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Pebble

November 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

As hyped as Apple’s iWatch, Pebble is here and for Android users in particular it delivers in spades.

Score 8/10

Pros
Tasteful design
Attractive, intuitive UI
Simple setup
Reasonably priced

Cons
Battery life reasonable, but below claims
Reduced iOS functionality

Review Price £99.99

Key Features: 1.26-inch, 144 x 168 pixel display; Android & iOS compatible ; 3-axis accelerometer ; Up to 7 days battery life; Vibrating motor; Bluetooth 4.0 & 2.1 + EDR; 50 x 32 x 8.4 mm, 38g

What is the Pebble watch?
This is the smartwatch that first got the world interested in smartwatches. Pebble is an Android and iOS compatible smartwatch with open source operating system that retails for just $150 (£99). It arrives 12 months after a record breaking KickStarter campaign that raised over $10m (100 times its funding target) in just five weeks. So… no pressure.

P1050970 Pebble

Pebble watch – Design
For all its hype, the first thing you notice about the Pebble smartwatch is how understated it is. No bulky, bulging curves, no myriad of buttons and no thoughts it might look better on the arm of Optimus Prime. The Pebble watch looks like a normal watch and – at just 50 x 32 x 11 mm and 38g – it feels like a normal watch. This is a very good thing.

Then again it is also possible to say Pebble smartwatch feels like a normal, cheap watch. Its casing is made entirely from plastic as are its buttons and the screen is a fingerprint magnet.

Despite this, though, the Pebble watch isn’t fragile. It is durably constructed and has a water resistance rating of 5ATM. This means it can be submerged up to 160 feet in both fresh and salt water and will happily allow you to swim or shower wearing it.

Explorers shouldn’t be scared off, either. The Pebble smartwatch works in temperatures ranging from -10 to 60 degrees centigrade. Meanwhile we found the 22mm rubber strap to be comfortable and it resists bumps and scrapes. The standard strap fits wrists with a circumference between 14cm and 21cm while for an extra $3 (£2) an extended strap will fit wrists up to 24cm.

P1050973 Pebble

Pebble – Features
Subtle as its looks may be, they aren’t what has gained the Pebble watch such attention. Pebble’s appeal lies in its functionality and, more specifically, the simplicity of its functionality.

Like the MetaWatch Strata, Pebble’s approach is not to be a mini-smartphone but a ‘thin client’ receiving handset notifications over Bluetooth. What it can receive varies significantly between iOS and Android (more of later) but includes email, SMS and social media alerts along with calendar reminders. It can also control music playback and accept or reject incoming calls.

The Pebble watch has a number of unofficial apps too made using its open SDK, which brings additional third party functionality from customisable watch faces to basic games like Chess and Space Invaders.

Getting back to the watch itself, all this is displayed by an e-paper 1.26-inch, 144 x 168 pixel monochrome screen and controlled by just four buttons. A back button on the left side and select and up/down buttons on the right side. The screen also has a backlight that can switch on automatically depending on the lighting level or be set to activate with a flick of the wrist. A nice touch.

P1050997 Pebble

On the left side of the watch are four metal contact charge points. The lack of microUSB is to keep it water tight, and while it means carrying a proprietary connector it is much lighter than the bulky charger for the MetaWatch and is neatly held in place with magnets. Despite this microUSB and a simple rubber stopper may have proved more convenient.

As for setup, it merely involves pairing Pebble with your handset via Bluetooth and installing the official app which lets you toggle which notifications you want. Once your choices are made these are wirelessly synced automatically with the watch and you’re ready to go.

This is a sample, to read how the Pebble performance, what kind of battery life it delivers and how it compares to rivals read the full review @ TrustedReviews

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.  

MetaWatch Strata

September 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

This open source smartwatch is rough around the edges, but has huge potential…

 

Pros
Durable construction
Simple setup
Great value for money
Long battery life

Cons
Dull design
Limited app support
Bulky

Review Price £83.00

Our Score 8/10 

Key Features: Smartphone notifications sent to watch screen; Rugged, water resistant, sports design; Battery life 5-7 days; Open source SDK; iPhone and Android compatible

What is the MetaWatch Strata?
An open source alternative to the much hyped Pebble smartwatch and much rumoured Apple iWatch. It pairs with an iPhone or Android smartphone over Bluetooth to deliver their notifications to your wrist. Like all smartwatches the theory is it will allow you to keep your phone in your pocket more often by giving you the context of received alerts. A particular benefit on the move or when exercising.

MetaWatch Strata – Design
The Strata is the thicker of two models currently offered by MetaWatch and focuses on durability and value. The more expensive ‘Frame’ is slimmer and targeted towards the fashion segment.

