When you’re a geek on the move, it’s easy to get overburdened with gadgets. Today we take a look at a handy little gadget that lightens the load: a combination device that’s each an external battery pack, Wi-Fi router, and micro NAS. Read on as we see if it really can kill three birds with one stone.
What Is The TripMate?
The TripMate is a combination device. It’s part battery pack; you can use it to recharge your devices on the go. It’s part Wi-Fi router; you can use it both as a LAN-to-Wi-Fi node or a stand alone Wi-Fi node. It’s part NAS (Network Attached Storage unit); you can plug a USB hard drive or flash drive into it and share files and stream media.
Now, considering how many batteries, portable Wi-Fi nodes/hotspots, and NAS devices there are that aren’t so great at their single job, it’s a pretty tall order to attempt to pull off all three tasks. How does the TripMate hold up? We’ve taken it for an extended test, used it at the office and on the go, and we’re back to show you how to set it up and dish the dirt on how well it performs.
How Do I Use It?
The most elementary function of the TripMate is the battery function. It works exactly like the other battery packs we examined/reviewed in The HTG Guide to External Battery Packs. You plug it into the wall to charge, you unplug it and take it with you, and when you need power you plug in your device to the battery pack, tap the power button, and enjoy a recharge on the go.
What sets the TripMate apart from the see if external battery packs is the extra functionality. Let’s take a look at what it takes to turn the little battery pack into a Wi-Fi node. Unlike other battery packs, the TripMate has an additional port beyond the microUSB (for battery charging) and standard USB (for charging tethered devices). On the top of the device you’ll find a standard RJ45 network jack:
This is where you plug in a network cable from a wall jack to physically bridge an available LAN connection to the Wi-Fi node when you want to create an instant hot spot for your devices.
Although the TripMate pretty much works right out of the box with next to no configuration, we strongly suggest doing a little preconfiguration before seriously using it (to update passwords, make sure it functions the way you need it to, etc.)
To get started, plug the Ethernet cable into the device then press and hold the power button on the device until the Wi-Fi indicator light turns on. When it finishes blinking green and turns solid blue, the router component of the device has finished booting. At this point you should be able to connect to the device via Wi-Fi. The default SSID for the Wi-Fi node is TripMate-xxxx where xxxx is a unique identifier like A7G4. The default password is 11111111. You connect to the TripMate just like you would any other Wi-Fi router: select it from your device (be that a laptop, phone, or tablet) and then enter the password. At this point you could simply begin using the internet (assuming you’ve properly connected the TripMate to a live jack with Internet access).
As we mentioned, however, it’s wise to do a little extra configuration and explore the device. Once logged in to the Wi-Fi node, you need to navigate to the router’s local server at IP address 10.10.10.254 (this is not device unique, every TripMate’s administrative control server is located at that IP). There, you need to login with the username “admin” and no password.
After login, the setup wizard will start and walk you through the process of configuring a custom SSID and password, like so:
Just like a real router, there are lots of settings to tinker with. Also, just like a real router, it’s best to leave them in their default state (e.g. Dynamic IP, don’t change the admin server’s IP address, etc.) unless you find a very compelling reason to do so while connecting to a specific LAN. We left everything on the default settings and had no problems plugging the TripMate into a variety of networks.
After you finish updating the SSID and password via the wizard, the device will reboot. Search for the new SSID and log into the Wi-Fi node again. If you’re only interested in using the device as a travel router, you’re done configuring it and you can get back to playing on your laptop or tablet.
If you’re interested in accessing the NAS features, we do have a few extra steps. After connecting back to the Wi-Fi node, plug in the flash drive or USB device you wish to share. Log into the admin control panel again at 10.10.10.254. You’ll see the full dashboard, like so:
Select “Disk” to check if your device is connected and visible to the system:
There you can see the 16GB USB drive we have plugged into the TripMate; if you click on Volume, you’ll find a simple file browser that shows you the folders and files on the device (it has rudimentary file tools like copy and paste, but we were hard pressed to think of a reason to use them).
Now, per the documentation included with the TripMate, you’re supposed to download a special helper app to your PC or portable device to bridge the gap between your device and the NAS. We’re at a total loss for why the company felt the need to include such kludgy software when, in reality, the USB device is just shared by a simple SMB-based share (the kind of folder shares that have underpinned Windows-based network sharing for decades).
