Review: The Cradlepoint PHS300 Personal Wifi Hotspot. Now Your Wireless Network Can Follow You Everywhere


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Let me just start by telling you how happy I have been with my iPod Touch.  It has been an incredibly versatile device, with games, music, videos.  You name it.  The only problem I have with the iPod Touch is that so much of what I do with it (other than games) requires an Internet connection.  This includes news channels, weather sites, RSS feeds, email, even syncing my tasks lists with Toodledo online.  And that says nothing about Safari or the App Store.  This need for the Internet is no problem when I am at home, and my wireless network is available.  But what about the 12+ hours a day when I am away from my network?  When I am on the train, at work, at the grocery store, or pretty much anywhere else?  Until now, that meant I was just out of luck.  I’d have to download everything in the morning or wait until I got home later in the day.  Well, now there is a third option, thanks to Cradlepoint and their Personal Wifi Hotspot.  Now, I can take the Internet with me everywhere I go. 

IMG_3977Before we get into the Personal Hotspot, let’s start with a small disclaimer.  Everything you will need is not included in the box.  This unit has the ability to create a wi-fi hotspot anywhere, but it will still need an Internet connection to do so.  It would be pretty cool if Cradlepoint had been able to build something like Amazon’s Whispernet into this unit, so it could be immediately connected.  But that did not happen.  Instead, you will need a mobile Internet connection, either through a Broadband modem, or a mobile phone which can be tethered and used as a modem.

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OK, I am glad I got that out of the way.  Let’s take a look at the unit.  I was pretty impressed by the size of this one.  The Personal Hotspot device itself is only slightly larger than my iPod Touch, and fit easily in my pants pocket or briefcase.

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There is really not much more to see on this one.  All of the controls are on the right hand side.  They consist of a power switch, power input,and USB port. 

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On top of the device are three LED lights, representing your WLAN status, network connection, and power. 

What really impressed me is how easy this unit is to use.  Just plug your phone or modem into the USB port.  And that is about it (oh, make sure the power is on).  IMG_3970Essentially, what this is doing is taking the network connection from the modem and transmitting it out around the unit to create a wireless network.  Once connected, it can interface with any 802.11 b or g enabled device.

I would like to tell you the Personal Hotspot was blazing fast.  The truth is, it was pretty blazing fast for me.  But these spends will really depend much more on your mobile broadband modem and network than on the Personal Hotspot itself.

One minor point that bugged me here was that my USB modem is small, but not that small.  It felt really fragile hanging off the side of the portable hotspot.  It would have been nice if there had been a pocket or compartment into which my modem could fold.  That way, when I am using it, my modem can be tucked safely inside the device, rather than dangling off the edge.  It is a small point and really more an aesthetic issue than usability.  But it still bugged me.

Of course, connecting to the Internet is one thing.  But let’s be honest, you are not taking your important data anywhere near this thing unless it shows up with pretty significant security.  And I don’t blame you.  So, let’s take a look at how that is going to work.

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There are actually two levels of security.  First, no computer will be able to connect to the portable hotspot without authorization.  The first time you attempt to connect, you will be met by this screen, asking for the password assigned to your unit. 

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Just enter the password assigned to your portable hotspot and you will be ready to connect.  No computer can utilize the portable hotspot unless it is first recognized by entering this password.

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OK.  I know.  That is pretty bad in terms of security.  It looks nice, but really it is quite easy to hack.  Fortunately, that is not all Cradlepoint has to offer.  Once your computer has been recognized, you can access your own personal connection page.  From here, you can change virtually every setting associated with the personal hotspot.   The first thing you are going to want to do is hit the Basic menu options and then select the Setup Wizard.  From here, you will set your basic connection settings, including time zone, password, and (yes) basic security. 

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From here, just select Advanced Security Settings and you will then be offered the choice of adding WEP, WPA, or WPA2 security.  Make sure you remember that password.  That’s it.  Now, your portable hotspot is as safe and secure as any wireless network around.

Like I said, though, this control panel is your windows to the portable hotspot device.  So, make sure you save the website.  There is a lot more you can do from here and you will want to spend some time exploring it when you have the chance. 

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I am not going to discuss everything you can do from here.  I did want to mention, however, the firmware update tool.  Make sure you check this from time to time to see if there is an update for your device.  Looks like I have one ready now.

I’ll leave the rest of the site for you to explore on your own.  For now, let’s get back over to the unit.