At first glance the Strata appears to have a face only a mother could love. The design hasn’t changed since we previewed it in September (link in the tab above this review) and the wide bezel and relatively small 1-inch, 96 x 96 pixel display are a world away from what we expect from our smartphones. But the Strata turns out to look far better on the wrist than off and we regularly received queries and compliments.

P1050641 Large  MetaWatch Strata

Furthermore the Strata’s design is carefully considered. The body is double injection moulded polyurethane giving the Strata a 5 ATM rated water resistance (verses the Frame’s 3ATM) which is enough to swim in. The downside is this is achieved by omitting a standard microUSB charge port. Instead the Strata has four metal contact points on the rear and a separate microUSB charge clip clamps to them.

On the plus side the Strata is available in multiple colours (black – aka ‘Stealth’ – is the most attractive for our money) and its construction material makes it extremely durable. The screen itself is “polymer network LCD” and made from mineral hardened, scratch resistant glass lens while a strainless steel top ring also protects the screen from impact. Despite several heart in mouth drops during our time with the Strata it remained unblemished.

As for the display itself it has an anti-glare coating and adapts to light, looking monochrome in normal conditions and becoming silver in direct sunlight. As such we found it readable in even the strongest outdoor sun and should you be in darkness it has a backlight.

Inside the Strata is battery sipping Bluetooth 4.0 and MetaWatch claims it will last up to a week on a single charge. There is also a vibrating motor to give the wearer a gentle buzz when they receive alerts…

P1050649 Large  MetaWatch Strata

MetaWatch Strata – Features
But what are these alerts? Much like the Pebble – which promised the earth but launched with limited service support – the notifications the Strata can deliver are a mixed bag.

The core supported services are accepting/rejecting incoming calls (with caller ID), SMS, emails, and calendar alerts. The handset can also display weather, replicate alarms and show routing information. In addition the Strata can play and pause music playback, which allows it to act like a remote control – useful if your handset is docked, you are swimming (or in the shower) or if your headphones lack dedicated music controls.

The caveats are there is currently no support for social media (though MetaWatch says this is in the pipeline) and to work with routing the apps need to be made compatible. In the case of routing this rules out Apple Maps and Google Maps at present (this should change with the expanded APIs of iOS7), but Telenav’s Scout app bales you out for now.

Meanwhile setup couldn’t be simpler. Since the Strata is a thin client, all management is done via official apps in the App Store and Google Play (Android version below). Install them, pair the Strata over Bluetooth and you’re ready to go. Customisation is easy. The MetaWatch has four homescreens divided into quadrants and each can be selected in the app to be filled by single, double (horizontal or vertical) and full screen widgets such as time, weather, email and so forth.

MetaWatch App MetaWatch Strata

Interestingly because MetaWatch has open sourced its code there are also third party apps available. We found the most impressive to be ‘MetaWatch Manager Community Edition’ on Android which actually has more widgets than the official app (including dividing the screen into thirds) and greater customisation options. These include the ability to customise vibration types, download new themes, choose specific calendars and more.

We would like to see the official app offer support for these third party innovations (a kind of app store within the app) over time to tap into what seems to be a thriving developer community.

To read the full review and learn about how the MetaWatch performs and what rivals are on the horizon click here to read the full review @ Trustedreviews.

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

AVM Fritz!Box 3390

September 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

The German market leader launches a VDSL router to tackle the UK.

Score 7/10

 

Pros
Decent 2.4GHz &5GHz WiFi performance
Distinctive, fun design
Highly customisable user settings
Integrated VDSL modem

Cons
No dedicated WAN port
Baffling default settings
No power or reset buttons

Review Price £119.00

Key Features: Dual band 802.11n WiFi ; Integrated VDSL modem; Integrated media server; 4x Gigabit Ethernet; 2x USB 2.0

What is the AVM FRITZ!Box 3390?

This is the new flagship in the German networking company’s 3000 series. It is the first to offer dual band 802.11n in this range and marks the first major attempt of Fritz!Box (and its curiously placed exclamation mark) to break into the UK after taking nearly 70 per cent of the DSL market in its homeland.

AVM FRITZBox 3390 freigeste 0327894813eff2b1 AVM Fritz!Box 3390
FRITZ!Box 3390: Design

Come in Thunderbird 6! Yes while Fritz!Box and its history may stem from Germany, the design of the 3390 immediately makes us think of 1960s UK cult show Thunderbirds. Its curved lines, matt red and silver paint job and distinctive fins (which hide antennas) certainly give the 3390 the look of a retro space ship and make it a welcome entry into a sector with only a few distinctive designs. Less interesting is the build quality which, while sturdy, lacks a premium feel. The problem is the chassis is constructed from a series of individual pieces that don’t quite fit together as well as they should and produce a slight rattle when tapped (update: having requested a second sample we found this flaw to be a one-off).

