Netgear are prolific in how they turn out all sorts of networking devices. The Unite Explore, or 815, is an example of how to get it (almost) right.
In case you’ve never seen a mobile hotspot up close, the design is pretty simple. Size wise, it’s about the size and shape of a deck of cards, but slightly more bulky.
The Explore is 4.5 x 2.8 x 0.8 inches, and weighs 6.3 oz. This means it is convenient enough to fit in any pocket or bag. Even though holding the device isn’t necessary in normal use, it still feels solid and easy to grip.
Looks wise, there isn’t a lot to tell. There’s a smallish color screen, which gives information such as connection strength, battery life, number of connected devices etc. It isn’t a touch screen, which does give some of its competitors a slight advantage. Despite that, setup via any browser, including on your phone, is easy.
It might be crucial, it might not be, but the Unite Explore is MIL-STD 810 compliant, This means it’s water and dust proof, plus shockproof to the extent where the odd drop shouldn’t cause any damage. Should you leave it in a backpack or other bag, and this gets wet, the protection offered means the Explore will likely survive its dip.
These days, if you’re serious about being online, 4G is a necessity. Unlike many hotspots, which are limited to 3G, the Unite Explore does indeed have 4G. You can connect up to 15 users at any time, bearing in mind that the more you connect, the more strain there is on your mobile data bandwidth. The Explore has Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, so there’s plenty of distribution bandwidth to connected devices, assuming you haven’t overloaded your 4G connection.
In testing, speeds were better than just about any other mobile hotspot, including other 4G models. An added advantage is the use of dual-band Wi-Fi, with both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz in use. This not only means more compatibility with older devices, but that the much less crowded 5 GHz band will allow much better speeds.
Any connection to the hotspot is via a password, of course. You have the choice of giving this password to friends and family or creating guest access. With guest access, you can specify for how long someone can connect, and provide a single use password.
You also have the option to set filters to prevent kids or someone else accessing content you’d rather they didn’t.
All in all, the security options are what you’d expect from a top of the range mobile hotspot.
One advantage of mobile hotspots is that the hardware inside is pretty compact. Other that a single PCB and a couple of connectors, there’s little else of note. This leaves tons of room for a large battery, and Netgear haven’t disappointed. The huge 4340 mAh battery will provide up to 22 hrs of use if there is just a single device connection in use. More devices will use more power, of course.
A neat feature is the ability to charge your phone from the Unite Explore. Simply connect the two with the adapter, and the phone will charge as though it is connected to a power source. Charging speed isn’t particularly fast, it is worth noting. It is, though, certainly a great backup in case of power emergencies.
It would be easy for companies like Netgear to just churn out basic plastic boxes with some sort of air card installed, and not much more. To be fair, though, with the Unite Explore, they’ve created something worthy of the flagship tag.
There are some limitations, such as the lack of a touchscreen, but that becomes less crucial after the initial setup. Battery life is superb, and speed of data transfer is excellent over 4G.
We’d prefer faster charging speeds, but it’s a big battery to fill, so we’re going to give the Unite Explore a break on that one. Overnight is still plenty of time for a full charge.