Review: D-Link DIR-510L 802.11AC travel router

Travel router compatible with cell modems, Ethernet, Wi-Fi (April 8th, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: D-Link

Price: $100

The Good

  • Battery powered
    - Quick setup
    - Potentially saves money
    - DLNA/SharePort access

The Bad

  • Limited configuration
    - 1A charge only when router off

Having Internet access in hotels and other similar locations used to be a miasma of connectivity issues. If Wi-Fi was available, it was (and often still is) overloaded, at a cost per device, and slow. The addition of 4G to most major markets has helped that somewhat, but in many cases, Wi-Fi is still the fastest option -- if not the cheapest sometimes, as the per-device charges still seem to be prevalent. The D-Link DIR-510L portable router tries to even this out somewhat, allowing users with an available tethered or cellular modem-provided 3G/4G, Wi-Fi, or Ethernet connection make a local area network in a small package, easily carried from place to place. Additionally, the device can be powered by (and give power to mobile devices from) an internal battery. How well does the device work in practice, though?

The unit is a 802.11a/b/g/n/ac router, running on 2.4 and 5GHz simultaneously. It allows up to five devices to connect to it, and is powered by a 4000maH battery. A pair of USB ports can charge a phone or tablet, but tablet charging forces the device into charge-only mode and shuts down the router itself -- this is by design. The USB ports are 0.5A and 1A, with the consequent drain on the battery. While the router is plugged into AC power, it can charge at 0.5A, so while you can't leave the USB cable at home, maybe a AC-USB plug can be left behind.

Configuration of the router is done through a browser screen, and there are few surprises. Some configuration options aren't available -- like port forwarding, and other advanced features. Since the user is probably behind double-NAT when using this router while on the road anyway, the missing functionality isn't really a problem.

We tested the DIR-510L in a Starbucks, as well as a local hotel. At the Starbucks, we saw limited use, as capacity has always seemed abundant. The hotel, however, was a different story. At $7.50 per device connecting to the Wi-Fi connection, the router could easily save a few bucks per trip. The free Ethernet in the hotel worked fine with the router, giving our testers quicker access than the hotel's overburdened Wi-Fi.

The router is also a SharePort device -- connecting mass storage to one of the router's USB ports allows the media to be seen on D-Link's SharePort app (free), or with a DLNA client. This is handy in a travel environment, or even in a vehicle for streaming video to mobile devices clutched in children's hands on the 500th mile of a 1,000-mile roadtrip, potentially saving parental sanity in the process.

We had mixed successes with the USB cellular modem connectivity. Several of our modems that we have for testing just didn't function, but some did. D-Link does maintain a database of fully-usable models, and users should peruse this list before purchase to ensure compatibility.

Initially, we thought that a travel router would have severely limited use-cases. However, as we continued to test it, we found more and more uses than we thought possible -- the aforementioned vehicle video streaming, the ability to "pop up" a sub-network inside the house for video gaming, configuration of mobile devices for education that we don't want to have Internet access, and a few others besides just in the vicinity of public or paid hotspots. Its not a perfect device -- we would like a wider subset of router configuration options, which would enable things like extension of an existing home network using WDS without double-NAT. For the price, though, the 802.11ac speed, and simple media sharing, if you need the convenience of a quickly established Wi-Fi network, the device is hard to beat.

by Mike Wuerthele


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