Early impressions and mini-review of Sprint’s 4G Overdrive hotspot

In my continuing quest to keep up with the latest and greatest mobile Internet stuff, I’m trying out the new Sprint 3G/4G Overdrive, pictured above. Made by Sierra Wireless and slightly more portly than first generation mobile hotspots like my Verizon Mifi 2200, the Overdrive retains the same basic yet great feature set of its predecessors. It’s a mobile broadband modem combined with a wifi router. So you can take it almost anywhere, link up to the mobile network and then up to five devices can get online via wifi — laptops, iPhones, Nintendo DS’s, whatever. Sprint is even advertising it as a way to get your iPhone online at 4G speed!

This post isn’t a full-blown review as I’ve just had the Overdrive for a few days. But I can tell you already that the Overdrive provides several improvements over the Mifi and its peers — at least in theory. It can connect not just to 3G wireless broadband but also to Sprint’s newly rolling out and faster 4G service. Sprint says download speeds at 2 to 10 times faster than 3G while upload speeds are up to 3 times faster. The Overdrive also has a built-in GPS sensor that can be accessed via your web browser. And, although it’s much chubbier than the mifi, it has a small screen that displays a variety of useful information.

It costs $99 after rebate and with a 2-year contract. Broadband service is the same price and terms as Verizon — $60/month for 5 GB of 3G service, though 4G service has no usage caps. That’s actually kind of irrelevant for me so far because Sprint hasn’t extended its 4G service to the Boston area yet. It’s promised real soon now, or at least by the end of the year.

It seems like the Overdrive gets a stronger signal in several places where the Verizon Mifi had problems, like the neighborhood around my office in Boston. That could because of the device or the Sprint/Verizon difference. I’m not sure.

Here’s a couple of comparison pictures of the Overdrive and the Mifi:

I am also impressed with the little status display screen on the top of the Overdrive. It shows signal and battery strength, number of connections via wifi, length of online session and amount of data transferred, among other indicators. With the Mifi, you were always left guessing about how much time was left on your battery and whether a poor a connection was due to weak 3G signals or some other reason.

And that’s all I’ve got so far. I’ll post a more in-depth review at some point but if you have any questions, fire away in the comments.