Broadband Bundle from Verizon, HP Leaves Something to Be Desired

REVIEW: Verizon is offering the HP Mini 1000 Model 1151R netbook with its mobile broadband service. HP netbooks are among the best the Labs has tested, and the premise of built-in broadband makes sense. But there are some trade-offs.

By: John Dodge

The advantages of connecting to the Internet from virtually anywhere are obvious. So it was with great enthusiasm that I put the new HP Mini 1000 Model 1151NR netbook bundled with Verizon mobile broadband service through its paces.

The Verizon service works reasonably well, but it is clearly a newer technology in need of refinement and more consistent performance. The 1151NR is among a handful of netbooks to come bundled with built-in broadband.

Verizon mobile wireless delivers the 60K- to 80K-bps performance that Verizon says most users need for business applications. It bursts up to 1.4M bps, which is still slower than Wi-Fi or cable Internet. Verizon says, typically, download speeds are 600K bps to 1.4M bps, while uploads are 500K bps to 800K bps.

For images of the Verizon mobile broadband service in action, click here.

Therein lies the trade-off for the ubiquity of mobile wireless. What's more, as with cell phones, the Verizon service's performance depends on the strength of the signal, as indicated by the number of bars. For instance, I gave up trying to download Firefox at 7.17MB in my home office, where I get a measly one EV bar and very occasionally two. (EV is short for Evolution Data Optimized, which is the wireless mobile broadband technology that Verizon uses.)

The Firefox download would have taken more than 2 hours at that rate. Then again, I was able to download the Google Chrome browser in minutes as I sped south down the Maine Turnpike with three to four bars (as a passenger, of course). Granted, the Google Chrome download is only 543KB, but even that can tax the Verizon service in "low-bar" areas.

Anyone who watches TV knows AT&T and Verizon bicker over who has "more bars in more areas" across the nation. But newer 3G networks are a different ballgame than well-established voice and older data networks.

It's also important to understand that you don't simply turn on the machine and it connects. The user has to manage and find the network using an application called the VZAccess Manager. Connecting requires opening VZAccess, powering on the built-in mobile modem (an HP un2400 Mobile Broadband Mobile Modem made by Qualcomm) and then connecting to the Verizon network. The process can take upward of 2 minutes, and, on occasion, the modem required several tries to power on. In addition, it can take a minute or so for the VZAccess Manager to shut down.

The VZAccess Manager has a Statistics tab that reports on network performance, as well as a handy text messaging tool. What's more, it lists all your networks in one place so you don't have to toggle out of mobile broadband to switch to Wi-Fi. That said, applications like VZAccess Manager might be going away on newer PCs because Windows 7 has an all-inclusive network manager.

In addition to performance, cost is an issue with the Verizon service. Like the Sprint and AT&T mobile broadband services, Verizon's is not cheap.

You get the discounted 1151NR netbook for $200, provided that you sign up for a two-year mobile broadband contract that costs $40 or $60 a month. That's $960 or $1,440 over the life of the agreement. (A netbook configured similarly to the 1151NR without mobile broadband would cost about $350.)

Verizon would not comment on pricing for enterprise customers, but it's hard to imagine they don't get preferential treatment. Verizon spokesman Mike Murphy said there is no special enterprise version of the bundle, although large customers might choose to replace the VZAccess Manager with their own custom software.

"Customizing the network for 'behind the firewall' access provided by VPN security encryption is an option [many] companies' IT departments have on notebooks. While we can certainly assist them in this process, [the VZAccess Manager] is a pretty standard application and is the same that is currently in place for any laptop/notebook [with Verizon mobile broadband]," he said.

As for the netbook itself, it's nearly identical to the Mini 1000 Model 1030R I reviewed earlier this year. The only differences I could detect are in the hard disk and mobile broadband areas: The 1151NR has an 80GB hard disk and a built-in mobile broadband modem, while the 1030r lacks both a hard disk and mobile broadband.