*At the time of this review, the Sierra Wireless AirCard 402 was free on the spot and you could make $100 from a mail-in rebate. Special offers are subject to change.
The Sierra Wireless AirCard 402 is an interesting case.
Most manufacturers have been pumping USB broadband cards down the tubes in favor of capturing more market share through higher compatibility.
Instead of making many diverse cards, most seem to figure they’ll get more sales if they make a USB card that’ll work in a netbook, laptop or PC whether it’s running Mac OS X, Windows XP, Vista, 7 or Tux, the affectionate Linux penguin.
Sierra Wireless seems to think differently.
At least, they seem to read their market demands differently. They’ve come out with a solid card packing good functionality, the regular suite of GPS no CD required technology as well as a nifty 2-in-1 broadband card ExpressCard/PC card feature.
In this review, we’ll cover:
It looks like the Sierra Wireless AC597E.
The AirCard 402 (pictured on the left), looks quite similar to the AC597e (pictured on the right).
The big difference in aesthetics is the smaller antenna container. It’s less bulky in the AirCard 402.
Surprise! It looks like another ExpressCard made by Sierra Wireless.
Sometimes you gotta ‘speak the truth so let it be’. If you’re not familiar with that card (or you’re listening to this site due to a disability), here’s an idea of what the card looks like: It’s just a bit slimmer than a credit card and about the length of 1.5 cards. It’s also about as thick as an iPhone but a bulkier at the end where the casing for the antenna rests.
Colorwise, it’s metallic silver, black and gold (Sprint’s colors) and has a nice executive feel to it. Forbid you were ever in a fight but, I think it’d make a nice jabbing tool if necessary. Sharp stuff.
Here’s what that means:
Besides it’s natural form factor of a neat ExpressCard (fitting newer netbooks and laptops), it also ships with a PC card adapter for older PCMCIA slots.
The benefit here is that if you’ve got an older laptop or desktop it’ll work with it. However, when you upgrade to a newer laptop, it’ll still work since it has the ExpressCard form factor as well.
To help understand this, here’s a video that explains the concept in greater detail with the benefit of seeing it in action:
This video explains the benefits of having a 2-in-1 broadband card.
Besides seeing the actual size, it’s good for understanding how it’ll help if you’ve got an older laptop.
Among other cool things, it has a built-in GPS that you get to use for free. While it’s a feature also available in a number of other cards, not every AirCard has it. I found it particularly useful when my tire blew out on my on the interstate.
Another notable cool factor is the official support of Windows 7 backed by Sierra Wireless. This is one of the first cards to state official support. If you’re heavy into tech then you probably figured out how to get most cards to work with it. However, if you’re not, then it doesn’t hurt to be able to call tech support and not lie about which operating system you’re using to avoid “Sorry sir, that’s not supported”.
Adding to the usability, is the ‘no CD required’ installation once you’ve got Sprint’s Smartview software installed. Just plug in and it’ll walk you through the rest for getting online.
Sprint mobile broadband speed is similar to DSL and about ten times faster than using dialup.
“With a Sprint Mobile Broadband Card, you get average download speeds of 600-1400 Kbps, peaking at 3.1 Mbps, and 350-500 Kbps average upload speeds, peaking at 1.8 Mbps. Similar to DSL, and about ten times faster than using a dial-up modem”
While this is technically true, alot of you tend to ask how fast a specific card will be. While the individual card does not usually affect the speed (so long as it’s EVDO Revision A).
The speed can also vary depending on location. As I explain in Lesson 8: Who’s The Fastest (Mobile Broadband Buyer’s Guide), Sprint has the best speeds overall. For now, they have a double whammy on speed and coverage, two of the biggest concerns mobile broadband users have.
A couple real world applications that work well are email, web surfing, sending large attachments, video streaming, music streaming, and online gaming. I’ve personally used my EVDO Rev. A broadband card from Sprint for all of the above. The latency is much better than I would expect for online gaming. From Real-Time Strategies to First Person Shooters, it handles it pretty well.
Sprint has long claimed having the largest mobile broadband network. It’s actually still true. The UM150 runs on Sprint’s Mobile Broadband network. After some reviewing that I cover in great detail in Lesson 10 of Mobile Broadband Buyer’s Guide, you’ll see how Sprint has the largest mobile broadband network.
With Mobile Broadband coverage from Sprint, you can harness the power of the nation’s largest mobile broadband network. Reaching over 230
million people (with roaming-included areas), service is available in 218 major metro markets and 1,002 airports coast-to-coast”
In our reviews, they consistently rank in the #1 and #2 spots for mobile broadband coverage.
The Sierra Wireless Aircard 402 is an all in one connection device. It provides a wireless connection for your laptop computers, which works either as a PCMCIA Card or an Express Card. The Aircard 402 is designed to operate on CDMA supporting Sprint EV-DO Rev. A mobile broadband service.
The Average download speeds are 600 Kbps-1.4 Mbps with peak speeds of 3.1 Mbps. Average upload speeds are 350-500 Kbps with peak speeds of 1.8 Mbps. Backwards compatible to CDMA EV-D0 Rev. 0 and 1xRTT in areas where Sprint EV-DO Rev. A coverage is not available. The Aircard 402 is also GPS Enabled and supports Sprint Location Services for Sprint Mobile Broadband users. You can use this to find nearby restaurants, gas stations, banks, and mopre without entering their current location. With easy Sprint SmartView Installation there is no CD required to install the 598U on Windows or Mac operating systems.
Mobile Broadband Rev A compatible
GPS Receiver Enabled
Easy installation – no CD required for Windows and Mac OS support
Sprint SmartViewSM software on the device
External antenna port
Convenience of 2-in-1 either as PCMCIA Type II or Express
Peak download speed of 3.1 Megabits per second
Peak Upload speed of 1.8 Megabits per second
Getting Started Guide
So what do you do if you already own the broadband card and you’ve got problems?
A couple things.
You could check out the carrier’s software support page, try the frequently asked questions, or read the user manual. Don’t know where to find that stuff?
I’ve got your back:
If you’ve got a netbook with no ExpressCard slot, you’re out of luck. A couple models only carry USB ports and as such won’t work with ExpressCards or PC Cards. Outside of that, there’s not much one can complain about here. Sure it doesn’t have microSD slots and those fancy frills but that comes with the territory. If you like those kind of features, check out USB broadband cards.
One feature listed as a benefit that might be a drawback is “The AirCard 402 is the first card form factor from Sprint to incorporate a new and innovative lighted design. Plug the AirCard 402 into your laptop and watch the graphics light up. Passers-by will be sure to notice your device once it’s lit and your ability to connect to broadband networks wirelessly”. Umm, how about not. I don’t need the world to know I’m on the internet. I’ll browse in peace and privacy thank you very much.
The Sprint AirCard 402 is free and you can make $100 in mail-in rebates (at the time of this review).
If you like sleek form factors that hide away in your laptop while you work, definitely pick it up. As always, you can test it out for 30 days without being locked into the contract. Definitely great for a test run.
Need more info? Check out the rest of the mobile broadband reviews.