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One 3G USB Modem That Works With Macbook Air

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A few days ago, Engadget reported that the recessed USB port on the Macbook Air made it virtually impossible to use a 3G modem (USB version) with the skinny machine. It was one of the machine’s shortcomings that felt like a real deal breaker.


Nevertheless, I had already purchased the Macbook Air, so it was a little late for recriminations and remorse. And since I happened to have Novatel Wireless’ U727 USB modem for Sprint’s EVDO network lying around, I decided to plug it in and see for myself whether or not it worked. I’m not sure if Engadget used this modem, but for me the device plugged in without problems, showed up on the desktop, and after some minor tinkering, got me online at decidedly 3G speeds. [digg=]

Setting up the device wasn’t that easy, as some “genius” at Apple decided to hide the Internet Connect option in the Macbook Air version of Leopard. I had to download the drivers from Sprint’s support web site, install them and restart the machine.

I activated the modem using the Sprint software, and soon thereafter found the modem in the network preferences panel. Following the instructions Sprint offers, it didn’t take very long to get going, though every time I need to get online, I need to do so by going to network preferences panel. I think this is yet another example of Apple’s narcissistic approach to usability — as well as a more clear-cut example of just not thinking things through.

After half an hour, I was busy using the Macbook Air on Sprint’s EVDO network. I was able to get around 900 Kbps downstream — not bad, given that we’re currently sharing a T-1 line in our office. And I have to say, the EVDO connection came in quite handy while hanging around the doctor’s waiting room.

My recommendation: Buy this modem to get the most out of your Macbook Air — $279 for a new one, $79 with a 2-year contract from Sprint.

Photo by Photo Matt

26 Responses to “One 3G USB Modem That Works With Macbook Air”

  1. Reasons I got a MBA
    1. Extreme portability (thin, light weight,)
    2. Battery life. (4.4 hours) Try that on a Macbook or another PC notebook. I really ran my MBA for 4.4 hours straight, before I needed to charge it.

  2. Jack Studer

    Does this USB EVDO card have an exchangeable SIM? Would love to have option to remoe bberry SIM and pop it in this USB for more serious tethering when needed.

  3. Om,

    The Sierra Wireless USB modem that has the hinged adapter works great. I have two, one locked on AT&T, and the other unlocked which I’ve used on 3 and T-Mobile in the UK…

    Speeds are higher than on Sprint, though I’ve found better speeds on Sprint and Verizon in most places other than the west coast.

  4. Is “minimalist” a fancy word for “has 10% of the features of any other laptop”? Elegant.. how? Quiet.. yes because there’s nothing in it to make noise. Portable.. just like any other laptop is portable.

    What I can’t understand is why people are willing to pay so much more to get so much less? Spend 1/3 of that price and you can get a fully loaded Dell laptop that has everything the Air is missing. Even if you want an Apple for some reason, get a regular macbook. They’re overpriced too, but not nearly as bad as the Air.

  5. Internet Connect (as you may have realised) has been integrated into System Preferences > Network. Also, if you click the Advanced button, there should be a checkbox within one of the tabs (I forget) that says something along the lines of “Connect automatically when needed” etc.

  6. @ Bob Smithson

    I agree, it looks awkward sticking out. though it is better than nothing.

    I hope more elegant solutions come to market soon.

    @ Assaf,

    thanks for the tip. Looks like a good find and I might try it out as well.


  7. I’m using the Franklin CDU680 with service from Millenicom (

    The card is small, fits nicely with the Air, excellent support for the Mac. It shows reception bars on the menu bar, and the drop type provides indicator for 1x/EV, connect/disconnect, and GPS search (though the built-in GPS is pretty inaccurate).

    Millenicom resells Sprint EVDO service for $50/month, no contract, $50 signup, you don’t pay for the card, but you don’t own it either.

  8. Sadly, while they pretend to sell the “Ovation U727 by Novatel Wireless” as part of the Sprint SERO program, they’re really lying and don’t allow you to select any plans for it. The next best is the ” AirCard® 595U by Sierra Wireless”, which, while cheaper, is probably too large to fit in the Macbook Air’s USB port. :(

  9. It looks like it will also work with the Sprint 595u (Sierra Wireless). I got some hands on time with one in an Apple store, and my biggest concern would be the small trackpad button, and the poor tactile feedback from it. Compared to my current MacBook Pro, it feels like it’s poorly connected on the back; button pushes aren’t as smooth or even.

    I know, I’m really nitpicking here.

  10. Thanks for the response. I’ve only used my Air for about 30 minutes. 1.8 C2D with the 80g hard drive and the fan was surprisingly noisy. I’ll have to keep an eye on it. Thanks for the 3g usb modem tip!