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Netgear Nighthawk M6 Review

Jul 28, 2023Jul 28, 2023

Netgear's high-end Nighthawk M6 mobile hotspot ($799.99) builds on the formula of its predecessor, the capable Nighthawk M5. It supports fast connection speeds, it's easy to configure, and it has a convenient touch screen. It's the most technically capable 5G hotspot certified with AT&T and T-Mobile, though its Verizon support is limited. It also doesn't last quite as long as its predecessor. Still, it's a solid choice if you need unlocked network flexibility. That said, you can save significant cash with carrier-locked models, such as the $209 Franklin A50(Opens in a new window) on AT&T, the $336 Inseego 5G MiFi M2000 on T-Mobile, or the $299.99 Orbic Speed 5G UW Mobile Hotspot ($299.99) on Verizon.

Before purchasing a hotspot like the Nighthawk M6, ask yourself if you need a dedicated mobile internet device or if tethering from your phone is a viable option.

Mobile hotspots typically offer superior cellular performance and Wi-Fi range and support a higher number of concurrent connections than mobile phones. For example, the Nighthawk M6 allows up to 32 devices to connect while many phones are limited to five or 10 devices. Another advantage is that you don't have to worry about running down your phone's battery. The mobile hotspot on most phones is a power-hungry feature that can drain batteries quickly. Moreover, some hotspots allow you to more finely control how data is used by the connected Wi-Fi devices. Lastly, mobile hotspots can be used with pay-as-you-go services rather than ongoing monthly plans, which can save you money over time.

Tethering via your phone, on the other hand, is convenient because it relies on a device you already own. Less gear to carry and manage is always a positive.

If you need to connect multiple devices in places such as a work site, a hotspot is probably the better pick. If you only need to log in via your laptop occasionally, tethering can save you some cash.

The Nighthawk M6 measures 4.14 by 4.14 by 0.85 inches (HWD) and weighs 8.89 ounces. It's small enough to carry around in a bag, though it likely won't fit comfortably in your pocket. Compared with the Inseego 5G MiFi M2000 (2.76 by 5.91 by 0.78 inches, 9.13 ounces), the Nighthawk is quite large. The Orbic Speed 5G UW (4.92 by 3.35 by 0.87 inches, 9.91 ounces) is closer in size, though.

The bottom edge of the hotspot hosts two TS-9 antenna ports, a USB-C port for charging or tethering, and an Ethernet port. The power button rests on the top edge. Flip the device over to access the removable battery. The SIM card slot is buried under the battery.

The 2.4-inch touch screen is located front and center. It lets you control everything about the hotspot without the Netgear Mobile app (for Android and iOS). The screen works perfectly fine for most things, such as changing settings and checking data usage. However, typing on it is a bit of a struggle, especially if you have larger fingers, which can make the process of entering your Wi-Fi credentials or other long text sequences annoying. Physical home and back buttons next to the screen help with navigation.

During normal operations, the top part of the screen shows the type of connection you have, the signal strength, the time of day, and the remaining battery percentage on top, just as your mobile phone does. Meanwhile, the lower portion shows how much data you've used and how much data or time is left on your plan. Swiping up opens the full menu. Alternately, you can skip the touch screen entirely and take care of everything with the companion app.

Because this hotspot is unlocked, you can use it on whatever network offers the best signal in your location. The M6 is specifically certified to work on the 5G networks of AT&T and T-Mobile (as well as Google Fi, which operates on T-Mobile). Verizon customers can use the M6, but it's not officially supported and you might have to finagle the SIM card activation to get it working properly.

The Nighthawk M6 chiefly includes sub-6GHz/mid-band spectrum; there's no mmWave 5G. The supported North American 5G bands are: n2/n5/n12/n14/n25/n29/n30/n41/n48/n66/n71/n77. That list includes AT&T's and T-Mobile's lower spectrum 5G coverage as well as their latest C-band deployments. It also supports AT&T's critical 3.45GHz spectrum, though connectivity in that band won't be enabled until later this year. The M6 improves over the M5 by adding bands n12, n14, n29, n30, and n48, but band n46 is still missing. Of course, the M6 falls back to 4G in areas where 5G is not available.

