Netgear Trek Portable Wireless Router: Australian Review

Setting up a network isn't especially fun -- even if you're a geek. There's nothing quite as frustrating as being just on the edge of your home or office Wi-Fi, too -- having just enough signal to know that a connection is there, but not enough to actually send or receive data. Netgear's Trek is an interesting multipurpose Wi-Fi extender that proposes to fix that problem.

What Is It?

The Netgear PR2000 Trek is a $59 802.11n 300Mbps travel router and range extender that can share an Internet connection, whether it's via a wired or wireless source. The entire device looks like an oversized AC wall adapter; there's a two-prong Australian power connector on one corner, and a flip-out antenna on the opposite end. Hidden behind that antenna there's a status panel with four LEDs, telling you what you're actually using the Trek for -- there's a light for power, Internet, Wi-Fi and USB.

It's really quite simple -- if you need better Wi-Fi coverage, or if you want to turn a wired Internet connection into a wireless one (for one or more devices), Netgear's Trek can handle that for you.

The Trek's multipurpose hardware means that it can serve two distinct purposes -- you can leave it plugged in on the edge of your Wi-Fi network at home, and set it up to act as a repeater, rebroadcasting your Wi-Fi over a longer range; this is the PR2000 in range extending mode.

If you unplug the Trek and take it travelling, though, you can plug it in in your hotel room and connect to the hotel's wired network -- accessing that wired connection via the Trek's own Wi-Fi, bypassing any hotel limits on the number of devices you can connect and giving you your own high-speed, secure private network.

What Is It Good At?

As a range extender, the Netgear Trek works very well. All you have to do is find a power point that is near the edge of your home or office network's Wi-Fi coverage, plug the Trek in, and use Netgear's genie app (iOS and Android, and there's a Web interface too) to set it up -- the process is quite simple, and in a few minutes your main Wi-Fi network is boosted with the addition of the Trek's own wireless coverage.

The genie app lets you set up the network as you want -- rebroadcasting your existing home or public Wi-Fi, or creating a Wi-Fi hotspot from a wired connection. It also has some basic functions to navigate and map the local network created by the Trek, and also acts as a media hub to let you access any video, music or image files shared from a PC with whichever device you have the app installed on. It's a basic service, but when you're on holiday, it could come in handy for watching a movie saved on your laptop while you're on the other side of the room.

The PR2000 seems simple at the surface, but it can serve multiple purposes. If you're in a hotel room on a business trip and need Wi-Fi for multiple devices, but don't want to pay the hotel tariff for more than one or two devices -- most hotels we've stayed in give you free Wi-Fi for two devices, but more will incur a surcharge -- the Trek is your go-to device.

Basically, in any instance where you have access to a network over a single wired connection, the Trek will let you access that network wirelessly, as well as through its secondary wired connection, as long as you're supplying power to it -- all you do is flick the switch at the top and you're off and running.

If you're looking for better Wi-Fi when you're out and about -- in a cafe or hotel lobby, although we don't see this coming in handy so often -- you can also plug the Trek into your laptop over microUSB, providing power to it and letting it pick up and rebroadcast whatever Wi-Fi you need. For what it's worth, there's one small extra -- a full-size USB port on the base of the Trek, next to the Ethernet ports, can be used to charge a smartphone or tablet or other device (although it's limited to 1A max current).

What Is It Not Good At?

The PR2000 is only a single-band, 2.4GHz device, so you can't rebroadcast a 5GHz 802.11n network with it -- although 300Mbps is more than fast enough for all but the most demanding everyday use. It also doesn't contain an internal battery, so you'll always need to supply it with external power -- although a USB battery and microUSB cable is always an option.

It's also not the smallest of devices. The Netgear Trek measures 86 x 86 x 32mm, and while it's light at 161g, it might take up a bit more room in your briefcase or laptop carry bag than you can spare -- especially alongside an already bulky laptop charger. It's a good thing that the Trek's power supply is internal -- the only extra you might possibly need to bring along is its bundled microUSB cable.

By virtue of the fact that it's relatively simple to install and operate, there's not a lot that you can do with the Netgear Trek. It's not a device for anyone that wants to tinker with their network settings or set wireless rules or implement QoS. There's also no hardware WPS push-button configuration button, so if you want to add a new Wi-Fi device, you'll have to open the genie app or Web interface and toggle a software switch.

Should You Buy It?

The Netgear PR2000 Trek is a novel but niche device. Its primary purpose is as a range extender -- boosting the coverage of your home Wi-Fi network, making it easier for you to connect devices on the fringe of your network -- but it can also give you convenient and direct access with multiple devices to a hotel's wired network or Internet connection. If you're worried about connecting to a dodgy wired or Wi-Fi network on your travels, the Trek can sanitise your network access and give you some peace of mind when you're browsing the Web.

If you're having trouble connecting to your home's Wi-Fi at the edge of your network coverage, or if you want a simple way to turn a wired network connection into a wireless one when you're travelling, the cheap-at-$59 Trek is worth considering.