We’ve been waiting for WiMax for a long, long time. It’s a technology that has been talked about being rolled out for quite a few years. Originally, WiMax was hailed as being a way to bring affordable highspeed wireless internet access to the masses at speeds faster than 3G. When Clearwire finally launched 4G WiMax in several cities around the country, we were jealous and couldn’t wait till WiMax showed up on our doorsteps too. Why would you prefer 4G over 3G? Because it theoretically should offer faster speeds than 3G, plus 4G WiMax data plans are truly unlimited, unlike most cellular carrier’s 3G plans which have 5GB caps. In particular we reviewed the Clear 4G+ Mobile USB Series S that is both Mac and PC compatible. It is a modem that is also able to switch between 4G and 3G networks.
The Clear connection manager software comes preloaded on the USB modem itself. Installation was quick and painless on both PC and Macs. The connection software is simple and intuitive – it has two tabs – one to connect to 3G and one to connect to 4G. It also has two buttons – one for “My clear” and one for “my account”. My clear shows you your usage details. It took a few minutes to activate the device the first time we used it and the device actually activates itself over a 3G network. However it does take quite some time to connect to 4G each time you connect. The modem has a unique round design which is unlike most of the rectangular shaped USB modems out there. It also sports two indicator lights – one for 3G and another for 4G
You can find out if you have Clear 4G service in your area via clear.com/coverage or by downloading the “Got Clear?” iPhone or Android app. Currently, there are still lots of empty coverage pockets around NYC where there is no 4G WiMax Coverage, although the majority of the city does have coverage. That said, if you plan on using CLEAR a lot while traveling in your car, then you’ll want to stick with 3G as it has proved to be a more stable connection while driving around because it offers better coverage. To that effect, if you’re someone who travels a lot in general, than getting a CLEAR modem which has the ability to switch to 3G is essential.
We tested the device all over NYC, as well as in New Jersey and Philadelphia. In Philadelphia surfing the web with the device was a very pleasurable experience with both healthy upload and download speeds. On the other hand, general performance in Manhattan has been all over the place, with generally poor upload speeds – Even in areas which are supposed to be covered. Outside of Manhattan; Brooklyn showed consistently good performance. We also tried testing in Staten Island, at the Staten Island Mall where CLEAR has a kiosk set-up. Almost half of the Island seems to have coverage already. Ironically, we couldn’t get a connection at the mall though.
Monthly service costs $55.00 a month for the Clear 4G+ Mobile USB Series S. Alternatively you can opt for a 4G only modem and service will cost just $45 a month. However, today CLEAR is having a special Thanksgiving sale that offers 80% off on their hardware. Apple device users can take advantage of the iSpot mobile hotspot device and its on-the-go plan which costs just $25 a month and is designed to work with the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone. Besides for their mobile internet plans, CLEAR also offers several Home Internet & Home Phone (VOIP) Plans that cost as low as $35.00 a month for internet with a 1.5Mbps cap, to a $60 a month plan that has no cap and also comes with voice. After spending time with the CLEAR 4G+ Mobile USB Series S we don’t think that this is a viable replacement for your home’s highspeed DSL or cable internet connection. That said, CLEAR does offer several non portable modems that are specifically designed for home use, so we wonder if those are more powerful and if these devices are powerful enough to truly replace someone’s DSL or cable connection.
We really wanted to fall in love with CLEAR’s 4G service, but it seems like it’s not quite ready for prime-time in New York, despite the fact that they seem to be aggressively pushing it here in the malls and Best Buy at kiosks, as well as in many ads around town. We hope that coverage and performance, and especially upload speeds will improve in New York City soon, so that it becomes on-par with other cities like Philadelphia where 4G WiMax shines. We’re also disappointed by the fact that so far, speeds are not that much faster than 3G. In any case, We’ll update this review if we notice improvements in NYC. Currently the Clear 4G+ Mobile USB Series S Costs $115.00 with a 2 year contract, plus you get a free month and free activation if you order online. Unfortunately, the modem seems pricey considering it comes with a 2 year contract. And again, for folks living in areas with spotty coverage or for people who travel a lot, getting a 3G/4G USB modem or hotspot like the Clear Spot 4G+ is really a must.
Check out our our Rover 4G Review. Rover is a pay-as-you-go service that also runs on Clearwire’s 4G network.
Update 11/27/10: CLEAR does offer a month-to-month 4G only plan for $45 a month
The Good: USB Series S Modem provides you with both 3G & 4G coverage, 4G has good performance in some areas, data is truly Unlimited
The Bad: Coverage in NYC is still spotty with poor upload speeds in many areas (particularly Manhattan), not exactly the affordable pricing we’d hoped that WiMax would offer, switching between 3G and 4G can be buggy sometimes