TESTED: NETGEAR NIGHTHAWK M6 PRO
A serious piece of kit for digital nomads, connected travellers and people on the move
We’ve had the Netgear M6 Pro in our possession for a while, but were waiting for a chance to really put it through its paces. After all, what’s the point in testing a mobile WiFi hotspot in London, where you’re never more than 5ft from a WiFi point?
Thankfully, a trip to deepest, darkest Devon popped up, including three days ‘off-grid’ in the forest - the perfect test for a gadget being promoted as one of the most powerful routers on the market.
Now, cards on the table… we’re not tech-heads here at Time Well Spent Magazine, so if you’re looking for an in-depth rundown of the internal workings of this shiny black box, complete with stats and statistics on the effectiveness of its frequency bands, we might politely direct you elsewhere. What we really care about here, is whether it works - and just how it might fit into your life.
The Netgear Nighthawk M6 Pro takes a mobile phone signal, performs some kind of technical wizardry to turn that into WiFi and chucks it out into the ether, where you can connect computers, laptops, mobile phones and anything else that needs an internet connection. You can connect a lot of them, too - up to 32 devices, according to Netgear, though we didn't have a chance to fire up that many computers to test the claim.
It’s clever, sure - but it’s not a new concept. Mobile WiFi hotspots have been around for a good few years and we’ve used some ourselves for working on the move. And, of course, let's not forget the fact that nearly all smart phones now come with the hotspot function, which allows you to tether a laptop to your phone signal without the need for a second SIM card.
So, with that in mind, we should point out our slight unease when we discovered the price of the Nighthawk M6 Pro, which retails at £899.99 without connection (meaning you’ll have to add a sim card - and the cost of a contract - from your preferred supplier).
As an example, EE offers a bulky Smart 5G Hub for a £60 upfront cost if you take out an 18 month contract at £45pm for 500GB data. For a smaller, more portable version similar in size to the Nighthawk, you can grab a 5G WiFi product for no upfront cost and £58pm for unlimited data.
Why, then, would anybody be moved to spend the best part of a thousand pounds on the Nighthawk?
That’s what we intend to find out - and part of the reason we wanted to test it to its limits.
We first plugged it in at our office in London to set it up and make sure all was in working order - and our eyebrows were already firmly raised by what we saw.
Straight from the box, the Nighthawk immediately began to throw out WiFi speeds of 1.1Gbps, in a room where our Sky broadband - plugged straight into the grid and boosted by a four-point Mesh system - was only giving 390Mps. That speed from Sky is variable, but as we write this review on that same broadband, we’re still only pushing 800Mbps, which is plenty for multiple computers, mobile phones, televisions, Firesticks and a myriad of other devices we’ve probably forgotten are hooked up to the system.
And by Netgear's own standards, that speed is nowhere near the Nighthawk's limit. The documentation tells us the M6 Pro could reach speeds of up to 4Gbps and while we don’t manage to reach those heady heights, we’re more than impressed with the output we’re achieving.
In short: That’s incredibly fast internet.
As we set off towards the South West, the speed from our Nighthawk barely drops and the benefit of such a powerful device begins to become apparent. Our car becomes a WiFi hotspot more powerful than our London office. We could fill a train carriage with writers, video editors, movie-watchers and social media scrollers and not trouble the Nighthawk’s bandwidth.
And as we arrive in the sleepy town of Hatherleigh and make our way to the forest, we manage to turn a wooden ‘truffle’ into an all-conquering media hub. It’s absolutely against the spirit of ‘off-grid’ getaways, of course, but to understand the appeal of the Nighthawk is to accept the reality of modern-day living. We’re living in a fast-paced world where emails are expected to ping into our pockets and replies demanded with haste. If nothing else, the peace of mind offered by the Nighthawk means we’re able to enjoy a getaway without wondering if important emails are being missed.
We are able to create, edit, schedule and upload articles, videos and social media posts on the move wherever we go - no more searching for WiFi in restaurants, bars or cafes. And the end result of that is more time spent doing what we want to do, and less spent hunting for WiFi just to double check we’re up to date with work - the very essence of Time Well Spent.
At just 256g, the Nighthawk slips easily into a coat pocket or rucksack and pumps out that sweet WiFi goodness wherever you go. In fact, we stroll through Clovelly - a picturesque, timewarp fishing village with no vehicles and a fiercely challenging hill separating its cobbled streets from the rest of modern civilisation - pumping out 1.5Gbpm like some kind of space-aged time travellers. And with 13 hours of battery life, it's still churning out Gbps long after we tackled the climb back to a plug socket in the next town along.