The 3390 also bizarrely lacks dedicated reboot and power buttons, which means pulling out the power cord is the only way to switch it off. We aren’t fans of the five huge green activity LEDs either, which can prove distracting and while their flashing patterns can be adjusted they cannot be dimmed or switched off completely. On the plus side the 3390 can be wall mounted and it is just interesting enough to look at that this might be an appealing option to those with a bold choice of interior design.
71xk s 6hRL SL1500  AVM Fritz!Box 3390

FRITZ!Box 3390: Features

The router’s looks got our attention and its feature list isn’t bad, either. This isn’t a next-gen 802.11ac device, but it does bring the aforementioned 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n to Fritz!Box’s 3000 series for the first time.

Furthermore, it joins a fairly limited number of routers in integrating a VDSL (100Mb/s) modem making it ideal for fibre optic DSL customers who want an all-in-one product to replace their ISP’s modem and router. Interestingly, the 3390 also integrates a ‘Fritz!NAS’ which lets you network folders from connected devices directly through the router as it includes a built-in media server.

This won’t replace a dedicated NAS, but it is a step up from simply plugging in a USB hard drive. That said you can go this latter route too as the 3390 has two USB 2.0 ports and ticks off all the functionality you’d expect from a premium third-party router including WPA/WPA2 and WPS security, Dynamic DNS, IPv6 support and DNLA compatibility.

One downside is there is no dedicated WAN port, so those wanting to use the 3390 with cable broadband will have to give up the dual purpose LAN1 Gigabit Ethernet port, leaving you with just three 10/100/1000 ports for the rest of your wired devices.

FRITZ Box 3390 UI 2 AVM Fritz!Box 3390

FRITZ!Box 3390: Setup

We have gotten used to the well trodden paths of Linksys, D-Link, Netgear and others so it was interesting to see Fritz!Box take a fresh approach to getting up and running.

Like the best modern routers, the 3390′s entire setup is browser based so there’s no CD and the large round WPS button on its top means connecting to its wireless signal takes seconds. That said we did find a number of quirks such as a reboot merely after setting our language and country and extensive energy consumption settings which, while theoretically welcome, means the 3390 restricts its Ethernet ports to 10/100 rather than Gigabit by default. We also don’t like the company’s decision to unify its 2.4GHz and 5GHz SSIDs out the box.

It may keep things simple, but devices with faster 5GHz WiFi cannot choose which signal they connect to and it requires some digging around in advanced settings to change this. On the plus side Fritz!Box has taken a methodical approach to its UI (found at fritz.com or 192.168.178.1) with clear categories for each section and an array of options that go far deeper than most rivals. The downside is this approach will scare off the less tech savvy and it isn’t as slick as the Linksys Smart WiFi cloud-based platform which still sets the industry standard.

FRITZ Box 3390 UI1 AVM Fritz!Box 3390

 

802.11n 5GHz AVM Fritz!Box 3390FRITZ!Box 3390: Performance

Up to now the 3390 has proved a mixture of pros and cons, but we found its wireless performance to be reasonably good. In our residential test environment speeds at 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m behind two standing walls 802.11n 5GHz produced speeds of 18.1MB/s (144.8Mb/s), 14.7MB/s (117.6Mb/s) and 5.63MB/s (45.05Mb/s).

This paces it close to the D-Link DIR-845L, the fastest dual band wireless n router we’d reviewed to date, except at 13m where it pulls away hitting 7.1MB/s (56.8Mb/s). The 3390 is also comfortably ahead of both the Virgin new Super Hub and BT Home Hub 4. 2.4GHz performance was strong too. Its 2m, 10m and 13m speeds of 11.4MB/s (91.2Mb/s), 8.48MB (67.84Mb/s) and 4.64MB/s (37.04Mb/s) place it in the upper echelons of 802.11n 2.4GHz performance – though again just behind the DIR-845L. USB performance was less impressive coming in at 3.2MB/s (25.6Mb/s).

This is fairly mediocre and illustrates the lack of computing horsepower in current routers, which must be addressed if networked USB is going to become a viable Ethernet alternative. Should I buy the FRITZ!Box 3390? Coming in at £119 we’d say it depends entirely on your circumstances. The integrated VDSL modem pushes up the price significantly, but it will be worth it for those determined to have a neat single box solution and with the tech skills to comfortably negotiate the 3390′s UI (which is necessary to enable basics like Gigabit Ethernet). If all-in-one isn’t a priority we’d steer clear.