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One of the cool things about the Personal Hotspot is that while you can plug it in, you do not need to be near an outlet to use it.  This one comes with a pretty nice Lithium Ion battery.  In a completely unscientific and not terribly reliable test, I decided to find out just how much juice this thing packed.  I left it connected and walked away.  What I found was pretty surprising.  We all know that wi-fi is a battery hog, so I was pretty impressed that this stayed up for well over three hours at a time.  Unless you are traveling, you should not have a lot of instances in which this will not be sufficient. 

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For the rest of the time, just toss the included AC adaptor in your bag and plug it in to any wall outlet. 

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The last thing I want to talk about is what’s missing from the box.  For those of you who drive a lot, you will not find a car adaptor.  Also missing is any kind of a case in which to carry the Personal Hotspot.  In order to get these, you will have to order the Cradlepoint Travel Kit.  Cradlepoint included this travel kit in the box when they sent my Personal Hotspot, and I have to say it is well worth it.

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The case they send is extremely nice and durable.  It is made of soft neoprene-like material.  The nice thing here is that it has two pockets.  The large pocket is perfect for the Portable Hot Spot router.  The smaller pocket in front will hold your mobile modem.  Man is that nice.  The best part, though, is that this case fits nice and snug, meaning it does not add significant bulk to the device. 

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I really appreciated the inclusion of the travel kit, especially the case, with the Personal Hotspot.  Honestly, I think these are essential accessories, which should be included in the box.  And for a short time they will be.  Cradlepoint is currently running a promotion which will give you a free travel kit with the purchase of the Portable Hot Spot.

I have to tell you folks that this is one of my new favorite devices.  The ability to create a wireless hotspot pretty much anywhere is just outstanding.  The Personal Hotspot is small, portable, and incredibly easy to use.  Additionally, it is fully customizable for you advanced users via the web interface.  Cradlepoint did a fantastic job with this one.  Now, my iPod Touch and I can download the latest updates for all of my apps, whether I am near my home wireless network or a thousand miles away.

What I Liked:

  • Virtually no setup required
  • Quick and easy access to the mobile Internet from anywhere
  • Very nice battery life

What Needs Improvement:

  • It would be nice if my modem could tuck into the device, rather than hanging off the edge
  • Still a bit larger than I would have liked
  • Case and car adaptor sold seperately

Where To Buy: Cradlepoint

Price: $179.99

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  1. #1 by CuriousInvestor on April 13, 2009 - 11:16 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been looking to get the functionality of the iPhone without having to use AT&T (not really needing the phone part of the iPhone). I think this will be a good alternative to keep me plugged into the internet anywhere.

  2. #2 by dgoldring on April 14, 2009 - 2:49 pm

    Thanks, CuriousInvestor. I have to say that I take my Cradlepoint pretty much everywhere I go these days. It is a fantastic little device. It came in especially helpful when I was traveling recently and did not feel like paying $9.99 a day for in-room wireless. :)

    Doug

  3. #3 by joe on November 11, 2009 - 4:56 pm

    ok i understand everything except that little usb card from sprint you have. what is it and does it cost extra/monthly or what?

    also if you use the ipod try the app icall, for free calling through wifi

  4. #4 by dgoldring on November 11, 2009 - 9:45 pm

    Joe, that is a mobile broadband card. It is a modem which connects to your USB port (there are also version which can connect to your PCMCIA or Express card slots) and connects your computer to the Internet via th same signal as a cell phone data plan. Mine, for example, uses Sprint’s 3G network. Though Verizon and AT&T have their own versions as well. They typically cost $100-$150 and require a monthly plan. Sprint’s is $60/month.

  5. #5 by samuel farnham on April 23, 2011 - 10:31 am

    I just wanted to know, can you use this with a lap top? I have been searching for days for a wireless connection with me all the time without having to pay every month, I want to pay it up front so I can use it all the time.

    Samuel

    • #6 by tjchan on April 29, 2011 - 6:37 am

      Yes, you can use this from a laptop. But remember, you will still need to subscribe to a service. This merely creates an extension.

  6. #7 by Craig Lambert on December 13, 2011 - 11:15 am

    Thanks for the in depth review. One thing that I am curious about and don’t happen to see in the review is the range the device has. How far does this thing transmit?

  7. #8 by dgoldring on December 13, 2011 - 7:18 pm

    Good question, Craig. The range of the device is actually variable. It does not create a wifi signal on its own. It requires a USB modem in order to create a wireless signal. So, the range of the signal will depend on the strength of your USB modem signal.

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