If you're hitting the road and taking your gadgets with you, a good travel router will help you share the Wi-Fi in your hotel, office or anywhere else. The best ones do it with no hassle, easy setup, and small form-factors that slip nicely into a carry-on bag. Some even keep your gadgets charged while they're connected. This week, we're looking at five of the best travel routers, based on your nominations.
The TP-LINK TL-MR3020 is a tiny, pocket-sized router, but it's a powerful package that can share an Ethernet connection or a 3G/4G mobile signal. Simply plug in a 3G/4G modem or dongle and you have an instant access point. While the router is built to be a 3G/4G repeater, it works just as well when sharing hotel or airport Wi-Fi using 802.11b/g/n. As well, the TL-MR3020 is supported by OpenWRT, so you can hack and tweak it to your heart's content.
Satechi Travel Router
We've highlighted the Satechi Travel Router before, and it's earned a deserved place in the top five. It's tiny, small enough to fit nicely into a power outlet, and includes internal plugs for Australia, the UK, the US, Europe and Asia. All you need to do is select where you are using the slider on the side of the Satechi, and the right plug will come out of the side, ready to be plugged in — no adaptors, dongles or swapped parts necessary. The Satechi is also a powerful 802.11n wireless router, and can connect to whatever wired Ethernet you have available and share it with as many other devices as you have to connect to it. It sports a2.1A USB port to charge one of those devices while it's pumping out the shared connection. Minor limitations? The Ethernet port is 10/100 rather than Gigabit and the slider will convert plugs but can't accommodate changes in output voltage.
Apple Airport Express
The Apple Airport Express is a solid Wi-Fi router for home and abroad. It's specifically the old model (shown above) that earned the nominations to make the top five, but the newer model is no slouch either. The beauty of the older model was its diminutive size — truly small enough to fit into a pocket. The pop-out power plug meant you could plug it into any outlet anywhere, and the thin form factor meant you could plug it into power boards without blocking other ports. Just plug it in to power, plug in a wired Ethernet connection, and the Airport Express would fire up a 802.11b/g wireless network for your devices to connect to. As well, the old Airport Express packed a USB cable to share devices over Wi-Fi, and an audio output jack that you could use to connect a set of speakers you wanted to wirelessly broadcast music to. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't make it anymore, but they're still widely available from third party retailers.
The new Airport Express is a serviceable router, and it's small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but it requires an external power brick and some space to set it up. It does, however, bring dual band 802.11n to the party, and it supports AirPlay, packs another Ethernet port in case you have a device that you'd rather use a wired connection for, and still has a USB port and audio output jack in the back as well.
The WL-330NUL Pocket Router offers a whole new level of portability. It's absolutely tiny — 65mm long — and could quite easily get lost at the bottom of your laptop bag. Its size doesn't mean you have to give up features though. It can draw power from a USB port on your computer, and can serve as an access point that shares out wired Ethernet to other devices via 802.11n Wi-Fi, connects to your computer via USB and shares your computer's internet access to other devices over Wi-Fi, and works as a wireless repeater to get Wi-Fi into places where it's not available. Setup is a snap (it almost does it all for you), and you'll be up and running with one in minutes.
The Edimax BR-6258n is another super-small portable router. It can power an 802.11b/g/n network without issue, and it's only as large as it is because it packs a wired Ethernet port right next to another LAN port you can use to share your connection with any wired devices near you. It can be used as a router or a repeater. Setup is easy, and the BR-6258n's software supports some more advanced router features, such as setting up a DMZ and IP sharing. It can be completely powered by a USB port, so you don't need to drag a massive power brick around with you to keep a tiny router juiced up. Plus, it comes in red.
This week's honourable mention goes out not to a specific router, but to Connectify Hotspot, which turns your laptop into a Wi-Fi router that can share its internet connection with any other devices you have. It's especially useful if you're travelling, and can even be used in conjunction with a VPN to secure your laptop's connection — and by proxy, all the devices sharing internet access with your laptop. It's a pretty powerful tool. It's $US40 (for a lifetime licence, or $US20/year) and Windows only, but it's a good option.
Have something to say about one of the listed routers? Want to make the case for your own personal favourite? Plug into the comments and let us know.