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Pros: *Easy setup
*Pretty Good Range
*USB ports are useful for NAS, Printers and FTP
*Parental and Access Control Features that are easy to use
The TP-LINK WDR3600 is advertised as an “N600” device; in today's review (of my second unit), I'm actually going to delve into what that means for potential buyers. First, my background; I actually own two WDR3600s. This is a newer revision, but works the same; same good performance, value, features. I run dedicated gaming servers using it, and performance is definitely reliable. Range is good but not extraordinary (See the TP-LINK High Power routers for that). Configuration is easy, the web-config is especially nice thanks to a built-in manual which tells you what every setting does. I'm still frustrated that the pages are separated in the way that they are, with the DHCP Clients page apart from the IP reservation page. Of course, we still get gigabit ethernet and simultaneous 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz
What have they changed, then? I found a different power adapter, a newer firmware version, and green lights instead of blue. Not a huge change, but somewhat welcome --- those blue LEDs were rather harsh. So, search for my other review; it's pretty much the same here. Let's try and cover some new ground. See my "Other Thoughts."
Cons: *Somewhat delicate
*No easy configuration modes for use as a Repeater or AP
*Finding firmwares online is a chore
*Aesthetic changes between hardware versions (Green lights on newer, blue on older)
*Formerly good connections (for “N” hardware) now only middling.
Other Thoughts: This device is advertised as an “N600” device, which means 600 Mbps. Can it deliver? Well, unfortunately, the short answer is “no.” I have seen full-speed connections at close range on either band. That's certainly a plus here. At a more realistic distance, though, through one floor of my home, getting 100% connection speed all the time is a pipe dream. It never does drop below the speed of the internet, though, so streaming media isn't a problem. In fact, streaming high-quality local files is effortless as well. You won't need 600 Mbps for that. 10Mb/s video is pretty high quality for 1080p content, and you're unlikely to see this router drop to connections below that mark, unless you live inside a microwave oven.
Now, deeper. A 600 Mbps connection (or, more likely, a 500ish connection) actually has to go to multiple targets. One adapter is always an “either/or” situation. Your device will connect to 2.4 GHz or 5.0 GHz. A wireless adapter just won't connect to both at once, so that 500ish Mbps bitrate that your working with is cut in half. Bummer, but at least you can connect to multiple devices and support reasonable speeds to both, right? 250 Mbps isn't bad.
What if you only have one device on your network, though? A single piece of hardware that has need of a higher-bandwidth connection. Is it possible to get it connected to both bands? What if you connect a 2.4 GHz adapter AND a 5.0 GHz adapter? They're easy enough to come by.
That's what I did; two adapters, connecting simultaneously. Windows supports it, and I can ping both adapters from across my network. They sum to 500 Mbps and some change with good signal. Time for some file transfers. The RAMdisk is set up. I've got some media ready to fly across my network and show those AC routers what-for.
48 Mbps is the file-transfer speed. Plenty for the media, but hardly “N600” numbers.
What's the problem? It's down to consumer-level networking, and not going to be fixed any time soon. Windows, in general, will not “team” the network interface cards (NICs, or USB adapters which aren't technically “cards,” but still count). It was a rumored feature for Windows 7 and 8, but has never materialized. There are surely lots of reasons (difficulty in syncing the two feeds, reliability issues, etc.), but suffice it to say that “N600” on a single device doesn't mean anything. You can't have it. You actually can wrangle up the hardware relatively easily, but the feature is an enterprise-level feature, which means that your midrange router, cheap adapters, and non-server version of Windows are not going to get you there (without some programming, anyway).
The conclusion, then, is fairly straight-forward. You can certainly get all the radios and receivers required to hit the right numbers, but making use of that for file-transfers is a completely different thing; you'll be better off with an 802.11AC device.
Pros: The TP-LINK TL-WR841HP (I'll call it the “HP”) router is a small router --- the size of a paperback book --- with sleek lines, and thankfully, no bright LEDs. It's surprising how much of a treat this is in wireless routers, since ergonomics are often forgotten completely. It's not the first TP-Link router I've applauded for this reason. The router also features four LAN ports, a reset button (not recessed), and a sideways AC adapter that won't block outlets on normal power strips. All good features for the normal home user.
