options .

U720 with Booster Antenna


Form Factor

EVDO now comes in many shapes and sizes. We have the standard PCMCIA that has been used for many years. Starting in 2006, a new standard emerged to replace PCMCIA, called ExpressCard. PCMCIA and ExpressCard slots are not compatible. Desktop computers do not come standard with PCMCIA or ExpressCards, so in order to use EVDO with a desktop computer, you would normally need to purchase an EVDO Router, such as the Kyocera KR1. USB changes all that. Every laptop and every desktop has USB built-in. Also, if you have a laptop with an ExpressCard slot, it may make sense to get a EVDO device that will work in any computer. There is one problem, the device extends out of the laptop a lot more than a PCMCIA or ExpressCard would. This may "bother" some, and others it won't. Below is a picture of a PowerBook 15" with the U720:



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One issue when plugging the U720 directly into your laptop, is that it will block adjacent ports. On the picture below, we have 3 USB ports, BUT one of them is blocked when the U720 is inserted - one way around this is to use the USB Y cable that is included:

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GPS - Location Based Services

The Novatel U720 has built-in GPS and comes with two modes, "Basic" and "Premium". Currently available only to Windows users, the Basic mode pops this up when activated:

- Find Nearest Sprint Nextel Store
- Find Nearest Restaurant
- Find Nearest Bank
- Find Nearest Hotel
- Find Nearest Gas Station
- Find Nearest Coffee House
- search for something.

You can read much more about GPS/LBS on this EVDOforums.com thread .

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Pricing

The Novatel U720 retails for $249.99 before a $150 service credit and a $50 mail-in rebate for a net cost of $49.99. This pricing is comparable to purchasing a new PCMCIA card and beats the older Franklin CDU-550 Rev-0 USB modem.

Ordering Info

You can order the U720 from 3Gstore.com . As an authorized Sprint Master Agent, we offer the same device and contract pricing as Sprint does, but provide the most complete selection of EVDO solutions and offer discounts on accessories for those that buy from us. The most important benefit in dealing with 3Gstore.com is that our experience makes us the EVDO Experts, and we promise to provide you with much better customer support than any carrier offers!


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 09 September 2009 )
 
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