Give Verizon credit for trying something different. As fewer people rely on residential landlines for phone service, and more of those remaining people switch to VoIP service from their cable TV providers, the whole concept of the home phone needs a fresh look. The Verizon Hub is a new communications system that combines the company's wireless and VoIP plans with cordless handsets and an Internet-enabled touch-screen unit.
To use the Hub in your home, you need to have a Verizon Wireless account, as well as subscribe to its Digital Voice plan, which costs $34.99 per month for unlimited calling to the U.S. and Canada. You'll also need a broadband connection and a router; those who don't own a router already can buy one from Verizon for $69.99. As the above picture shows, you get a cordless handset that sits in the Hub base station with the touch screen. That hardware combo costs $199.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a two-year service agreement; additional handsets are available for $79.99 apiece.
The costs add up quickly, as you can see, so what advantages does the Hub offer consumers? The "command center" gives you access to an array of Internet services, including news, weather, and sports updates, traffic info, movies listings and ticket purchasing, and visual voicemail. You can also create a Contacts list that syncs between each of your handsets and the command center. It also has a couple of handy features if you subscribe to the Chaperone and VZ Navigator services through your wireless plan. The former can locate your cellphone-wielding children from the command center just by selecting the Locate Now button, while the latter lets you beam turn-by-turn GPS-based directions to a mobile phone after you look up an address on the center. The center can even be used as a digital photo frame.
When it comes to Internet access, however, the Hub seems to be something of a closed system. There's no Web browser or e-mail app, both of which seem like obvious features considering there's built-in 802.11b/g. You also don't get a built-in camera to use for video chatting, though you get two USB 2.0 ports. Verizon could roll out new services and features over time, but the price is quite high to sit and wait for them to arrive, especially in this economy. For consumers, the best hope may be that Verizon's concept spurs competitors to come up with similar offerings of their own that they price more reasonablyor maybe just wait until Verizon realizes there's little demand for the Hub at this price and starts offering it at a more affordable price point.