As a power user, there are a few things I might complain about; read my cons below. That said, there is one big thing to love: range. The HP gets fantastic range numbers in my experience; it's the longest-range router I've tested, including certain AC routers by competitors. In a one-on-one comparison, I found that this humble N300 router hit 140 feet of usable range, including two brick walls. Put that in the center of a football field, and you're getting signal in both end-zones. If you don't need bells and whistles, but do need range, the HP has you covered (literally).
Setup is easy; pop in the disc, and it walks you through it with ease. You can also go to the setup page and just ignore that disc if you're more comfortable with routers. The standard options are all there. One of the things I particularly like about TP-LINK routers these days is the config page's sidebar, which serves nicely in place of a manual for most use. The options are explained in language that's not too technical. If you spend the time to read it, you'll figure it out, so this router earns a B+ rating for being codger-proof.
The router also makes setting up access rules fairly straight-forward. If you wish to keep certain users away from certain sites, you've got options for time of day restrictions, and you have granular access to which machines get the restrictions.
Cons: Now, the limitations.
As has been the case for some time, I am a bit disappointed that TP-LINK still keeps options like IP Address Reservation in a separate menu from DHCP clients. Having an option next to my clients list to click and reserve the IP is something that I would find quite useful. This ideology is found throughout the menus, so you might find yourself with an instance of Notepad open copying IPs and MACs in order to open ports and apply parental controls.
Other useful features I'm missing include an AP mode (or Repeater Mode), which is a great feature for a router in this price point to offer --- especially a high power one with such awesome range. Of course, you can manually make it work, and the router does support WDS bridging, but that's out of the scope of the target market here.
I'm also sorely missing Gigabit ethernet; it's virtually unheard of in 2013 for a sub $50 router to have Gigabit capability, but I hope TP-Link becomes the one to break this trend. There are certainly those of us out there who still use wired connections, despite the rock-star radio/antenna combo in this device.
All in all, then, the HP is not an enthusiast-level device. It's not priced that way, but with all the features found in the competitors, it would be prudent of TP-LINK to migrate that direction in the future; the main competitor certainly seems to be doing so.
Other Thoughts: As to the rest, there's not a lot to tell --- no heat problems, which is the killer of devices these days. There are wall mounting options, but no pedestal mount ones. The device is so small and light that a large wired network would tend to tip it over, so a wall mount may actually be ideal.
I run a few dedicated gaming servers; the latency is non-existent, and port-forwarding is simple. Dynamic DNS is a nice option, which makes keeping track of your IP for your connected users pretty straight-forward. For cross-network file transfers, this router sits in the strange place of wi-fi users having the advantage, thanks to 300 Mbps connections that extend further than average, while my primary desktop sadly connects via 100 Mbps RJ-45 Cat5 cables. Can I mention again that 100 Mbps is sad? The standard was created in 1995, and was superseded in 1999 by Gigabit. Nearly 20 year old wired transmission tech coupled to an 802.11n router. I shake my head.
Now as to the other elephant in the room: 5 Gigahertz. There are equally priced dual-band routers out there. They offer an escape from the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum. To date, none of my neighbors have added a 5GHz network, so the spectrum belongs solely to me. The HP, though, can't use it. Another reviewer seems to think that it's disabled. That's dubious. The radio, most likely, just isn't there. That said, we do have two different niches here.
Five Gigahertz spectrum is naturally shorter in range. It doesn't penetrate walls as well. The key reason to want it is to avoid interference with your neighbors' wifi and microwaves/cordless phones/garage door openers. So, a dual-band router is great for crowded, urban environments.
I think the proper niche for the HP, then, is the opposite. A place with few competing networks, dense walls, trying to cover a large area. Your cabin on the lake, the old farmhouse, any place where competition is scarce and range and price are important. Where you're more committed to wireless users than wired ones, so a household with multiple wireless users and limited intranet sharing.
For that user, then, I think the HP is great value. It is actually better in that regard than the dual-band routers, because it can service a greater area, and the buyer isn't paying for features that the won't use.
As a final, anecdotal aside, if you're nervous about the brand, don't be; this is my fifth TP-LINK router, and I've had no issues. DLINK, NETGEAR, and CISCO adapters have all connected without trouble, and even my cursed wireless printer is pretty friendly with them.
