The product collage at the top of the article shows that these travel routers come in three form factors.
Chewing gum pack - While the Edimax router claims bragging rights for having the smallest, lightest form factor in the roundup, don't let its diminutive size fool you. It has good firewall capabilities and a robust set of filtering and blocking tools. It's powered by a built-in USB "pig tail" you can connect to a USB power supply or to a USB port on a laptop.
Wall Plug - Both the TP-LINK and TRENDnet routers plug directly into a power socket. The TRENDnet has an on/off switch, a three position mode switch and two USB ports - one of which can provide rapid charging current for other USB devices. It also comes with interchangeable power plugs, so you're covered for the US, Europe and Great Britain.
The TP-LINK is the only router in the roundup that has a separate wired Ethernet LAN port. When not in router mode, both Ethernet ports are LAN ports. The US power plug folds into the case. While it doesn't come with international power adapters, the product has a 100-240 VAC power supply that will work anywhere with plug adapters. The TP-LINK router is also the only router in the roundup that doesn't have a dedicated WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button.
Soap Bar - The other three routers in the roundup come in rectangular-shaped packages and are powered by USB. The ZyXEL is the smallest in this category and is the approximate size of a Zippo lighter. It has a three position mode switch, a WPS button and, surprisingly, a Clone MAC button.
The next largest router is the Belkin Dual Band router. It has only a single button - WPS. Both of these devices come with a USB power supply and a micro USB cable.
The D-Link router is the largest and heaviest router in the roundup. Much of its size and weight is due to its built-in 1700 mAh battery that can power the device for up to 4 hours or can charge other USB devices. It has a swing out foot to provide stability. The D-Link router does not include a power supply, but comes with a mini-USB cable.
In the Box
Four of the six routers (Belkin, D-Link TP-LINK and TRENDnet) include an Ethernet cable. So you may need to buy one or root around in your closet for a spare one if you plan to use the router with a wired WAN connection. Of the products that depend on a USB power source, only the Belkin and ZyXEL include a power adapter. Of course, the wall-plugged TP-LINK and TRENDnet don't rely on USB for power.
Other accessories worthy of note:
- TRENDnet - three international power plugs (as noted above)
- ZyXEL - three international power plugs and a drawstring travel pouch
- Belkin - Attractive zippered leatherette case for the router and included accessories
I'm going to spend a little more room on setup than I normally do, as ease of setup is really important. It's one thing to re-configure a router at home where you have access to documentation and possibly an internet connection. But should you have to do a factory reset while you're traveling (and I have had to), you need information at your fingertips to be able to reconfigure it without documentation.
Of course, reconfiguration is less of an issue for routers that default to no security. You just reset it, log in and re-configure it. But for those with security pre-configured, not having the wireless password conveniently available, such as on a label, could prevent you from using it should you need to do a factory reset.
None of the travel routers in this roundup required a CD for setup. In all cases, when I tested each router, they connected to the internet by merely plugging an Ethernet cable into my network and plugging them into power.
I configured all six routers using my iPad. Two of the routers, the D-Link and the Edimax, arrive with no security configured. The Quick Start Guide for both devices point you to the IP address of the router and provide login credentials. The Edimax also has a label with the default IP address and login credentials affixed to the router. For non-secured routers, the Edimax was the easier of the two.
The other four routers arrived pre-configured with Wi-Fi Security enabled. Here are comments on each:
- Belkin - The dual-band Belkin router has a unique SSID for each of the two bands, but shares a unique wireless password for both bands. That information is included on a label affixed to the Quick Start Guide. But Belkin still loses some points for setup. The Quick Start Guide doesn't tell you how to connect to the router. Of course, if you know how to find the IP address of the router (ipconfig for Windows users), you can just point to the address. The User guide, available on the web site tells you to use http://router and advises that there's no default password.
- TP-LINK - A label affixed to the side of the router provides the default SSID and wireless password. The Quick start guide advises the default login address (http://tplinklogin.net) as well as user credentials. Some people may find a magnifying glass useful for both the QSG and the label.
- TRENDnet - TRENDnet has the best setup of the security-enabled routers, but with one small hitch. A large label affixed to the front of the router provides the SSID and wireless password (11 characters) as well as the login and a unique scrambled 8 digit password. TRENDnet also had, in my opinion, the best Quick Start Guide. The only problem I had was that the default http://tew-714tru login URL didn't work. I tested it on two browsers. I ended up just pointing to the router's IP address (192.168.10.1).
- ZyXEL - ZyXEL also lost some points for their setup. There is no label on the travel router. All of the information that you need is on the back side of the Quick Start Guide. The ZyXEL SSID defaults to ZYXELxxxx where xxxx is the last four digits of the MAC address. The default key is 00000000. While the router's IP address and login credentials are clearly identified in the QSG, most people aren't likely to travel with the QSG.
Only three of the six routers have USB ports.
D-Link - The D-Link has a single USB port that can be used for file sharing through D-Link's Shareport, or can be used to charge other USB mobile devices. If you enable the DLNA Media server and connect a USB storage device containing media files, the DIR-506L can serve streaming media to DLNA compliant players. The DLNA server properly enumerated all media file types on my media test USB drive and they all played as expected on my WDTV Live media player.
TP-LINK - The single USB port on the TP-LINK router can be used to share files or to serve Media files. You can create up to 6 shares and up to four users. File access is by Internet Explorer. While my WDTV Live media player found the TP-LINK server, music files weren't properly categorized by artist, album, genre, etc. Some of my video test files played the audio only.
TRENDnet - This is the only travel router that has two USB ports. One port is dedicated for charging USB devices. This port has a rated capacity of 1A-2.1A, and the manual says that it will recognize iPads. The second port is for file sharing. It supports browser access, FTP access and standard SMB sharing for Windows and MacOS machines. The TRENDnet has the best file sharing option of the three routers.
The TP-LINK user manual (page 110) had a pretty good description of the five modes of operation that travel routers can have. Rather than re-create what's already a pretty good description, I've included a screenshot here.
Travel Router Modes of Operation
Of course, not all devices support all modes, so I've created a table to summarize the operating modes for each router. All products support the router mode or they wouldn't be in this roundup. The Belkin router supported no modes other than router mode, and the TP-LINK and ZyXEL routers supported all five modes.
|Belkin F9K1107v1||D-Link DIR-506L||Edimax BR-6258nl||TP-LINK TL-WR710N||TRENDnet TEW-714TRU||ZyXEL NBG2105|
|Hot Spot (WISP) Mode||N||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
Table 2: Travel Router Operating Modes
For travel routers, VPN passthrough is especially important because business travelers are likely to use a VPN to securely connect to their corporate networks. Using a VPN is also a really good idea for security when using public Wi-Fi networks. If you travel internationally, you'll also find that a VPN can connect you to US-based services such as Pandora, Netflix, Hulu, etc. These services typically block access for IP addresses originating outside the US.
Table 3 summarizes VPN passthrough support for each of the routers in the roundup. For the way that I travel and how I use my mobile devices, the lack of VPN support on the TRENDnet would rule it out for me.
Updated 5/29/14: TRENDnet says new 1.0.3 firmware supports PPTP, L2TP and IPSec VPN passthrough
|Protocol||Belkin F9K1107v1||D-Link DIR-506L||Edimax BR-6258nl||TP-LINK TL-WR710N||TRENDnet TEW-714TRU||ZyXEL NBG2105|
(w/ 1.0.3 firmware)
(w/ 1.0.3 firmware)
(w/ 1.0.3 firmware)