If you do need to top it up the Nighthawk on the move, a USB-C connection means you can power it up using your laptop. And if you're messing around with wires, there's one more feature you'll want to know about - an ethernet port that allows you to hardwire your laptop straight into the Nighthawk to ensure a connection that's quick, secure and ultra-reliable.
Still on the fence about the M6 Pro? Well, it's worth considering that this is a future-proof device, thanks in part to its WiFi 6 capabilities. In the fast-moving world of tech gadgets, it's always worth looking to the next big thing, especially if you're getting ready to drop £900 on a product - the last thing you want is a router that lags behind the performance of your laptop.
For those not in the know, WiFi 6 is the upgrade to WiFi 5 (or 5G) and has been slowly rolled out across the top wireless devices since its arrival in 2019. There are already plenty of mass market 6G phones including Samsung Galaxies from 10 upwards, iPhones 11 onwards and the OnePlus 8 series. Tablets including the iPad Pro 2020 and Microsoft Surface Pro X and laptops from Dell, HP and Lenovo also make the cut.
WiFi 6 offers roughly 30% quicker performance than its predecessor, so you really want to be jumping on that bandwagon before every new product is running the new tech.
WHO IS IT FOR?
This is a no-brainer. If you’re someone who regularly travels for business and need access to super-quick, reliable internet, then the Nighthawk M6 Pro is for you. Bear in mind that for foreign travel you’ll need a SIM card that covers all regions, but you’ll appreciate the freedom this gadget provides when you hold your first Zoom meeting with the team back home, from a quiet corner of the beach club.
You’ll also start to recoup the costs when you consider the often pricey internet options at airports and the like, which pit you against everybody else who’s trying to log on and pinch their own slice of the public bandwidth.
If you can make a case for expensing the M6 Pro, we’d heartily recommend you do just that.
We know all about the demands of running a small businesses. Whatever you do, working on the go is part of the job, and the M6 Pro allows you to do just that. Moreover, we know that the loss of connectivity can cripple a small business and without in-house IT specialists, you’re at the mercy of an internet provider’s customer service helpline. Being able to whip out the M6 Pro and fire up the office’s internet once more could be a Godsend. Plus, you’ll always have internet for those away days or team meetings at the pub.
The post-Covid world has opened new avenues for employees who want to reclaim their personal time - something of which we’re (obviously) fully supportive. Millions of workers have continued to work from home or negotiated a hybrid model, which means the era of gruelling, daily commutes and the need to live in the ‘Big City’ might finally behind us. If you’re someone who’s taken full advantage and moved to the countryside, down to the coast or even to a foreign country, reliable internet connection is the difference between making your new life work, and being called back to the office by a boss fed up with your inability to log on for that important meeting.
The Nighthawk M6 Pro means you can take that Friday afternoon flight and still be present for all of your work requirements, or you can edit those documents from the beach.
People who live alone
Having seen the speeds dished out by our M6 Nighthawk Pro, we quickly moved on to discussions about whether we even needed our home internet any more.
For people who live alone, that decision could become even more important, because you can pick up your ‘home’ internet, slip it into your laptop bag and take it with you when you leave the house.
Your laptop and phone stay connected, you can work between venues and lengthy journeys become a doddle when you can work the whole way there.
People who regularly work from venues with unpredictable WiFi
In our line of work, we regularly find ourselves locked in back rooms of events, desperately trying to upload images or videos using a shoddy internet connection. We’ve seen it all - photographers unable to send their work back to publications because the venue staff can’t remember the WiFi password; a complete loss of connectivity leading to guests leaving an event so they can upload from the bar down the road; bars and street food stalls losing revenue when a WiFi blackspot wiped out their card machines; journalists missing half the acts at a music festival because they’re too busy searching for a hotspot where they can upload their last review.
They all make a great case for slipping a Nighthawk into your bag when you leave the house - whether you’re an event organiser or attendee, you’ll cover your own back and be the most popular person in the room when you unleash the guest network.
The Nighthawk M6 Pro may not be a necessity for every working person, but the peace of mind it provides can’t be understated. Sure, it’s expensive - maybe prohibitively so - but this is a serious piece of kit that will free you up to live more, travel more and do more. For that reason alone, we could make the M6 Pro this magazine’s mascot.
Unless you’ve found a practical way to hook up some fibre-optic cables to your backpack, there’s no better way to achieve faultless internet connection wherever you are in the world.
The price still niggles a little, given that it's nearly as expensive as the laptops you'll be powering with this handy gadget, but it's testament to the Nighthawk's capabilities that we're still giving it a hearty thumbs up.