Verizon Hub hands-on and impressions

We had a chance to get our grubby mitts on Verizon's new VOIP / home phone -- the Hub -- and we thought we'd give you a little preview of what's in store if you're planning on busting out the credit card. The device, which we've seen floating around in various forms since January of 2007, is a combo of a cradled wireless handset and 7-inch, resistive touchscreen display. It's an interesting play for a sector of the market that's all but forgotten (and maybe for good reason). If you want to hear some thoughts on the device, follow the bread crumbs beyond the break.

The Hub is really a half-netbook, and underneath its black exterior it houses a 500MHz CPU, 128MB of RAM, 128MB of flash storage, 802.11b/g, and runs atop a custom build of Linux 2.6.16. Don't let that fool you though, there's no real broad functionality to be found here. Mostly, the system chugs along running widgets (for weather, voicemail, timekeeping), directory and navigation services, and the occasional movie trailer. It seems obvious for a device like this to do video chat -- but you're out of luck. There's no camera here or app for doing any kind of webcaming, though reps for the company say they're looking at other uses, and the two USB ports could certainly be employed for peripherals.

What's nice about the box is that it plugs in to a bunch of services you're probably used to using on your cellphone. It incorporates a Google Maps-like service for locating restaurants, shops, and other assorted consumer activities, and is able to send directions to your Verizon handheld (provided it has VZ Navigator on board). If you want to find a movie, it's simple to tap out a few letters, do some location-searches, watch trailers (as mentioned, a nice touch), and buy tickets right from the Hub.

For a device you might throw in the kitchen, it's got a group of features that would come in handy if you're not near a laptop (or you don't have a reasonably stacked smartphone). The strange thing is, the Hub isn't really being targeted at people who have landlines. In order to actually get the device, you have to be a Verizon Wireless user, and adding the Hub is kind of like adding another line. Except not, because it doesn't use Verizon's wireless network at all, and it's not doing any cool, location-aware stuff, like taking your cellphone calls once you're home. Essentially, it's a VOIP box being offered to... people who don't already have a phone at home. We find the whole thing a little strange -- it seems obvious that you would target something like this to people who are used to having a phone in their house, but you can't get one even if you want one.

At the end of the day, the Hub certainly serves a purpose, but between netbooks, smartphones, and the broad proliferation of just plain old laptops these days, it might have a tough time finding a spot in the market. The unit launches this Sunday and will be priced at $249 (less a $50 mail-in rebate) with a $34.99 monthly service fee. We won't make our final call till we've had some real quality time with the device -- we should be getting a unit for a full-on road test and review, so stay tuned.