Cradlepoint PHS300 review

A few months ago I wrote about rocking a router in my pocket by running JoikuSpot to share HSDPA over WiFi on my Nokia N95-3

This solution works well enough, but only provides minimal control over routing and wireless setup. Furthermore, WiFi range is limited and battery drain is significant.

Enter the Cradlepoint PHS300, a battery/AC powered, pocketable, mobile wireless router designed to interface with a variety of USB 3G modems and phones.

The PHS300 is a black box resembling a 2.5″ hard drive enclosure, and is equipped with a USB port, a power connector, and power switch. The top features 3 status LEDs (power, 3G, & WiFi) and the bottom hides a Li-ion battery behind a removable cover (see my unboxing pictures).

Initial setup was as simple as inserting my AT&T SIM (MEdia Net data plan) into my Sierra Wireless AirCard 875U modem, plugging it into the USB port, and turning on the PSH300.

Within seconds, all 3 LEDs turned green and an additional WiFi network appeared. After connecting my computer to this WiFi network and opening my web browser, I was greeted with a login screen.

Once logged in (using the last 6 digits of the MAC address assigned to the PHS300), the web interface is similar to the one featured on most modern cable/DSL wireless routers. So I personalized the configuration, and I was immediately impressed with the routing features offered by the PHS300.

You see, before this review, I was thinking: “Why bother with a dedicated mobile wireless router when there’s software like JoikuSpot and WMWifiRouter?” Well now I know :)

The PHS300 supports PPP, DHCP, NAT with SPI, SSID enable/disable, Internet access control (services, URL, & MAC), 64/128-bit WEP, WPA/WPA2, WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK, UPnP, multiple and concurrent VPN pass-through sessions (IPSEC, L2TP, & PPTP)… Hmmm, that’s quite a mouthful!

Performance and stability are top notch. Battery life is about 2 hours, as advertised.

Of course, all this flexibility comes at a cost. The PHS300 is larger and heavier than most mobile devices, and still requires a 3G modem or phone to function. Together with my Sierra Wireless AirCard 875U, it makes for quite a bulky and unwieldy monster beast :)

So, what’s the verdict?

If you need basic mobile routing for personal use, or a truly pocketable solution, I suggest you pick software like JoikuSpot (especially if you own a compatible smartphone).

But if you need advanced mobile routing for a small group, or emergency routing for a small business. I highly recommend the PHS300.

Is that a router in your pocket?

Or are you just happy to see me?

Once upon a time, in a land far away, I used an OQO Model 01+ and Motorola E815 connected via Bluetooth. I hacked the phone and tethered the computer to Verizon’s EVDO network. Every now and then, I’d share the 3G connection over WiFi, turning the computer into a router, and allowing other devices with WiFi around me to access the cloud – all this while walking down the street or driving down the freeway…

But here’s the cool part: the entire setup fit easily, without wires, in the many pockets of my trusty cutoff cargo pants!

The setup evolved over time. I replaced the phone with an LG CU500 on Cingular’s HSDPA network (now AT&T). Then I replaced the computer with an OQO Model 02, which I promptly modded for HSDPA (built-in).

And then, having narrowed things down to a single device, I was rocking a router in my pocket – I was ready for the mobile revolution :)

Eventually, I ended up with a Nokia N95-3 featuring both 3G and WiFi and I started thinking… Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Symbian application that turned the device into a router in my pocket? Wouldn’t it be great?

Well now you can have your cake an eat it too – you too can be packing a router in your pocket! Say hello to JoikuSpot for Symbian, WMWifiRouter for Windows Mobile, and Cradlepoint for other devices.

I’ve been playing with JoikuSpot on my N95-3 and it’s working like a charm.

No BlackBerry plan? No problem

I’ve been reading mixed reports about using my WiFi-enabled BlackBerry 8320 (Curve) without a BlackBerry plan… Some say it’s possible, other say it’s not, so I decided to investigate!

With my existing T-Mobile unlimited t-zones data plan, the built-in web browser worked fine for WAP sites (over GPRS/EDGE only) and for HTML sites (over WiFi only). I was able to install Opera mini 4 beta, the Google maps client and the Gmail client, but none of these application worked (over either GRPS/EDGE or WiFi, with TCP/APN set to “wap.voicestream.com”). Blame it on the proxy…

Since I was already considering it, I upgraded to the T-Mobile Total Internet data plan that was recently introduced (unlimited data + Hotspot). I also added the BlackBerry Feature Enabler (free – for MMS support).

With my Total Internet data plan, the built-in web browser worked fine for both WAP and HTML sites (over either GPRS/EDGE or WiFi). Opera mini 4 beta, the Google maps client and the Gmail client, all worked as well (over either GRPS/EDGE or WiFi, with TCP/APN set to “internet2.voicestream.com”)!

Then I got the phone SIM unlocked and tried my AT&T MEdia Max 200 data plan.