The faster (though router-only) DIR-845L can be found for less than £100 online and the £150-160 price range will get you an 802.11ac router that not only future proofs your network, but brings significantly stronger 802.11n 5GHz performance as a consequence. How much faster? Over 20MB/s (160Mb/s) at both 2m and 10m and circa 10MB/s (80Mb/s) at 13m. Yes, it is strongly worth thinking about.

Verdict

After carving out an impressive reputation in Germany, Fritz!Box has made an compelling play for greater attention in the UK.

The 3390′s wireless performance competes with the best 802.11n dual band routers, it integrates a VDSL modem and the design is both fun and distinctive. Then again out of the box setup issues and the fact it retails within touching distance of some much faster 802.11ac routers mean it just falls shy of a recommended award.

My original review for TrustedReviews can be found here

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

Apple Airport Extreme 2013

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Style over substance as Apple’s stylish debut 802.11ac router disappoints.

Score 6/10

 

Pros
Class leading design and build quality
Smooth Mac OS X & iOS setup
Strong 802.11n 5GHz performance

Cons
Poor 802.11ac & 802.11n 2.4GHz performance
3x Gigabit Ethernet
Single USB 2.0 port
Limited WPS support
Review Price £169.00

Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless; 3x Gigabit Ethernet; WPA/WPA2 encryption; USB 2.0 port; Integrated PSU
Manufacturer: Apple

What is the Apple AirPort Extreme (2013)?

As the brackets suggest, this is the 2013 edition of Apple’s AirPort Extreme wireless router. The big news this time around is Apple has added the next generation 802.11ac wireless standard to bring it up to date with the latest flagship routers from the likes of Asus, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear. Given the previous AirPort Extreme was released over two years ago, Apple has also overhauled the design, which the company claims is “rebuilt for speed”.

 

2011 2013 Apple Airport Extreme 2013

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Design

So what does this spruce up entail? Gone is the formerly flat, traditional rectangular design of the 2011 edition to be replaced by what can only be described as a white, elongated Apple TV (see comparison above). The logic is the switch in form factor allows Apple to position the antennas at the top, creating a higher platform for signal dispersal. It also reduces the Extreme’s desktop footprint by 64 per cent with the base measuring just 98 x 98mm compared to the 16.5 x 16.5mm of its predecessor.

This being Apple ‘rebuilt for speed’ isn’t the only motivation, there is no doubt that ‘rebuilt for style’ was also a key consideration as the AirPort Extreme is by far the best looking router we have ever seen. This might seem glib for a product which is essentially a white, angular tube, but the result is a router that is both minimalist and eye-catching and the gentle curves are simple yet dramatic enough that we can imagine Jonathan Ive agonising with his protractor for weeks.

A nice touch is Apple has built in the power supply to keep cabling neat. In short, the company has rewritten the rule book for router design.

Construction is outstanding, too. Typically we forgive routers their somewhat hollow and cheap plastic construction because of the protests that this is needed to let signal pass through. Apple has scoffed at this and the new AirPort Extreme is solid, weighing in at a hefty 945g, and the casing is clearly cut in a single piece with beautifully drilled port and power slots.

If we were to quibble, Apple’s choice of a matt finish for the top and gloss finish for the sides is a little inconsistent, but it isn’t overly noticeable and both are highly resistant to fingerprints. It also seems laughable Apple has including just a single pinhole status light on the front, but many will stomach such wild impracticality for the superficial benefits it brings.
AirPort Extreme 2

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Features

2 Apple Airport Extreme 2013 We haven’t talked so long about router design before so we’ll crack on through the features and the first thing to notice is the theme of minimalism continues, but this time in an area it is not welcome.

Of course the headline act is the new Extreme’s 802.11ac wireless and its backwards compatibility with 802.11a/b/g, but aside from this numerous corners are cut. Illustrating Apple’s stubbornness over standards it dislikes, the Extreme is the only modern, premium router we’ve seen to omit WPS and even takes the effort of fudging the standard with pin codes to connect WPS-based printers.

Apple isn’t overly keen on incorporating standards it does like either and, like the new Time Capsule range, the 2013 Extreme continues to ignore AirPlay missing out on a powerful differentiator. There are also just three Gigabit Ethernet ports rather than the usual four to accompany the WAN port and a single USB 2.0 port, for sharing a hard drive or printer across the network, when a minimum of two or at least one USB 3.0 port tends to be the bare minimum for high-end routers these days.

