TP-Link M7650 review: A functional mobile hotspot, with a few limitations | Expert Reviews

2022-11-20 14:20:16 By : Ms. Jenna Chang

This portable 4G router could be useful for travelling teams and families, though it’s far from feature-packed

If you need a reliable internet connection while you’re on the move, a portable hotspot is the answer. Just slot in a data-enabled SIM card and it’ll broadcast a wireless network that allows any phone, tablet or laptop to share the mobile internet connection. Unlocked Mobile Wifi Router

TP-Link M7650 review: A functional mobile hotspot, with a few limitations | Expert Reviews

You can pay a lot for a device like this, however; the Netgear Nighthawk M5 with 5G support costs a shocking £763, and even its 4G-only variants start at £297. TP-Link’s M7650 is much more affordable at just £139. It’s not exactly versatile, though; depending on your needs, you might do just as well with the mobile hotspot function on your smartphone.

The M7650 is a pocket-sized plastic device, not much bigger than a credit card and weighing a mere 140g. Pop off the back, pull the battery out and you’ll find a slot for a micro-SIM card (or a nano-SIM using the supplied adapter). Once you’ve installed a suitable SIM, up to 32 devices can connect to the M7650’s Wi-Fi transmitter and share its internet connection.

A 1.4in colour LCD display on the front of the unit shows your connection status and lets you browse various settings. This isn’t a touchscreen, though: you need to push down on the rubber buttons at the sides to navigate and select options.

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The M7650 doesn’t do a huge amount that can’t be matched by a smartphone in tethering mode, but it is more manageable. Using either the tpMiFi smartphone app or the web console, you can monitor connected clients, adjust Wi-Fi settings and even set up port forwarding, to make devices accessible over the mobile internet connection.

Since mobile data is normally metered, the M7650 also helps you keep track of usage. The integrated screen shows a big data consumption readout, and transfer limits can be configured in the app and web portal.

Another notable feature is an integrated microSD slot, which allows the M7650 to be used as a portable picoserver, sharing storage over either the network or a USB connection. It only supports cards of up to 32GB, though. When I tried installing a higher-capacity SDXC card, the M7650 refused to read it.

A final benefit of any mobile hotspot is that it doesn’t drain the battery on your personal phone. The M7650’s battery is rated at 3Ah, which TP-Link claims will provide up to 15 hours of 4G internet access; it recharges through a old-school micro-USB socket, so fast charging is out of the question but you should be able to refill it from empty in under two hours.

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The M7650 doesn’t support 5G data connections, so it’s never going to be the fastest hotspot around. Its 4G+ radio has a theoretical data rate of 600Mbits/sec but in my inner London home I couldn’t get close to that speed. With the M7650 sitting by an upstairs window, and a Vodafone SIM installed, the Google Speed Test tool reported a download rate of 15.3Mbits/sec, with upload speeds of 9Mbits/sec.

That’s low by anybody’s standards. The TP-Link Archer MR600 (£119) 4G router managed 24.7Mbits/sec downstream in the same location, while the Netgear Nighthawk M5 delivered 35Mbits/sec over 4G – and topped 100Mbits/sec when connected to a 5G network.

A possible reason for the performance gap is the small size and simple design of the M7650, which allows little space for internal aerials, and no connectors for external ones. Wi-Fi coverage isn’t great either: with my laptop situated a few metres away from the M7650 I was able to read files over the network at 23.4MB/sec, but when I moved to an adjacent room this fell to 13.7MB/sec. Out in the hallway I saw just 3.2MB/sec and in the bathroom and kitchen the connection dropped completely.

It doesn’t help that the M7650 uses the last-generation Wi-Fi 5 standard, rather than the more modern Wi-Fi 6. It’s functionally a single-band radio, too. You can switch between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands, but it won’t broadcast both at once.

The M7650 has an even more lightweight sibling called the M7450 (£119), which has the same screen, battery and connectors. The difference is that its 4G connection is limited to 300Mbits/sec; based on my experience I doubt that would make much difference to real-world speeds, so it might be attractive to those on a tight budget. There’s not much in it though, as the M7450 is only £10 cheaper than the M7650.

If you want something more upmarket then Netgear’s Nighthawk hotspots are the obvious rivals. The top-of-the-line Netgear Nighthawk M5 gave me a stonking 116Mbits/sec over 5G, and even over a 4G connection it was significantly faster than the M7650. The Nighthawk is more versatile, too, thanks to an Ethernet socket that lets it switch between mobile and fixed-line internet. It’s a pricey step up, though: the basic 4G M1 model is £297, while the faster M2 is £345 and the 5G-enabled M5 is a massive £763.

The M7650 is fairly slow, in terms of both internet and Wi-Fi provision. It also feels a bit rudimentary, with no Ethernet connection, no external antenna option and an outdated micro-USB connector for charging. While the SD card slot is an unexpected bonus, it’s potentially held back by the 32GB storage limit.

For all those reasons, you might prefer to save your money and stick with a phone in tethering mode, especially if your phone supports 5G. But if you want to provide a basic internet connection to a team or family working in close quarters, without relying on anyone’s personal SIM or battery, then this is a viable, manageable way to do it. Just keep your expectations realistic. There are reasons why this hotspot is so much cheaper than its rivals.

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