This review is from: Kingston Black/Gray 1800 mAh MobileLite Wireless MLW221
Pros: The Kingston MobileLite is a good niche product --- what I have found in my testing of it is that it's rugged, easy to use, broadly compatible, and does its job fairly well. Let's talk about it, and why you'd choose it. The most important feature here is the battery function, hands down. It's useful, keeps your smartphone running, or even a standard phone for quite some time. It doubles my effective battery time if I need it to, and that's the situation most mobile users will find themselves in. On a trip, that can be quite important. It also doesn't get hot while discharging, which I will freely admit must be a consequence of the shell that Kingston has placed on this device. What you'll find with respect to that shell is that it's strong, and can probably be tossed into a duffel bag or purse without much concern as to where it lands. It can take the punishment of keys and normal drops.
Feature two, in terms of import, is the storage device, which works over USB, allowing for a handy SD reader while you're charging the device, as well as a size that will likely make it easier to find a spot on your desk. The Wifi access is a good feature, and works as advertised. You won't set any speed records here, but if you need to back up your phone's content to a bigger SD card, this makes a lot of sense. If you need access to large files on a tablet, it'll do that to. In other words, this gadget is a presentation gold mine! If you're showing people full-sized files, this is a product that can enable you to do so without overloading your phone or tablet. You can actually have multiple users simply connect to it, to share the content.
Finally, the apps support is pretty good; it has all the standard file system interactivity you might desire, and it all works. The App works fine on older, more obscure Android handsets, as well as the common ones, and the iOS devices app accomplishes what it needs to as well.
Cons: As to the bad, we have a few fundamental limitations, here. I think that a Wifi equipped Hard Drive makes more sense with respect to value, because you have access to so much more storage. That said, the hard drive has moving parts, so there's still a niche for the Kingston Reader. It's also true that SD is the dominant memory card form factor these days, but support for something else would have been nice. Even native, non-adapter support of Micro SD would come in handy, but is absent.
Now the Kingston also has the issue of battery-size. While fine for a smartphone, this device really makes the most sense being paired with a tablet, which are notorious for their storage limitations (usually in order to keep prices down). However, tablets will not find much of a battery reservoir here; 1800 mAh is not really enough to help with a high-powered tablet. It's not nothing, and the battery also enables the wifi, which is useful, but as I said, it decreases functionality. 3000 mAh would have made more sense here.
The app, as I've seen in other apps like it, does not show transfer rates. Hand-timing pegs it in the sub 10MB/s range, which is to be expected because of SD cards and USB 2.0 transfers, but those speeds are seriously stale in 2013. Especially when I am connected via Wifi, I want to move as fast as the card allows, and while most SD cards won't do better than that, there are a few that will. For that, it'd be nice to see the SOC that runs this device have a PCI-Express pathway for their card readers. I'm sure it's more power, but I'd happily use that power to increase speed.
Other Thoughts: Finally, let's talk about the other devices, and where you should use this one. There are four ways of dealing with the problem this device solves: you can use cloud-storage, a Wifi Hard Drive, a Wifi Flash adapter (the Kingston MobileLite), or you can buy a device with more storage to start with. This device has to flourish in an area where none of the others are superior, which is to say that the following must be true: You must need more storage than your device can give you, and it must be more than the price of this device plus an SD card. You must need offline support, or enhanced privacy. You must not have need of a ton of storage, need to avoid more delicate items, or simply have a lot of SD cards around. That makes the usage case for this item somewhat uncommon, to be sure. I see it being useful for Photographers who would like to show many people via smartphone their photos, or business people who have multi-media enhanced presentations, giving their audience some extra dimensions of interactivity through using this device. I can also see it useful on road trips if you give the kids each a tablet and load your SD card with movies, TV, and music to keep them entertained on cheap tablets, without having to watch the same thing. Finally, a person who takes lots of smartphone or tablet photos will appreciate being able to get those pictures to a backup device just a little bit sooner, even if you don't have data service.
Overall, then, this product is indeed useful, you just simply wouldn't use it for the most common cases. For that, I have to say, a WiFi hard drive really is the best, hands down. My second choice is either a bigger amount of storage on your device or the MobileLite; it's really a tie, here, thanks to price and ergonomics. I would take the MobileLite over a cloud storage solution, though, because I would have complete control over where my data goes and who sees it.