We strongly recommend skipping the TripMate software package altogether. Maybe they included it because they were afraid users wouldn’t be able to figure out network shares, but it’s a bit of bloat you just don’t need. To get to the shares on your computer, you just need to be connected to the TripMate via Wi-Fi and then navigate to the address: \\tm01\USBDisk1_Volume1\ (if you have a USB hub with more than one drive plugged in, or some such arrangement, you may wish to simply use \\tm01\ so you can see all the available disks and volumes):
Plug in “admin” for the username and whatever you, during the setup process, changed the administrative password to (Note: the share password is not the same as the SSID password unless you, unwisely, used the same password for both).
After that, you’ll have full read/write access to the attached disk and can save files to it, stream movies to watch on your devices, etc. If you’re using a portable device, like an Android phone, we recommend downloading a suitable app from your device’s app store (such as ES Explorer if you’re using Android) which will allow you to browse network shares as conveniently as you can on your computer.
How Does It Perform?
Now that we’ve shown you how easy it is to setup and get running, the real question is: how well does it actually perform at the tasks it claims it can handle?
As a battery pack, the TripMate functions exactly as you’d expect. It’s not a beastly can-power-2-iPads-for-a-trans-Atlantic-flight pack, by any measure, but the 5200mAh rating is enough for a few cellphone charges or to top off a larger device like an iPad. When we ran it as a router off the battery power, we were pleasantly surprised to find it could provide Wi-Fi to a laptop for nearly a whole day (around 16 hours) and it could stream videos from the attached flash drive for a solid 6 hours before losing steam. While most people will likely use the device where it can be plugged into the wall, it’s nice to know that you could, for example, stream videos from it during a long car trip without any issues.
Regarding Wi-Fi speeds, we had no issues maxing out the connection we were on. Our speedtests with the TripMate, capable of 802.11 B/G/N, matched our speedtests with high end routers also connected to the same network. Wi-Fi coverage was also surprisingly good. Considering most people will be using the device in a small area (such as a hotel room, a lobby, etc.) it has more than enough range; we roamed all over our office and out into the parking lot and were still able to catch the signal.
The NAS functionality was also flawless. It’s no powerhouse server, mind you, but it performed exactly as advertised. We had absolutely no issues copying files to and from the device using laptops, tablets, and cellphones. We were also able to stream HD video without any issue to those same devices. From an end-user standpoint there was no difference between connecting to our main router and streaming a video from our home server or connecting to the little TripMate and streaming from it.
The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict
After palling around with the TripMate for the last month, how do we feel about it? Let’s break it down:
- It’s light; despite all the extra Wi-Fi/NAS functionality packed in, it weighs around 10 ounces, which is on par with regular battery packs.
- It’s easy to set up; if you don’t care much about updating SSIDs and passwords, you can just plug it in an go.
- Internet speeds and NAS transfer speeds are surprisingly snappy for a little tiny micro-router.
- Detailed instruction manual covers every setup question.
- If you’re away from an outlet and using the device to stream, it has great battery life; you could stream movies off it for a lengthy car ride or flight without a problem.
- Where the hell is the flashlight? You’re going to give us a battery, Wi-Fi router, and a NAS, but not a tiny LED flashlight? We were irrationally disappointed about this. It was one design consideration away from being a veritable Swiss Army knife!
- The extra file management software seems like bloatware. Yes, not everyone is intimately versed in using network shares, but the instruction manual could have easily highlighted how to connect to a network share.
- 5200 mAh is a respectable size (and larger than many of the devices competitors), but not enough to fully recharge large tablets.
The Verdict: If you need a travel router and/or travel NAS, there’s little reason to not snatch up the TripMate. It’s a respectable battery pack and it’s a more than respectable router and file sharing tool. And, at a little over 10 ounces, it’s easy to slip into your bag without feeling like you’re lugging around a brick. Although we noted that 5200 mAh isn’t exactly a beefy battery, it’s larger than many similar devices (that often times have as little as 3000 mAh to share). Despite our wish for a little flashlight and slight irritation over the kludgy recommended software, we’d happily recommend the device to a friend.