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Review of Verizon's USB551L 4G LTE modem

Review by Jordan Crook on Monday April 11, 2011.

verizon · bluetooth / wireless reviews · verizon news · bluetooth / wireless news · jordan crook

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Verizon graciously gave us the opportunity to check out its latest 4G LTE USB modem, the Verizon USB551L. This will be the third Verizon LTE modem out of the gate, but the first be built by Novatel Wireless and also the first to offer support for OS X.

As a Mac user myself, I'm glad to hear that the modem is compatible. However, setup was not as breezy as I'd have liked it to have been, and in all honesty, I don't think that the VZAccess Manager and my Mac are getting along very well. The second time I used the modem, my computer pulled up a terrifying error screen, demanding that I restart the computer. I've never had an issue like this with my computer, and can only assume that the VZAccess Manager software must have hit a nerve somewhere in there.

On the other hand, the VZAccess Manager isn't all bad. The software offers way more connection information than Mac Airport, offering time spent connected, usage, a My Verizon link, along with a host of connection stats. VZAccess Manager also supports 2-way SMS capabilities, so I can send a text message to a friend over Verizon's network, straight from my computer.

In terms of hardware, the Verizon USB551L is sleek, light-weight, and even comes with a lanyard accessory for those of us who lose expensive toys as quickly as we can buy them. The modem sports dimensions of 87.9mm x 35mm x 11.9mm (3.46in x 1.38in x 0.47in) and weighs 34.9g (1.2oz).

On the front of the modem, there is a small LED indicator light that tells the user what kind of connection they have, and how strong the signal is. For example, the LED flashes blue to indicate a 4G connection, and the frequency with which it flashes indicates the strength of the signal. The same rules apply for a 3G connection, except the LED flashes green to indicate 3G. The Verizon USB551L has a swivel USB plug, which also folds away, so that the antenna can be easily adjusted and stay safe when unused, and the modem comes with a USB adapter for laptops with vertical USB ports.

In terms of connectivity, with 2 bars of signal strength, the modem offered download speeds between 16 and 18Mbps, while upload speeds were below 1Mbps. After moving into stronger-signal territory, upload speeds increased to between 1 and 2.5Mbps, while download speeds stayed about the same. Overall, speed isn't really the issue, as I can basically switch back and forth between my home Wi-Fi connection and the USB551L without being able to tell much of a difference. In fact, most of the speed tests with the modem came out higher than my home Wi-Fi speeds. The problem is that the connection gets dropped every once in a while, which is, of course, frustrating. It's not what we tend to expect from Verizon's network.

The full retail price for the USB551L at Verizon is $249.99, or $149.99 on a two-year contract. Plus, if you order online, you'll get a $50 discount, which brings your price down to just $99.99. A one-year contract offers the same $50 online discount, but the USB551L will cost you $219.99.

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