Verizon Hub Review

5
Introduction and Design
Introduction:

Back in 2005 there were rumors about an upcoming product known then as the Verizon One, which was said to reinvent the home phone.  Then two years later a prototype was revealed at CES ‘07, showing a device with a color touchscreen and interactive software. It has now been another two years and the device has finally been released under the name “Verizon Hub”.  Included in the box is the base station, support stand, cordless handset with 550mAh battery, stylus, ethernet cable, and power cable.

The Hub, manufactured by OpenPeak, is a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) device that connects to your broadband connection (DSL, Cable, FiOS) via Wi-Fi or traditional Cat5 Ethernet cable.  Pricing starts at $199 (after 50 rebate) with a 2-year contract and monthly service is $35, which includes unlimited calling to any phone in the U.S.  Oddly enough, only Verizon Wireless customers can purchase the Hub, which we believe will limit its growth, but with it on your account you can call the Hub from your cell phone without using your plan minutes.

Design:

The Hub’s base station is rather large, measuring 6.5”H x 11”W x 1.5”D, but after installing the required stand, the depth is increased to 7” and has a total weight of two pounds.  It almost looks like a “black box” due to the black plastic that is used throughout, but it doesn’t feel very durable and would probably break if it fell on a tile floor.  The display is quite large, measuring 7” diagonal; with a resolution of 800x480 pixels and 65K color support.  It uses resistive (pressure sensitive) technology, similar to the LG Versa or Dare, instead of capacitive technology, like the iPhone or Motorola Krave.  Because of this, a stylus is included, but really isn’t needed unless you’ve been cooking and don’t want to get something on the screen.  Even though it has less color support than most cell phones (262K), images look excellent and can be viewed in a wide variety of lighting conditions and at off-axis angles without distortion. 



The black cordless handset is reminiscent of candy-bar style cell phones of the 90s, but not as thick, measuring 5.5”H x 2”W x 0.8”D.  It has a 1.8” color display at the top, d-pad in the middle, and a numeric keypad at the bottom with red backlighting.  The buttons are raised from the surrounding plastic and provide a good response when pressed.  Up to three additional handsets can be used with the Hub, with each one costing $79, around the same price as a cell phone.






Software and Features:

Once the Hub is up and running, the home screen shows a background wallpaper, four widgets (date/time, weather, call/messages, and calling features) and buttons for menu, home, and dial pad on the left side.  The widgets can be placed anywhere on the screen and even removed if not needed.  The Main Menu with 12 icons is displayed in a grid format.  Selecting the Communications icon will take you into a sub-menu where you can tab between the speakerphone dial pad, recent calls, contacts, voice mail, messaging, and directories.  You can only store up to 128 contacts, where most cell phones accept 500-1000.  It allows you to enter the first and last name, home/cell/work phone numbers, location address, email, group (family, friends, other, work), Picture ID image and ringtone.  This is very basic, as we’d like to be able to enter more than 3 numbers for a given person and have the ability to upload our own ringtones.  One feature missing here is speed dial, which would be quicker than having to search for a stored number each time you need it.




When a person calls the Hub, it will show their caller ID information on the screen or Contact information if stored.  It doesn’t support Talking Caller ID, which has been around on cordless landline phones for several years.  When a voice mail is left, the widget on the home screen will show how many missed calls and voice mails there are.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have “call screening” where you can listen to a voice message while it’s being recorded.  When going into the menu, it shows a column on the left with the person’s name, number, and date/time of message.  When you select the message you want to access, the right side shows icons for play and stop, as well call return, text message, and map location.  We found the layout easy to use for beginners as everything is shown logically on the screen.  You can also access your messages on-line with any PC by logging into you’re My Verizon account.  The only problem we encountered was when a voice mail was left, the Hub was not notified and it did not show up in the voice mail menu.  During our testing, this happened at random, but occurred about 50% of the time.  We contacted Verizon support and were told that there is a network problem with voice mail notifications, but it is being looked into and will be resolved.  Recently, this problem has become less noticeable, with most voice mail notifications being shown.  Text and Picture messages can also be sent and received between the Hub and other Verizon Wireless cell phones.




The built-in Directory service allows you to search by categories (restaurants, entertainment, stores, travel, medical, services, and automotive) based on your City or Zip code location (GPS is not included).  If looking for an Italian restaurant, for example, it will show a list of restaurants on the left side with a map and their location on the right side.  You can then change the map to full screen mode, zoom in and out, and even drag the map around with your finger.  Once a restaurant is selected, you can call it directly, or send its location to your Verizon cell phone with VZ Navigator.  The People Search is basically an updated White Pages, where you enter in the person’s name and location (city or zip) and it will show matching results.  The Reverse Lookup allows you to enter in a persons phone number and it will search for a matching address.



One of the more interesting features of the Hub is the Movies menu.  You can browse current listings as well as upcoming releases.  When a movie is selected, it shows a synopsis, nearby theaters, and even the trailers.  When selecting a theater, the showtimes are displayed, and you can change dates and even purchase tickets.  We found that the quality of the trailers to be not that great, with the video looking fuzzy and dropping frames.  We believe this is due to the low-quality encoding being used, but the Hub does support higher quality MP4 H.264 playback.