With my MEdia Max 200 data plan, the built-in web browser worked fine for both WAP and HTML sites (over either GPRS/EDGE or WiFi). Opera mini 4 beta, the Google maps client and the Gmail client, all worked as well (over either GRPS/EDGE or WiFi, with TCP/APN set to “wap.cingular”).

Basically, it looks like any proxy-less data plan works fine – so unless you require push email, ignore the BlackBerry plan :)

One more thing… UMA turns me on is pretty cool!

It works on most WiFi networks as long as you use a T-Mobile SIM, and call quality is great – no special router required. Unfortunately, transitions between GSM and WiFi often result in dropped calls, but this is apparently getting fixed soon.

Now I want to see UMA support for my Nokia N95.

BlackBerry Curve observations

After 48 hours with the WiFi-enabled BlackBerry 8320 (Curve), here are some observations…

– Hardware:
This device is a lot more attractive in person than in pictures. It’s very light and pretty thin, but build quality is solid. It’s nice to see a standard mini-USB connector (with charger and mass-storage support) and stereo headset connector (4-prong 3.5 mm). The micro-SD card lives under the battery, which is unfortunate.

– Software:
The user-interface is very good. It’s simple, consistent, and easy to use, but it’s lacking polish in some areas (media player and camera). Then again, after living with an iPhone for 3 months, I’m getting jaded – sorry for being such an Apple fangirl :). I think a short press of the mute key should show the profiles (I ended up assigning the left-side convenience key to the profiles). It was easy to install my contact and ringtones and to customize the phone.

The BlackBerry Destop Manager is not working for me. I’ve installed it on 2 different Windows XP (SP2) computers and I’m still experiencing the same problem: I can’t install applications.

When I run the Application Loader, everything is grayed out and the Application List shows: “The BlackBerry Desktop Software does not have BlackBerry Device Software for the device that you have connected to your computer. Contact your wireless service provider or system administrator.” When I click on “Add” (the only control not grayed out other than “Cancel”) and select the Opera mini 4 beta ALX file, it tells me: “No additional applications designed for you device were found”.

Thoughts?

– Data/WiFi/Bluetooth/UMA:
I still don’t have a BlackBerry plan. Why? I think Research In Motion should support industry standard email/web/MMS connectivity over GPRS/EDGE for people (like me) with regular data plans who are not interested in using push email. In fact, I was under the impression that the “consumer” devices like the Pearl and Curve supported industry standard connectivity, in addition to the BlackBerry plans.

The built-in web browser works fine over WiFi (with or without the SIM inserted), despite the lack of BlackBerry plan – of course, it doesn’t work over GPRS/EDGE. Opera mini 4 beta doesn’t work (both WiFi and GPRS/EDGE) despite changing the APN in the TCP options to “wap.voicestream.com” (for my unlimited t-zones data plan).

Bluetooth works fine, but I’m not (yet) sure if UMA works.

– Keyboard/Screen:
The keyboard feels nice but I’m struggling to read the key labels at times. The QVGA screen is decent, as expected (it could be brighter, perhaps).

– Camera:
The 2 megapixel camera takes decent pictures and features an LED flash, but could benefit from an auto-focus lens with macro. Video recording appears to be missing.

– Audio/RF:
Call quality and reception are very good. Sound quality is average when listening to music with high-end headphones, but I’m being picky here…

FYI, The supplied stereo headset works with the iPhone (both physically and electrically), including the switch/microphone- nice!

– Battery life:
It’s a bit too early to tell, but with WiFi enabled and Bluetooth disabled, so far, so good.

Update: I’ve since upgraded to the Total Internet data plan.

Unboxing the BlackBerry 8320 (Curve)

Oh noes! I can has WiFi-enabled BlackBerry 8320 (Curve)…

Me, testing a BlackBerry? Shocking, I know :) I’m only doing this because:
– I have one to play with for several days (don’t ask)
– I wanted to try UMA with an interesting device
– I have never used a BlackBerry before (curiosity)

First, take a look at my unboxing pictures.

Second, help me!

I don’t have a BlackBerry plan… Can I add it to my account without renewing my contract (which is expired)? Can I add it without changing my data plan (unlimited t-zones)?

Voice/SMS is working, but obviously data is not (it didn’t even work over WiFi) :/ I tried installing Opera mini with the BlackBerry user tools (Windows XP) but it didn’t let me add applications.

This is not looking terribly good so far.

The problem with Bluetooth PAN

Other than OS X not (yet) supporting Bluetooth PAN, the lack of Bluetooth DUN on my Samsung i607 (BlackJack) was not a major problem for me… Until yesterday.

I tried to share my Bluetooth PAN connection over WiFi in Windows XP (thus turning my OQO into a WiFi access point for a friend’s Mac) – but no, it’s just not possible! Yet it’s possible to share a Bluetooth DUN connection.

So Microsoft, what’s going on here?

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