Cradlepoint PHS300 Personal Hotspot Review
April 3, 2008
Public access to Wi-Fi is getting better. In some places. There’s always Starbucks, but it isn’t exactly free, and it still is possible (but getting rarer) to find yourself more than 300 feet from one.
Still, even when it’s nearby doesn’t mean it’s convenient. I really wanted to stream video from SXSW a few weeks ago from my Nokia N95, but even if I found a hotspot, there was no easy way to navigate the login page.
Likewise the Eye-Fi card in my camera. I can log my iPhone into a hotspot, but it’s a pain in the butt.
I’ve been using 3G (first Verizon EVDO, then Sprint EVDO) with my Macbook Pro for awhile now. It works, but it’s also a pain in the butt – the USB dongle (a Franklin CDU-680) hangs out the side, where I want to work never seems to be where the signal is best, the Mac drivers suck (hey, at least there are some for the Franklin, that’s a step up), and it still doesn’t help with the rest of my Wi-Fi-enabled gear – or anyone else I might want to share with.
Enter the Cradlepoint PHS300. I’ve used other 3G routers (an early Kyocera and a Cradlepoint CTR-350) before, but none of them were this convenient and full featured.
Attach an EVDO or HSDPA USB adapter or phone, switch it on, and you’ve got your very own personal wireless hotspot. With a full charge in its battery, the PHS300 will run for a couple of hours, or plug it in and run it for as long as you want.
In a spot with an iffy 3G signal? Stick the PHS300 on a high shelf, near a window, out the door or wherever you need to to get a decent signal, and still use your gear where you want to. Need more than one WiFi device running? No problem — use it with 20 or 30 connections.
It actually is a genuine hotspot. If you’re wanting to provide access for a group in a public place, you can set a password, and new users will be forced to go to a login page and enter their password. There’s also an embedded chat room on the page where people can request access and you can grant it, etc.
Alternatively, run it without a password, and your choice of encryption (64/128 bit WEP, WPA/WPA2, and WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK), and run your other Wi-Fi gear through it (all of this can be configured on the fly through the device’s web interface). I haven’t tried it yet, but the device also supports “wireless distribution system”, meaning theoretically you could set up an Airport Express or Airport Extreme to extend the Wi-Fi signal (there is no Ethernet adapter on the PHS300).
Want to shoot Qik video from your N95 in your car? Or the supermarket? Throw the PHS300 and your 3G adapter in your pocket, and go for it.
The size of the unit is 4.7″ x 2.8″ x 0.8″ — just a little bigger in each dimension than an iPhone. Here’s a shot of the PHS300, my iPhone and the Franklin CDU680 for comparison (click for larger):
Performance is excellent as well. I didn’t try to do anything exhaustive to separate how much of the performance improvement is due to better placement of the EVDO adapter and how much is due to better driver support on the PHS300 than on the Mac, but using the PHS300 is consistently faster for me than using the CDU-680 plugged directly into the Mac. Cradlepoint claims that their WiPipe technology is heavily optimized for 3G performance, and perhaps it is.
They also support a rather lengthy list (over 50) of EVDO and HSDPA phones, expresscards and USB modems – you can find the whole list on the PHS300 support page.
At a street price of $160, the PHS300 offers a whole lot of bang for the buck for the mobile nerd.