Verizon Hub - hands on

Spare a thought for the poor old home phone. While Johnny-come-lately mobiles have morphed from suitcase-sized saddos to sylph-like sirens in just a f

Spare a thought for the poor old home phone. While Johnny-come-lately mobiles have morphed from suitcase-sized saddos to sylph-like sirens in just a few years, the home phone has, er, lost its curly cord and gained an address book. Not impressive.

Cue the Verizon Hub, an effort to 'reimagine' the home phone as a 'souped-up home communications system', complete with touchscreen, VOIP calling and permanent broadband link.

I got my hands on one of the very first units at Verizon's Data Centre in Seattle, and had a run-through some of its features.

First up - the 7-inch, 800x480 touchscreen is resistive, so there's no iPhone-style multitouch fun to be had here. The display is eye-stabbingly bright, which is great for the Hub's intended spot in the kitchen but could be annoying if you pop it by your bedside - especially as you can't actually turn the display off completely.

It's incredibly simple to use, with just a few menus to help you select your b/g Wi-Fi network (it also has an Ethernet port) - it will work with any broadband provider.

The default screen has time and a local weather forecast, although you can use your own photos (loaded via a USB key). VOIP calling and texting are intuitive enough, although there's currently no way to synch up contacts with either your PC or online address books.

There's no web browser but Verizon's walled garden does have a local business search, phone books, movie times (and trailers), recipe videos (I wasn't kidding about the kitchen) and instantly generated 'live' local traffic reports.

Location-based services are good - you can pull up addresses on a scrollable, zoomable map, and send turn-by-turn directions to your mobile (although only handsets running Verizon's VZ Navigator service).

If your teens are proving naughty, you can link their Verizon mobiles to the Hub via its Chaperone service and get a pin-point location on the Hub's map - or an alert if they breach a pre-set perimeter.

Overall, the Hub is pretty impressive. It makes those last-minute forecast, traffic and address searches a breeze and seems to work well as a cordless phone, too.

One big drawback, though: the $200 (£140) price-tag isn't the end of it. You'll need to sign up to a 2-year, $35 (£25) monthly contract to use the Hub - although at least that includes unlimited US calling.