TP-Link Deco M4 review: Expansion pack

TP-Link Deco M4
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Cheaper than Deco M5
  • Easy to set up

Cons

  • Slightly slower than M5
  • Bigger than M5

Bottom Line

The TP-Link Deco M4 is rarely good enough to justify itself as a replacement for the M5, and it makes one-too-many software compromises for it to hold up as the budget-friendly alternative either.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

The TP-Link Deco M5 was the first mesh Wi-Fi kit that clicked for me. It had a simple and clean look, providing plenty of fast-enough Wi-Fi coverage and speed.

It wasn’t super-expensive, and it had a nice app that ticked all the boxes. However, it relied on three nodes. The TP-Link Deco M4 only relies on two - there’s about a $70 difference in cost. 

Going into reviewing the new Deco M4, I was keen to see whether you could effectively replace three medium-strength nodes with two more-powerful ones. The other thing I wanted to examine was just how easy it was to use the M4 to expand my existing mesh Wi-Fi network.

One of those ambitions proved more fruitful than the other. Sometimes that's just the way it is. 

Specs

Router type: AC1200

Wireless: Dual-band

MU-MIMO: Yes

Dimensions: 90.7 x 190 mm

Processor: Qualcomm Atheros QCA9563

Antennas: 2

Ports: 1Gbs ethernet port (2x)

Number of nodes in box: 2

App: Deco

Color: White

Price: AU$229.95.

Design

While the Deco M5 is a sleek minimalist discus, the Deco M4 looks much closer to a traditional router - for better and for worse. For the most part, each Deco M4 node still broadly looks like you’d expect a router node to look.

Read more: ​TP-Link Smart LED multicoloured light bulbs review

Credit: TP-Link

Each of the two nodes you get in the box is a AC1200 router, which means that they’re a little slower than the M5. The TP-Link Deco M4 offers dual-band Wi-Fi speeds of up to 1167 Mbps. The TP-Link Deco M5 boasts dual-band Wi-Fi speeds of up to 1267Mbps. 

You do the maths. The difference is small, but it is a difference.

The M4 kit is also a little weaker when it comes to coverage. The TP-Link Deco M4 two-pack offers Wi-Fi connectivity of up to 260 square meters. That being said, this baseline coverage is also expandable via additional nodes - so that is an option.

Like most mesh Wi-Fi Systems, the Deco M4 is modular. You can use it on its own, or to expand an existing Mesh Wi-Fi system. I actually had a surprising amount of trouble with the latter though. Adding the first M4 node to the existing Deco network worked like a charm. However, I had plenty of issues with the second - and no amount of restarts could get it working.

Performance

Of course, if you look beyond the hardware for a minute and take a dive into the software powering this thing, you’ll find that the Deco M4 offers most of the perks and features found in the Deco M5.

The mesh Wi-Fi system’s management app offers parental controls that allow you to limit online time and block inappropriate content on a per-user (or per-device) basis. Unfortunately, you don’t get the built-in smart home hub found in the more expensive Deco M9 - but you do get Alexa and IFTTT compatibility.  

You also lose out on the M5’s built-in TrendMicro antivirus and quality-of-service features, which allow you to prioritise devices and applications for faster performance when needed.

Given that the M5 is about $70 more expensive, but significantly better, it’s kind of the biggest competition facing the Deco M4 - so that was one of the big focuses. I swapped the two systems in and out to see which faced better when it came to coverage and reliability, seen below:

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

The Bottom Line

Really, the M4's best case seems to be for houses that are large enough that one node isn’t enough, but small enough that the M5 triple pack doesn’t make sense.The physical footprint and form factor for the Deco M4 is substantially larger than the M5 and, price aside, it’s not super clear where this package's value lies. 

I get that it’s going to be a better fit for some people. The Deco M5 holds up as my personal pick for the best mesh Wi-Fi kit to start with, and the Deco M4 can only really be another option on the menu.

The TP-Link Deco M4 is rarely good enough to justify itself as a replacement for the M5, and it makes one-too-many software compromises for it to hold up as the budget-friendly alternative either. On its own merits, it’s a decent enough option but, in most contexts, it’s hard to make too strong a case for it.

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Read more on these topics: TP-Link, tp link, Deco M4
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