Reviews

Netgear Nighthawk M5 review: is the ultimate mobile router worth £780?

Netgear Nighthawk M5 router on table
Mobile workhorse: the Nighthawk M5 is great for business trips

Netgear knock out some amazing Wi-Fi equipment, but it’s rarely found in the bargain bins. The Netgear Nighthawk M5 (MR5200) mobile router is one such piece of kit. It’s the best mobile router I’ve ever used and could be super-useful in a number of scenarios, but – holy hell – it’s expensive. Almost twice the price of the Nighthawk M2 that it succeeds, and I thought that was punchily priced. Can anything justify the £780 price tag? Here’s my real-world review.

Netgear Nighthawk M5: the key specs

Netgear Nighthawk M5

The Nighthawk M5 is designed to deliver a fast internet connection in places you wouldn’t normally find a Wi-Fi connection. That might be while you’re on the road, working offsite or in your holiday home. It can also provide very effective backup for your home broadband connection, which I’ll talk more about later.

If you’re going to rely on this device for business – or even to keep the kids in the backseats happy – you’ll want the fastest possible connection, and the Nighthawk 5 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the key specs.

Firstly, it’s 5G compatible, which means you could benefit from speeds well in excess of 100Mbits/sec if you’re in one of the big cities that have puddles of 5G coverage. (You’ll need a dedicated mobile SIM for this device, so make sure the network/tariff you chose is 5G-compatible.)

It backs this up with Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6 is commonly supported on smartphones, tablets and laptops that have been bought in the past year or two, and that ensures you shouldn’t lose much (if any) speed between the M5 and the devices you’re connecting to it. Older Wi-Fi devices will work with it too. Check the detailed specs at the bottom of this review if you want full detail of the 5G/Wi-Fi capabilities.

It’s got a big 5,050mAh battery inside the router, which Netgear claims can last up to 13 hours. On a three-and-a-half- hour drive with multiple devices connected, the battery went down by 40%. That’s a pretty stiff test, so you can comfortably expect the device to last a working day out in the field. If you’re near to a power socket, it can run off the mains, even with the battery removed.

Netgear Nighthawk M5 performance

Netgear Nighthawk M5 and laptop

The Nighthawk M5 is a delight to use. You pop your mobile SIM in under the battery, set a network name (SSID) and password using the device’s responsive, built-in touchscreen and off you go.

The only problem I’ve had connecting is when the device performed a firmware update and forgot which APN (network name) I was connecting with, but a quick fiddle with the settings sorted that.

On a road trip, I had two kids in the back streaming video, while I was using satnav and Spotify on my phone on the dashboard and the performance was superb (on the Lebara/Vodafone network). The kids didn’t complain of any video stutter as we bombed down the motorway and said it was much better than using the phone’s own data connection. Parents, rejoice.

In tests with my MacBook Pro it’s been equally impressive. Although 5G is hard to find here in deepest Sussex, I did record 5G download speeds in excess of 60Mbits/sec on a trip to Brighton. However, you’re far more likely to find 4G reception in the UK, and here download speeds will probably be in the 5-20Mbits/sec range.

The good thing about having a battery-operated router is that you can put it by the window in an office to get the clearest reception. You can also set the router to use only the 5GHz band to minimise interference from other Wi-Fi networks.

Want more? The router can be set to short- or long-range Wi-Fi. Long range is more battery-sapping, but might be needed if you’re across the office from the router or sharing with several colleagues.

You can also tether the router to your laptop via USB-C cable, meaning you don’t have to rely on a Wi-Fi connection at all.

Home broadband backup

One of the less obvious features of the router is a mode called “Always-on Wi-Fi”, which is tucked away in the settings.

This allows the Nighthawk M5 to act as a 4G/5G backup for your home router. You put your home router in modem-only mode, so that it isn’t broadcasting Wi-Fi itself. You then attach the M5 to your home router via Ethernet cable and connect your devices to the M5 via Wi-Fi. As the M5 is Wi-Fi 6, it delivers decent range (in long-range mode) although it will struggle to reach upper floors without using external antenna (not provided).

If your landline broadband is working, the Nighthawk uses that. If the home broadband should drop for any reason, it automatically falls over onto the 4G/5G. I’ve tested it and it worked brilliantly. At close range, the Nighthawk M5 delivered the full 220Mbits/sec down and 21Mbits/sec up that I normally get when connecting via Ethernet to my Virgin Media router, but it did this via Wi-Fi!

If, like me, you’ve got a home office with a dedicated router, the Nighthawk M5 is a brilliant business fallback option. Even if the home Wi-Fi went down for a few hours, this could well save a lot of domestic strife!

Netgear Nighthawk M5 verdict

Netgear Nighthawk M5 and headphones

The Netgear Nighthawk M5 has tons of potential uses. From keeping remote workers online to kids occupied on car/train journeys to giving you a solid backup for your home office connection, it’s flexible and performs brilliantly in all of these roles.

But we’ve got to come back to that price. £780 is an awful lot of money, and that’s not counting the cost of the data SIM you’ll need to fuel the thing. That price is direct from Netgear; head to Amazon and you can currently pick it up for £703.

If you can convince someone to write off the cost as a business expense, have at it. For domestic use or even as a small-business backup, it’s going to prove way too expensive for most buyers, which is an enormous shame, because this is a tremendous piece of kit. And don’t Netgear know it…

Technical specs

5G n1, n3, n5, n7, n8, n20, n28, n38, n40, n77 and n78 (basically fine for Europe)
4GLTE FDD: 700/800/900/1800/2100/2600MHz
LTE TDD: 2300/2600MHz
3G850/900/1900/2100MHz
Wi-FiWi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) 1.2Gbit/sec on 5GHz, 600Mbits/sec on 2.4GHz
Netgear Nighthawk M5 (MR5200)
  • Features
  • Performance
  • Price

Summary

A fast, feature-packed mobile router that can back up your home router too – just don’t mention the price…

Overall
4

Pros

  • Super-fast 5G and Wi-Fi 6 performance
  • Day-long battery life
  • Great facility to provide backup for home broadband

Cons

  • Price is beyond punchy

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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