One the plus side, the Extreme can operate both as a router and wireless bridge (at which point the WAN port can be used as a fourth Gigabit LAN), there’s IPv6 support (which works over PPOE for the first time) and WPA and WPA2 encryption standards aboard. But it isn’t enough.

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Setup

Great looks and restricted functionality mean so far so very Apple, but does the cliché extend to the company’s slogan: ‘it just works’? Well yes and no.

2013 09 02 12 20 47 Apple Airport Extreme 2013

Approach the Extreme from Mac OS X and the setup is seamless. It detects not just any old router, but an Apple router and configures automatically and enables you to customise settings. The process is almost as straightforward with iOS, but once connected you will need to download the AirPort app for full configuration options, though that is painless enough.

When it comes to Windows, however, things become more complicated. There is no web browser control for the Extreme so users must download the ‘AirPort Utility for Windows’ which hasn’t been updated for the new model and is 15 months old. It is an ugly, text heavy window full of tabs, menus and tick boxes and we found it wasn’t always reliable in detecting the new Extreme.

AirPort Extreme UI Apple Airport Extreme 2013

Hopefully things will improve if/when Apple brings Extreme management into iCloud to rival the Cloud platforms created by Asus, D-Link and Linksys, but right now it is a mess and we’d advise Windows users to steer clear even if they’re tempted by the Extreme’s design.

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Performance

High on style, light on substance and disinterested in other platforms continues the Apple stereotype, but unfortunately our test results found the Extreme eschews the company’s most important one: a premium user experience.

AirPort Extreme AC Apple Airport Extreme 2013 AirPort Extreme AC 2In our test environment at 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m behind two standing walls the Extreme’s wireless ac performance fell flat, hitting just 26.2MB/s (209.6Mb/s), 25.2MB/s (201.6Mb/s) and 19.8MB/s (158.4Mb/s).

These speeds make the Extreme the slowest wireless AC router we have tested at 2m. It improves dramatically by holding its speed at distance, but it still trails every wireless AC router we’ve tested this year and is a mile off the 2m record of 39.1MB/s (312.8Mb/s) for the Asus RT-AC66U and the 10m and 13m benchmarks of the Linksys EA6700 – which just edged the Asus – hitting 35.2MB/s (281.6Mb/s) and 28.8MB/s (230.4Mb/s).

When you’re beaten at 2m by a router at 13m behind two standing walls, it simply isn’t good enough.

There was better news for the Extreme when tested at 5GHz 802.11n. 2m, 10m and 13m test positions recorded 23.7MB/s (189Mb/s), 18MB/s (144Mb/s) and 9.72MB/s (77.62Mb/s), which place it right up with the fastest routers we have tested (the D-Link DIR-868L’s incredible 14.1MB/s at 13m aside).

AirPort Extreme 2.4GHzDisappointingly, however, the respite was brief as the Extreme’s 802.11n 2.4GHz performance was again off the pace. 7.78MB/s (62.24MB/s) at 2m is amongst the slowest speeds we’ve seen (bettered even by the PlusNet Fibre single band router) and while 10m performance held up better (7.49MB/s – 59.92Mb/s) at 13m rates of 2.54MB/s (20.32Mb/s) are roughly 50 per cent below what we would expect.

Lastly USB performance was little to write home about. The Extreme achieved 3.3MB/s (26.4Mb/s), which sits it squarely in the middle of the pack. This is enough to stream HD video, but as we have said many times before: until routers up their processor power all USB network connectivity will remain a damp squib.

5 Apple Airport Extreme 2013

Should I buy the Apple AirPort Extreme (2013)?

Even for those highly tempted by the Extreme’s good looks the answer is no. Functionality and performance fall flat and they are ultimately compounded by a £169.99 price tag. This makes the Extreme one of the most expensive 802.11ac routers we have tested (the bizarrely priced £179.99 Belkin AC1800 DB aside) and while 802.11n 5GHz performance is a lone shining light, every modern wireless AC rival gives it a good kicking.

Verdict

The most attractive, well crafted router on the market is sadly a letdown. The AirPort Extreme may have added 802.11ac to a great redesign but its performance falls flat and functionality is heavily compromised compared to other next gen alternatives. Apple detractors argue the company is about style over substance. That isn’t true, but sadly they are right in this case.

Scores In Detail

Build Quality 9/10
Design 9/10
Features 5/10
Performance 6/10
Usability 6/10
Value 5/10

Originally published on TrustedReviews, read it here

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belkin AC 1800 DB 802.11ac router

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Belkin’s flagship 802.11ac router has loads of features: does it perform?

