It’s been well over two years since we’ve seen a new USB modem on Verizon. I still use the Pantech UML290 all the time, but at this point, it’s getting pretty dated. The modem itself is big and chunky, and you need to use Verizon’s cumbersome VZ Access Manager software whenever you plug it in. Luckily, Pantech has finally given us a new cellular modem that does away with these issues. The $19.99 Verizon 4G LTE USB Modem UML295 is a sleek little device that works without any connection software—simply plug it into your PC or Mac, pull up a Verizon Web page, and you’re good to go. While Verizon may no longer have the fastest LTE network in the nation, it does have the widest coverage, and the UML295 is your best bet if you’re looking to tap into it on-the-go. It’s our new Editors’ Choice for USB modems on Verizon.
Design, Plans, and Network
Pantech has achieved the best of both worlds in design this time around. The UML295 is mercifully smaller than its predecessor, at 3.14 by 1.22 by 0.48 inches (HWD) and 1.25 ounces, and doesn’t require you to swivel out the front part in order to expose the USB connector. But the connector is still built on a hinge, which allows you to pivot the modem 90 degrees in any direction, which is helpful when you’re working with limited space on the back of a laptop.
The modem itself is a sleek, shiny black plastic dongle, with a Verizon-red light on top that illuminates whenever you plug it in. There’s a status light on the front of the modem, which you can really only see if you have the modem splayed out and facing you. The front cover pops off so you can access the SIM card slot underneath, and on the back of the modem are two external antenna adapter ports.
Whereas Verizon’s previous cellular modems have required you to use the archaic VZ Access Manager software in order to achieve a connection, the UML295 is truly plug-and-play. Simply plug it in to any Type A USB port, send your connected PC or Mac to mbb.vzw.com, and you’re good to go. This is how cellular modems should’ve worked all along.
It costs $20 per month just to use the UML295—you’ll need to choose a data plan on top of that. You can start at 4GB for $30 per month, and it gets slightly cheaper the further up you go (10GB costs $60 per month, for instance). That’s a little less expensive that data cost when the UML290 came out, but you still can’t use the UML295 to replace your current home Internet connection. After all, you can blow through over 10GB in a single Arrested Development marathon on Netflix.
According to our tests for the Fastest Mobile Networks, Verizon no longer leads the nation in 4G LTE speeds—that would be AT&T. But no other carrier can match Verizon for LTE coverage. Just last month, the carrier announced that its nationwide LTE rollout is “substantially complete,” with coverage for over 95 percent of the U.S. population. That means that no matter where you go, you’ll probably have access to LTE, even if those speeds are only the second fastest.
The UML295 is backward-compatible with Verizon’s 3G network, so you’ll have no problem pulling in a 3G signal when you’re not in an LTE coverage area. It can also be used for Internet access in many other parts of the world—the UML295 can access wireless data service in more than 205 countries, including more than 125 that support 3G speeds. It also supports quad-band EDGE and HSPA when LTE isn’t available. Just make sure your company is paying first before you agree to those pricey roaming agreements.
Performance and Conclusions
We tested the UML295 in New York City on a hazy day, head-to-head against the two and-a-half year old UML290 at 9 different locations. We transferred files over FTP, downloaded Web pages using curl, and ran the speed tester at speedtest.net. The results were positive all around.
Overall, the two modems performed nearly identically. I never saw speeds higher than 9Mbps down or 2.25Mbps up, and average results were closer to half those numbers. But neither modem showed a significant advantage for pulling in a stronger signal in an area with limited access, like the underground food court at Grand Central Station.
That means that if you still have a UML290, and you can deal with Verizon’s pesky software, there’s no need to upgrade to the UML295. But if you’re looking to get a USB modem on Verizon for the first time, the UML295 will help tap into those 4G LTE speeds in the simplest way possible.
So if you’re buying your first USB modem, the choice is simple: Get the UML295. It’s the easiest way to stay covered with LTE across the nation. You’re not saving money by buying an older modem, and the UML290, as well as the 551L are not nearly as easy to use. You can get much less expensive data rates, and avoid a contract, with carriers like Virgin Mobile, but you’ll be buying into much slower speeds and far less coverage. For all of those reason, the UML295 is our new Editors’ Choice for USB modems on Verizon.
|Cellular Technology||EDGE, UMTS, CDMA 1X, LTE, EV-DO Rev A, GSM, HSPA|
|Service Provider||Verizon Wireless|
|Number of Devices Supported||1|
|Bands||850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 700|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc