Watch out Apple, there's a new 802.11n router in town. At just 1.6 ounces, the TrendNet TEW-654TR is so small you'll barely notice it in your laptop bag. Plus, this router can be powered by a USB connection, unlike the AC-powered Apple AirPort Express, which is the only other travel router we've seen that supports the super-fast 802.11n standard. A low price and legitimate security settings make the TrendNet TEW-654TR a smart travel buddy.
Setup and Design
TrendNet bills the TEW-654TR as the world's smallest 300-Mbps wireless N travel router, and at 2.4 x 3.2 x 0.7 inches, it's smaller than the Apple AirPort Express (3.7 x 3.0 x 1.1 inches). Weighing just 1.6 ounces, this device makes the AirPort Express (7.4 ounces) feel chunky by comparison; however, the TEW-654TR's size and weight doesn't include the power plug, which is built into Apple's device.
The router comes with a small carrying case that holds the charger, a USB cable (so you can power the router from your PC), an Ethernet cable, and the router.
Few road warriors have time to go through a long setup process when they get to a hotel room. The TEW-654TR makes it easy to get up and running. The router lets you share the connection for about 100 feet--plenty far to reach a bed or nearby desk. Some may see the short range as a plus, especially those concerned about other users piggybacking or snooping on your connection. The good news is that the TEW-654TR is just as secure as stationary routers, as it supports both WPA and WPA2.
To get started, you first connect an Ethernet cable in the room (usually provided for free) or at home into the lone Ethernet port on the TEW-654TR. The router auto-configures, and you can connect over 802.11n from your laptop, share files with business associates, or access the Web. TrendNet skipped a Windows or Mac installer altogether, which is mostly a good idea, although to access any advanced functions you will need to type the router's IP address (just check in the manual on the CD for the default) in your Web browser. The TEW-654TR also supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), which allows you to configure router security using a wizard in Windows; while this is a standard feature for most routers, it does simplify the setup process.
Performance and Features
We normally use IxChariot (www.ixiacom.com) to test router performance, but there is no way to set up a legitimate test with the TEW-654TR because this router only has one port for the broadband connection. Instead, we used KisMac on a Macbook and found the router to connect at about 100 feet with a good speed of 6.0 Mbps. Beyond that, the router barely provides any wireless connection--at 150 feet, close to the maximum advertised indoor distance of 160 feet, there was no signal at all. The 60 Mbps top speed at close range is fairly fast for a small router without powerful antennas, like most home and office models.
The TEW-654TR also works as a client adapter, but that is not exactly a perk since most current laptops have built-in Wi-Fi. To use client mode, you flip a switch on the bottom of the router, which is actually hard to move into position. This is likely a design decision to keep the device from switching out of AP mode when you don't want it to.
When compared to the AirPort Express, the TrendNet TEW-654TR is pretty bare-bones. On Apple's device, there's a USB port that lets you network a printer, and an audio jack for wirelessly streaming music across the network.
Atravel router has limited value--it's not every day that you want to share a broadband connection in a hotel room or at a satellite office. But road warriors will be pleased with the TrendNet TEW-654TR's decent speed, small size, and low price. It lacks the bells and whistles of Apple's device, but this pocket-size router costs about $20 less, making it a good value.