Score 7/10

 

Pros
Competitive wireless ac speeds
Interesting looks
Integrated Norton parental controls

Cons
Weak 802.11n 2.4GHz performance
No Cloud platform
Overpriced

Review Price £179.99

Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi; Norton parental controls; 4x Gigabit Ethernet; Dual USB 2.0 ports; WPA/WPA2 and WPS security

What is the Belkin AC1800 DB?
This is Belkin’s flagship 802.11ac wireless router. It joins an increasingly packed wireless ac marketplace where the likes of Linksys and D-Link have already released their second generation products. Belkin has equipped the AC1800 DB with a healthy feature set and will hope recruiting Norton to beef up its parental controls will give it an edge as competition heats up.

AC1800 DB – Design71VpuFfQPnL SL1500  Belkin AC 1800 DB 802.11ac router
The Belkin AC1800 also sets itself apart when it comes to looks. The vertically standing router gives the impression it was stolen off a 1950s science fiction show with its sweeping curves and air outlets that trace the circumference of its central silver band. The outlets keep the router cool at all times and like most premium routers it operates silently. The sleek look does necessarily widen out at the back to fit its array of ports, but it doesn’t spoil the overall appearance.

That said there are some downsides. While solidly put together the Belkin AC1800 has a piano black gloss finish that preserves every ring of a finger print and there is a distinct lack of useful activity lights other than power and WPS. The upside is the AC1800 won’t distract you with a multitude of blinks, but indicators for the internet status and Ethernet, wireless and USB activity would have been more practical. The Belkin AC1800 also can’t be wall mounted as its stand is fixed, but this isn’t a great loss with an upright router.

Belkin AC1800 DB – Features
Belkin AC 1200 DB 2  Belkin AC 1800 DB 802.11ac routerBelkin may be a smaller name in networking, but it ticks most of the right boxes with the AC1800. It is 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible with four Gigabit Ethernet ports and dual USB 2.0 ports. USB 3.0 doesn’t make an appearance, but this isn’t a major issue given routers’ chipset performance so far remains a greater bottleneck on USB speeds than USB 2.0. In addition, the Belkin AC1800 comes with the staples of WPA/WPA2 and WPS security and support for IPv6 plus DLNA streaming.

Belkin is also making a big noise about its integrated ‘IntelliStream’ QoS (Quality of Service), which automatically prioritises network traffic from video and gaming (much like ‘FasTrack’ on the Western Digital My Net AC1300) and its collaboration with Norton to integrate parental controls.The latter amounts to basic website filtering with malicious, adult and ‘non-family friendly’ site blocking that it defines as “malware, phishing, and scam sites and also sites that contain sexually explicit material, mature content, abortion, alcohol, tobacco, crime, cult, drugs, gambling, hate, suicide or violence”. In reality many free software alternatives will do this, but it does have the benefit of referencing Norton’s continually updated website databases.

Overall this amounts to a pretty solid feature set, but there are two flies in the ointment. The first is the absence of any Cloud platform like D-Link, Linksys (which Belkin recently bought from Cisco) and Asus, which allow remote management of the router. The second is a rather weedy treatment of 802.11n with a reduction that sees Belkin quote 300Mbit rather than the usual 450Mbit theoretical maximum for a top of the range router. Of course the theoretical numbers are always nonsense, but it does throw up a red flag.

Belkin AC1800 DB – Setup
The Belkin AC1800 setup is also a little antiquated. Belkin supplies a CD with the AC1800 when many routers (in the age of tablets and Ultrabooks) are moving to a CD-less setup (configuration on first connection), but the process remains smooth guiding you through wireless connection and setting your default wireless and admin passwords.
Advanced users will be able to skip this, connecting wirelessly using WPS and finding the router’s admin settings at 192.168.2.1.

These settings are clearly laid out with a simple graphical UI and it will try to assist with basic connectivity problems should they be detected. As you might expect diving into advanced settings is less user friendly and heavily text based, but numerous options are available including management of Intellistream, Norton’s website filter (which should arguably be in the main menu) and Firewall, LAN and WAN settings.

Belkin AC1800 DB – Performance
Belkin AC1800 BD 802 11ac Belkin AC 1800 DB 802.11ac routerThe Belkin AC1800′s appealing looks and functionality are also backed up by solid 802.11ac test results.