VCast
also comes included, with categories for news/sports, entertainment, food/dining, and lifestyles.  Once again, video quality isn’t as good as we’d like to see, and is equivalent to the movie trailers.  Streaming Internet Radio, powered by iheartradio.com, was recently added and currently provides 12 stations.  The selection is limited and doesn’t provide too much of a choice, as most play the current “top 40” hits.  More stations are expected to be added over the following weeks.  The music quality is rather good through the base station’s rear speaker and can get rather loud if the volume is turned up all the way.  There is also a 3.5mm audio out jack on the side that you can connect to a stereo headset or even to desktop speakers.  You can exit the player and keep the music playing, with a new music widget on the home screen.  Some multitasking is allowed, but the music playback will stop if you place/receive a call, access voicemail, or any other audio service.



Another way that the Hub integrates with your Verizon Wireless service is with the Chaperone application.  This allows you to view the current location of your mobile phones on a map, child safe zones, and send messages.



A basic Calendar is included, where you can scroll from one month to another and add events to different days.  The alerts will be displayed on the Hub’s screen and can also be sent as a text message to cell phones in your contacts list.  Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to sync calendar events between your cell phone and the Hub.

The Calculator is also very basic and doesn’t do anything more than add, subtract, multiply, or divide.  We’d like to see this updated with some measurement conversions for use in a kitchen.

There is a Traffic application, but is limited to 37 metropolitan cities around the U.S.  After a 12 second commercial for the UPS Store (why is this there?) it will show a video with traffic conditions, accidents, and construction in the area.  This could be very useful to check in the morning before leaving for work, but we’re not sure how often it’s updated.


Going into the Settings menu allows you to make numerous changes and customizations to the system, but some do require you to log into your Hub’s online account.  Under the General tab you can customize the weather locations, select which widgets are shown, adjust the date and time, and add additional handsets.  The Features tab is for making changes to the different calling features.  One of them is Simultaneous Ring, which will ring up to three other phones when there is an incoming call.  If you answer the call on a phone other than the Hub, such as your cell phone, the call is transferred to it.  The Backup Number is useful when there is a power or Internet outage, as calls are automatically routed to a different number.  The Display tab allows you to select different wallpapers for the Home Screen, but you can only upload new pictures by going to the on-line account.  The Screensaver can be changed between two different slideshows (one is customizable with uploaded photos), the weather/time, and can have a delay or 5, 10, or 30 minutes.  The Network tab is for verifying or connecting the Hub to a wired or wireless network, and the Sound tab allows you to change the volume of the system, speakerphone, ringer, and media, as well as selecting the default ringtone, but you can’t upload your own.  The final screen is for System, which shows some technical information, such as the firmware version, MAC and IP address.





Performance:

As a VoIP phone, the Hub works quite well.  Our demo unit was connected to our Comcast cable modem service using a Verizon Wi-Fi router ($69 accessory), but any such router can be used.  If you don’t have Wi-Fi, then it can connect with a standard Ethernet cable.  While on a phone call, there is a slight “hiss” in the background, but it isn’t too noticeable.  We tested the device both wirelessly and wired, and didn’t notice any difference in the voice quality or connection speed.  When using the cordless handset, which operates a 1.9GHz, we were able to go up to 400 feet and through three walls before losing the connection from the base station.  The 550mAh battery might be less than most cell phones, but we were able to get 11 hours of continuous talk time, which was rather remarkable.

The software is stable most of the time, but we did occasionally have to reboot the device.  For instance, we would get a dial tone on the handset and dial a number, but nothing would happen.  We’d then hang-up, but could not clear the number from the screen.  Once we rebooted the system, it worked fine.  Another time was while using the map and moving it around on the screen.  The system froze for about 10 seconds and rebooted itself.  We’ve been told by Verizon support that a software update due out later in March and should resolve these issues.

A few features that we’d like to see added to the Hub is an Internet Browser (such as Firefox or Opera), cooking recipes, talking Caller ID, call screening, ringtone uploads, better video playback, personalized wallpaper on the handset, and the ability to connect a web cam or keyboard via the two USB ports.

Conclusion:

The Hub is one of those devices that sounded cool a few years ago when we first heard about it, but in today’s world it doesn’t really do anything that can’t be accomplished with a cell phone, smartphone, or computer.  While the VoIP call quality and features are nice, the $199 price, $35 monthly service fee, and $79 for additional handsets is rather steep, considering that you’re under a 2 year agreement.  If you happen to be a Verizon Wireless customer and also have a current landline number that you’d want to port over, then the Hub might be something to consider, but we doubt anyone will run out and become a Verizon Wireless customer just to be able to purchase one.



Pros

  • Large 7” touchscreen display
  • Unlimited VoIP calling
  • Easy to use
  • Directory service, movie listings, Chaperone, and VCast
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • 11 hour continuous talk time on the handset

Cons

  • $199 with 2-year contract or $269 with 1-year, $79 for additional handsets
  • Will not work if there is an Internet or power outage
  • No talking caller ID or call screening
  • Can’t upload your own ringtones
  • Some software bugs that need to be worked out

PhoneArena Rating:

7.0

Recommended Stories

Loading Comments...
FCC OKs Cingular\'s purchase of AT&T Wireless