You’ve probably heard of travel routers before… Heck, you probably own one or two. They’re cheap, little Wi-Fi routers that can be powered by USB and fit into your pocket.
And, they’re pretty versatile, they can convert Ethernet to Wi-Fi, they can bypass less/insecure/open Wi-Fi at a hotel and tap into any dangling Ethernet drop nearby. And, they can extend Wi-Fi range where needed in a pinch.
The ASUS WL-330NUL does all that and a lot more, but in less space than a pack of gum.
The WL-330NUL looks like a third-generation iPod shuffle, from the front at least. It also may remind you of Apple’s USB to Ethernet adapter. The adapter comes with a built-in USB cable on one end (which folds into the device, unlike Apple’s USB to Ethernet adapter), and an Ethernet port on the bottom of the device.
Typically, travel routers require two ports – one connected to Ethernet, and one to USB power. But, the ASUS WL-330NUL takes advantage of the USB cable, depending on circumstances. That’s right – the device intelligently detects what it’s plugged into, and acts accordingly.
For example, if you plug the device into a USB power-only source (like a USB AC wall adapter), and into an Ethernet drop, the device will automagically convert into a Wi-Fi router.
However, if you plug in the USB port to a Mac or PC, and then plug in an internet source into the Ethernet port, the device automatically becomes a standard USB-to-Ethernet adapter – all the Wi-Fi stuff just shuts off, unless you turn it on.
Now, let’s say you plug in the USB port into a Mac or PC, but don’t plug in the Ethernet port? The device realizes you probably want a USB Wi-Fi adapter, and acts accordingly.
All of this is controlled by the device’s two settings panels. If you are running a Windows PC, the WL-330NUL will fire up an autorun app that gives you a Windows native configuration tool. But wait, don’t panic if you want something platform agnostic…
Normally, configuring these travel routers via a web admin panel, is a real pain. You typically wind up pulling your hair out, unable to get the web admin tool to load up, and have to master reset the device to put it in a DNS mode where it will resolve to let you change settings (especially in Ethernet-to-Wi-Fi Client mode). But, the WL-330NUL came up with a fix for that.
Typing in http://router.asus.com trigger’s a transparent, micro DNS server that the router runs, ensuring that no matter what the IP configuration is upstream, you’ll get in to the WL-330NUL’s admin page. From there you can reconfigure at any time, no Windows setup app required.
I cannot really go in this article (which to be honest, I’m just taking a coffee/stress break to write up), to describe how much coding jujitsu ASUS put into this little router. It does things I’ve never seen any travel router, let alone standalone router pull off.
For example, if you plug in the WL-330NUL to a Windows PC, the firmware on the device detects that you’re running a Windows OS, and resolves the device as a RNDIS adapter. This is the preferred method for Windows device networking, and it’s also used by both Windows Phone and Android USB Internet tethering.
But, plug the device into a Mac or Linux (or any other type of device), and the WL-330NUL enumerates as a Realtek chipset Ethernet adapter – something that just about any modern computer supports. It’s that kind of versatility that allows the WL-330NUL to work in environments that no other USB-to-Wi-Fi adapter, let alone USB anything, to operate flawlessly.
In terms of performance, this widget had no problem maxing out my 20 mbps Comcast cable Internet connection, though I haven’t put it through faster loads. The only downsides to this device are that it doesn’t support 5 GHz, nor does it handle 802.11ac. I can’t really fault ASUS for this as no travel router today does either (well), but I do hope that ASUS follows on this device’s level of awesome with a successor that handles both.
Today, more and more PCs are trying to act like tablets. They often are lucky to ship with one real USB port on them. If you travel a lot, you know that there are times when having a USB to Ethernet, USB to Wi-Fi, or travel router can come in handy. The WL-330NUL clocks in at under $40, and often times under $35 at the big online retailers.
That may be $20 more than a travel router on a daily deal site, but it’s well worth the price. If you were to buy a USB-to-Ethernet adapter, a USB-to-Wi-Fi adapter, and a travel router, you’d be paying a lot more than what you’d pay for the WL-330NUL. And you’d have a real tough time fitting all that stuff into your pocket. The WL-330NUL, however, has found a new place right next to my smartphone in my pocket.