Belkin AC1800 BD 802 11ac Belkin AC 1800 DB 802.11ac routerIn our test environment at 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m behind two standing walls the router recorded speeds of 35.5MBps (284Mbps), 27.7MBps (221.6Mbps) and 23.5MBps (188Mbps). At 2m this makes the Belkin AC1800 the third fastest router we have tested ahead of the D-Link DIR-868L at 34MBps (272Mbps), but behind the Linksys EA6700 and Asus RT-AC66U, which recorded 36.7Mbps (293.6Mbps) and 39.1MBps (312.8Mbps) respectively. That said it drops behind all three at 10m and is actually slower than them and the WD My Net AC1300 (24.3MBps – 194.4Mbps) at 13m.

It was a similar story testing 802.11n over 5GHz (images in the gallery above). The AC1800′s 2m, 10m and 13m speeds of 22MBps (176Mbps), 17.6MBps (140.8Mbps) and 10.2MBps (81.6Mbps) make it the second fastest router behind the EA6700 at 2m, but it slipped behind the Asus and D-Link at 10m and 13m only holding off the EA6700′s bizarrely weak performance (7.7MBps – 61.6Mbps) at the latter distance.

With 802.11n 2.4GHz our fears about the AC1800′s reduced number of antennas came to fruition. At 2m, 10m and 13m it produced highly inconsistent speeds of 9.3MBps (74.4Mbps), 5MBps (40Mbps) and 2.4MBps (19.2Mbps) with its 10m and 13m speeds 50-100 per cent down on EA6700, AC66U, 868L and My Net AC1300 meaning it actually placed closer to first generation wireless ac routers like the Linksys EA6500 and D-Link DIR-865L which seemed to treat 802.11n 2.4GHz as an afterthought.

Network performance over USB was nothing to write home about either coming in at 3.9MBps (31.2Mbps) compared to 7.1MBps (56.8Mbps), 4.9MBps (39.2Mbps) and 4.8MBps (38.4Mbps) from the EA6700, 868L, My Net AC1300 with the AC66U (3.1MBps – 24.8Mbps) its only scalp.

F9K1118 side Belkin AC 1800 DB 802.11ac router

Should I buy the Belkin AC1800 DB?
Based on everything so far the answer would be ‘maybe’, but it depends on one critical factor the Belkin AC1800 sadly gets badly wrong: price. Belkin retails for the router for an astonishing £179.99 and surprisingly we haven’t seen many cuts from online retailers.

This makes the it roughly £30-50 more expensive than its major rivals, which is hard to fathom. We contacted Belkin about this and while it admitted the gap will narrow with future products, it currently has no plans to drop the price any time soon. If you are a concerned parent thinking the AC1800′s Norton controls are worth the extra expense we’d point you to this an array of free software alternatives that will do an even better job.

Verdict
The Belkin AC1800 DB gets many things right. It is nicely designed, has an appealing feature set and performs reasonably well, but unfortunately all this good work is sabotaged by an unrealistic price tag.

Scores In Detail
Build Quality 7/10
Design 8/10
Features 7/10
Performance 7/10
Usability 7/10
Value 6/10

Originally published on TrustedReviews, read it here.

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.

 

 

 

 

 

Western Digital My Net AC1300 802.11ac router

August 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

The storage expert throws its hat into the wireless ac arena…

Score 7/10

 

Pros
Simple setup
Intuitive user interface
Integrated media prioritisation

Cons
Wireless speeds behind sector benchmarks
No Cloud platform
Feature set deserves cheaper pricing
Dull design

Review Price £139.00

Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi; 4x Gigabit Ethernet; 2x USB 2.0; FasTrack media prioritisation software

What is the Western Digital My Net AC1300 802.11ac router?

This is WD’s first next generation wireless ac compatible router. The company only entered the router space in recent years, but has impressed with feature packed models like the My Net N900 Central. With the AC1300 WD is pushing its proprietary ‘FasTrack’ technology front and centre which it claims makes the router the fastest and most consistent in its class.

Western Digital My Net AC1300 – Design
For such a big release Western Digital hasn’t spent a great deal of time on design. The My Net series has never sported the most innovative look and the AC1300 is virtually identical to its predecessors. This means the same sunken, gloss rectangular casing and matt lid pattern. Even the front activity LEDs are the same with blue flashing power, WiFi, Internet and WPS lights and a dedicated WPS physical button. It is no PlusNet router monstrosity, but it certainly is boring.

That said ‘boring’ has its benefits. The AC1300 is rigidly built, has large rubber feet to keep it in place and can be positioned just about anywhere without catching the eye. Then again this could prove a necessary evil as the AC1300 doesn’t sit upright and cannot be wall mounted.

