Pocketspots Bust Out — Sprint’s Overdrive a Winner at CES

Looking back, it’s clear we didn’t do justice to Sprint’s introduction of its Overdrive mobile hot spot product — such is the problem of holding a late-night event at CES, when your audience may be distracted from blogging or writing in the moment, as they say.

Overall, it was a boffo product announcement, hitting all the big-time notes (silly comedian Frank Caliendo, star turn from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, over-the-top after-announcement party food from celebrity chef Mario Batali) but most importantly it delivered a shipping-now, easy to use and understand product in the form of the Overdrive pocketspot from Sierra Wireless, which combines 3G and 4G connectivity into an in-your-pocket package. At $99 for the device and $60 a month for the data plan — same as most standalone 3G aircards — the Overdrive is a no-brainer decision if you are a road warrior who spends any amount of time in Sprint’s already operating 4G markets.

In our brief bit of hands-on testing at CES (the Sprint folks were kind enough to lend us an Overdrive for evaluation) we found the Overdrive incredibly simple to operate — just push one button and BOOM, as Caliendo would say in his trademark John Madden imitation, your WiMAX-enabled Wi-Fi hotspot was up and running. And even in the challenging airwave atmosphere of the Las Vegas Convention Center, we were able to live-Tweet the FCC chairman’s talk, via the Overdrive sitting in our suit jacket pocket. Nice.

Not to be outdone, pocketspot veterans Cradlepoint were showing their latest wares in a suite in the Wynn — while not yet available the company’s “Project Tablerock” mobile hotspot with docking station will likely be an extremely attractive choice for Clearwire users, since it features a portable WiMAX modem that becomes your home modem when you drop it into its two-antenna charging/docking station.

According to Cradlepoint folks who showed us the Tablerock unit, the docking station antennas give the unit a significant reception boost — never a bad thing when it comes to wireless connectivity. Look for the Tablerock and maybe more (!) pocketspot modems for Clearwire and its partners as the first quarter of 2010 comes to a close. (Bad phone-cam picture of Overdrive and Tablerock side by side follows.)

Sprint’s Overdrive by Sierra Wireless, left, and Cradlepoint’s Tablerock, in the wild at CES.

P.S.: Our always reliable pal Maggie Reardon covered the Sprint event for C/Net, tapping away at her laptop while everyone else ate Batali’s food.

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