The hotspot relies on the Qualcomm Snapdragon X62 modem for 5G connectivity, which supports theoretical 5G data speeds up to 2.5Gbps. This is an upgrade from the X55 modem in the M5, but it doesn't match the X70 found in today's top phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

As for Wi-Fi, the North American variant of the M6 is disappointingly limited to Wi-Fi 6, rather than Wi-Fi 6E. You'll have to pick up one of the M6 Pro models for the latest Wi-Fi spec.

We tested the Nighthawk M6 on AT&T's network in and around Danbury, CT. Though the M6 supports AT&T's faster 5G+ network (which includes C-band), it only connected to AT&T's slower 5G network in testing (even though we attempted to connect in areas with clear 5G+ coverage according to AT&T's maps).

In an area with strong AT&T coverage, we connected the hotspot to an iPhone 14 Pro Max and ran speed tests, with downloads maxing out at 92Mbps and uploads topping out at 40Mbps. (The 2021-era Nighthawk M5 showed speeds of nearly 700Mbps when tested in Queens, NY, for the sake of comparison.) We also tested the hotspot in an area with poor 5G service and saw speeds of 22Mbps down and 8Mbps up. These results are in line with those of AT&T phones we've tested in the same area (for example, a OnePlus 11 5G averaged 87Mbps down and 19Mbps up), so we expect the hotspot to perform better in areas with stronger coverage.

Another critical aspect of mobile hotspot performance is Wi-Fi coverage. Technically, the M6 can support Wi-Fi speeds up to 3.6Gbps (AX3600). Netgear says the hotspot can cover up to 2,000 square feet if you plug it into an outlet and remove the battery (doing so puts it in home mode). We tested the range in a 1,000-square-foot apartment and found that coverage reached throughout without issue. We connected a phone, tablet, and laptop to the hotspot at the same time and didn't notice a difference in performance across the three devices.

To test the Nighthawk's battery life, we streamed a 1080p YouTube video from a device connected to the hotspot. Netgear says the Nighthawk should last up to 13 hours per charge, but it only managed 7 hours and 17 minutes testing. The M5 lasted 9 hours in the same test and both models have a 5,040mAh battery under the hood, so we expected similar results.

Variance in connection quality based on location and atmospheric conditions might have caused the M6 to struggle to maintain the steam, but the result is disappointing whatever the cause.

You can use the Netgear Nighthawk M6 to stand in as your home internet service, but we don't recommend it. Most people use more data at home over Wi-Fi than any carrier plan supports at high speeds. Exceeding your plan's monthly high-speed limit could leave you with limited data speeds the rest of the month.

Comcast says(Opens in a new window) the average wired home internet customer uses 397GB of data per month, substantially more than the 100GB phone data plans from AT&T and T-Mobile. However, T-Mobile's 100GB plan goes for just $50 per month, which is cheaper than many home internet plans. If your home internet use is light and you know you won't surpass the 100GB monthly limit, the M6 might be a viable alternative to your local ISP.

If you do choose to use the M6 as your home's internet service connect, the Ethernet port supports wired connections, while two external antenna ports can help improve the connection.

The unlocked flexibility of the Netgear Nighthawk M6 is appealing, though its underwhelming battery life and sky-high price tag give us pause. If you don't mind a carrier-locked mobile hotspot, you can save hundreds with the Franklin A50 for AT&T, the Inseego 5G MiFi M2000 for T-Mobile, or the Orbic Speed 5G UW Mobile Hotspot for Verizon. They offer top-notch speeds and are ideal if you don't need to switch networks frequently. If you need more flexibility, the Nighthawk M6 will get the job doneā€”but it will cost you.

The unlocked Netgear Nighthawk M6 mobile hotspot delivers strong 5G performance on AT&T and T-Mobile, but its battery life could be better.

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