First Look: AT&T USBConnect Quicksilver 3G Adapter

att_usbconnectquicksilverRegular readers know that in these parts, we thrive on 3G wireless broadband service. An always-on, high-speed wireless connection is the most empowering mobile technology I’ve used in the past several years. Location-based services might mature enough to have me rescind that thought in the near future, but since 2004, 3G has been “it” for me. That’s why I jumped at the chance to review the AT&T USBConnect Quicksilver LaptopConnect device. I coordinated my 30-day device loan period with three trips in the next three weeks, plus I’ll be using it around the town here at home when I’m not recouping from travel. My testing won’t be as “definitive” as this 3G study, but between now and the middle of January, I’ll be using the small USB adapter in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Francisco on a number of notebooks.

The Phoenix trip is a short, out-of-pocket vacation hop & Christmas present for a father-son weekend: Tyler and I are attending the Cardinals last regular season home game, but we’ll both have notebooks and we really don’t function well without our Internet. He’s only eleven and I’ve already corrupted him with a sub-par football team and mobile tech. Although he’s a subject matter expert on netbooks in his own right, perhaps I need a 2009 resolution to steer him towards liking a better NFL team. Regardless, we’re sure to get good usage out of the Quicksilver in Phoenix followed by my CES trip and another jaunt to the GigaOM offices after that.

When folded up, the Quicksilver is a little shorter than the USB 727 that I personally own and use on the Verizon Wireless EV-DO network. To use the Quicksilver, you simply slide the cover around to expose the USB port. My first impressions were that the cover wasn’t necessary and because it extends the device length, it wasn’t desirable. Upon closer inspection however, I thought that the protective cover may double as an extended antenna. I assmed this because the included documentation explains how to replace the cover and shows a connector. Like any true geek, I promptly removed the cover to have a look. Here you can see that there’s connector pin on the cover that fits into the card, but it doesn’t touch the antenna jack so it doesn’t look to add signal strength to the card. A quick test of the adapter without the cover ought to confirm.

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I’m encouraged by the Quicksilver advertised as a plug-and-play unit. Unlike my current adapter, the Quicksilver includes Windows drivers and software within an embedded memory module in the device. There’s no need to carry around or use a CD for installation, which is great for netbook owners as those devices typically don’t offer optical drives. For my MacBook, I’ll need to hit up the AT&T support site and download the appropriate software. The included software is a nice touch and an advantage over my USB 727, but my adapter offers a microSD card slot; there’s no card slot on the Quicksilver.

Aside from being small at 2.6 x 1.0 x 0.7 inches, the Quicksilver weighs a scant 1.2 ounces so I won’t even notice the weight when trekking with it over the next month. While it supports AT&T’s HSPA network, it also provides a fallback to the slower EDGE network when there’s no 3G coverage to be found. I’m expecting to see download speeds near 2 Mbps where I have 3G coverage as I’ve seen faster when speed-testing my EV-DO adapter.

leftcol_ice8040It should be an interesting month since I’m hitting various locations and this is the first device I’ve used that’s built on the latest Icera Livanto chipset: the soft baseband technology allows for supporting multiple hardware standards through software or fimware updates. Maybe I should find such an upgrade and schedule a trip to Chicago where AT&T is testing 7.2 Mbps wireless throughput?

AT&T says the Quicksilver supports international data roaming in more than 150 countries, with 3G available in more than 60 of those countries, but I’ll be state-side for these tests. The adapter is clearly more of a traveler than I am: it’s made by Option in the EU. Up to now I’ve only used 3G cards from Novatel and Sierra Wireless. More to say between now and 30 days, but so far, I like what I see in terms of features and ease-of-use.

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