Verizon Pushes 'Hub' Phone Over the Top

It’s a voice-over-Internet phone — wait, no, it’s a Web-video player. And an Internet radio. And a digital picture frame, a “communications command center” for families, a phone directory, a way to get a quick look at the news and weather and a bunch of other stuff.

Verizon Communications, which continues to lose traditional landline customers by the thousands, has turned to the wireless side of the house to try to stem the losses.

The voice-over-Internet service, launched Feb. 1, is delivered through an appliance-like phone system called the Hub. The Hub includes a seven-inch color touch screen and a cordless handset in a system that runs on any broadband connection, whether that’s from Verizon, a cable operator or another provider.

I got a test unit from Verizon Wireless to check it out. Setup was a snap. After about a 10-minute software download and update cycle, the Hub was ready to roll.

Phone calls, and other features like simultaneous ring (of other phone numbers, such as a mobile) and visual voice mail, are just the beginning. The Hub delivers news, information, V Cast video and other interactive features such as driving directions and ordering movie tickets. You’re able to customize the desktop and the screen saver to display your own photos, which is a nice touch.

The system provides some links to existing Verizon Wireless phones, such as access to the Chaperone service that does a real-time lookup and maps the approximate location of your children’s phones. (This is a bit spooky, actually.)

In addition, Hub users can send and receive text, picture and video messages to Verizon Wireless phones. However, you can’t send or receive messages from non-Verizon mobile phones. Why? According to the company, the restrictions are because of intercarrier agreements designed to reduce spam. Whatever the reason, the limitation restricts the Hub’s usefulness.

Other features that should be in the product, but aren’t: There’s no Web browser or e-mail application, nor can it sync up contacts you’ve already keyed into Verizon Wireless mobile phones. The company is considering adding these features in future iterations.

But the biggest drawback with the Hub is its pricing model. The device is $200 (after a $50 rebate) and customers must sign a two-year contract with a $35 minimum monthly calling plan.

Does this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink device pack in enough to justify the additional price? It may tickle the fancy of existing Verizon Wireless users, but it’s a premium-priced play for what is essentially nothing more than a bulked-up, in-home version of a mobile phone.

At A Glance: Verizon Hub

Description: Voice-over-IP communications and Internet device
Price: $249.99 ($199.99 after $50 rebate)
Calling plan: $34.99 monthly (unlimited calling in U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada); requires two-year contract and at least one other Verizon Wireless account
Screen size: 7-inch LCD touch screen at 800 by 480 pixels
Phone features: Visual voice mail, simultaneous ring, ringtones
Wireless integration: Chaperone phone-location, VZ Navigator driving directions, unlimited texting to and from Verizon Wireless phones
Internet features: V Cast video, Clear Channel radio stations, weather, traffic, yellow and white pages directories. photo display.

SOURCE: Verizon Wireless