We've reviewed the T-Mobile WebConnect USB Laptop Stick, the Verizon Wireless USB 760, and now to continue in our roundup of portable modems we checked out the Sierra Wireless 598U for Sprint, which is free with a two-year contract and after discounts. However, as with the others, you will need to sign for up for a data plan. Sprint's Mobile Broadband Connection Plan costs the same as the other two providers' plans, at $59.99 per month with a 5GB data cap, though overage fees are slightly higher than T-Mobile's at $0.05 per MB (compared to $0.02). Still, there are some benefits of the Sierra Wireless 598U that make it our current favorite of the group.
The Sierra Wireless 598U measures 3.1 inches tall by 0.9 inch wide by 0.4 inch deep and weighs 0.75 ounces. Like the Verizon Wireless USB760, the 598U looks like a flash drive with a simple plug-and-play solution. If you don't want the modem sticking out from the side of your notebook, Sprint includes a laptop clip and USB cable in the box, so you can attach it to the top of your laptop screen.
On the front of the device there are two small LEDs that indicate power and connection. The Sprint logo will also light up when plugged in (we hope you like the color yellow). On the right side, there's an external antenna jack, while on the left you will find a microSD expansion slot that can accept cards up to 32GBs.
There is no installation software CD, as it's all preloaded on the device, and the modem is compatible with Windows (Windows Vista and Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or later) and Mac computers (Mac OS X version 10.4 or later). We simply plugged the 589U into our Lenovo Thinkpad T61 and the software and drivers automatically installed. The activation is easy and requires little user participation, but the entire process does take a few minutes.
The Sprint SmartView desktop client is quite nice, and has an intuitive and attractive interface. There is an Applications tab on which you will find helpful tools, such as coverage maps, a mobile broadband speed test, Wi-Fi location finder, and access to your account and usage. The only thing missing from the software is the capability to send, receive, and manage text messages, but we didn't find ourselves pining after this feature too much. Overall, we thought Sprint SmartView had a better layout and more useful utilities than T-Mobile and Verizon's software.