The mark of a truly useful peripheral is its ability to help you get work done faster and more conveniently.
Here are four products that easily fit that challenge, both at the office and when you’re out playing road warrior.
Create instant wireless networks using 3/4G
On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I got good news/bad news when I checked into my room. It’s no surprise that the room included wired Internet service, but it was going to cost U.S. $14.95 a day — and there was no wireless connection, free or paid. (Las Vegas hotels obviously want to discourage guests from staying in their rooms.) But having traveled for many years, I had come well prepared: I’d packed TP-LINK’s Portable 3G/3.75G Wireless N Router (TL-MR3020; info page) into my bag.
About the size of a small cell phone and weighing just two ounces, the MR3020 is powered either by the included AC adapter or via two notebook USB ports. Data connectors include a 3G USB modem port and an Ethernet port for a wired Net connection, plus all the appropriate cables.
In my Internet-unfriendly hotel room, I connected my Verizon 4G USB modem (for which, of course, I pay a monthly fee [$30/month for 2GB, $50 for 5GB]) to the MR3020, looked up the MR3020′s wireless SSID on my notebook, and was connected to the Web in seconds. YouTube videos played flawlessly on my iPad and notebook, and webpages refreshed with about the same speed I usually get through my home cable modem. TP-LINK states that its device supports wireless-N speeds of up to 150Mbps, and it’s compatible with more than 120 UMTS, HSPA, and EVDO 3G USB modems.
The MR3020′s security settings are configurable, just like those of any standard desktop-sized router. Its browser-accessed configuration menus are surprisingly intuitive. Out of the box, it works as an unsecured hotspot that can support up to five mobile devices. But with the flip of a three-way switch, it can also work as a WISP Client router (extending an existing wireless network) or in AP mode (creating a wireless network connected to Ethernet) — which makes the MR3020 a versatile appliance.
I do have one peeve with the TP-LINK router: using the included USB-power and Ethernet cables puts the device on an extremely short leash. And because USB power requires two ports on your notebook, you really want those ports to be adjacent to each other — and otherwise unoccupied. You can get a USB extension or use your own — longer — Ethernet cable.