Western Digital My Net AC1300 2  Western Digital My Net AC1300 802.11ac router

Western Digital My Net AC1300 – Features
While its looks won’t make friends and influence people, its feature set just might. Unlike the hard drive packing N900, the AC1300 is all about speed.

802.11ac compatibility is the big draw, but WD is also pushing its ‘FasTrack’ automated media prioritisation technology for equal billing. Media prioritisation isn’t new, but with our media consumption increasingly online WD has taken it a step farther by embedding it in the core of the AC1300. FasTrack is pre-programmed to prioritise a vast array of online services from Netflix and YouTube to Spotify and VoIP traffic from the likes of Skype. FasTrack also analyses the whole of any media file rather than just pieces, a process WD boasts will reduce buffering.

The AC1300 prides itself on smart management of your local network as well with integrated network diagnostics. As well as providing an array of statistics it claims to analyse common network connectivity issues and address them automatically. Despite this WD doesn’t yet have a full Cloud platform like Linksys and D-Link, so all access must be done locally.

Elsewhere the AC1300 ticks a lot of the right boxes. It comes with two USB 2.0 ports (though no USB 3.0), there are four Gigabit Ethernet ports (though sadly not the seven the N900 broke from the pack to provide), Gigabit WAN and WPA/WPA2 and WPS security. IPv6 support is also there out the box along with parental controls.

WD setup Western Digital My Net AC1300 802.11ac router

Western Digital My Net AC1300 – Setup
Setting up the AC1300 does lead you down the CD route (something companies are starting to break from as Ultrabook and tablet popularity skyrockets), but it is a smooth process nonetheless. Admin and wireless passwords are set straight away and the main UI is attractive with intuitive categories which shouldn’t scare away even the most timid of technophobes.

Techies will simply plug in the AC1300, connect manually and dive into the settings – something the CD-based process thankfully doesn’t restrict.

WD My Net AC1300 UI Western Digital My Net AC1300 802.11ac router

Western Digital My Net AC1300 – Performance
WD My Net AC1300 802 11ac Western Digital My Net AC1300 802.11ac routerSo do the AC1300′s speed claims come to fruition? It is in the right ball park. At our test distances of two metres and 10 metres line of sight and 13 metres behind two standing walls it clocked 31.6MBps (252.8Mbps), 25.9MBps (207.2Mbps) and 24.3MBps (194.4Mbps) respectively using 802.11ac.

This sees it lag behind the Linksys EA6700, Asus RT-AC66U and D-Link DIR-868L (which we would consider the best three routers currently on the market) at close range, but it reduces the gap on the 868L at 13m and is just 3-4MBps behind EA6700 and AC66U at this distance.

Performance on 802.11n at 5GHz was less impressive. The AC1300 managed 18.5MBps (148Mbps), 14MBps (112Mbps) and 7.8MBps (62.4Mbps) which saw it outstripped by all three routers at 2m and 10m.

While it matched the EA6700′s 7.7MBps (61.6Mbps) at 13m we found this to be the EA6700′s weak spot with the AC66U and 868L managing 11MBps (88Mbps) and a barnstorming 14.1MBps (112.8Mbps) respectively. On the plus side the AC1300 speeds were rock solid throughout (graphs for this can be seen in the gallery at the top of the page).

WD My Net AC1300 802 11n 2 4GHz Western Digital My Net AC1300 802.11ac routerWhen it came to 802.11n at 2.4GHz the AC1300 again lagged, but not by much. It hit 11Mbps (88Mbps), 8.7MBps (69.6Mbps) and 2.9MBps (23.2Mbps) at 2m, 10m and 13m when scores around 11MBps, 10MBps and 3.5MBps were the norm with the big three, with the exception of the benchmark 5.3MBps (42.4Mbps) achieved by the AC66U at 13m.

That said this doesn’t tell the whole story as you will see from the performance graphs opposite, the AC1300′s speeds were erratic as distance increased.

As for performance over USB, the AC1300 managed 4.8MBps (38.4Mbps): in line with the 868L, much better than the lacklustre 3.1MBps (24.8Mbps) of the AC66U but not in the same league as the EA6700′s breakaway 7.1MBps (56.8Mbps). While useable for simple media streaming, until router CPU power increases to tackle the greater drain of USB transfers attaching storage via Gigabit Ethernet will remain the much better option.

wdfMyNetAC1300 Western Digital My Net AC1300 802.11ac router

Should I buy the Western Digital My Net AC1300?
While the performance results show the AC1300 slightly lags behind the fastest routers we have tested it is in no way sluggish and will handle everything the vast majority of users can throw at it. FasTrack will also have appeal for users with slow Internet connections, but in all honesty this is unlikely to be a problem for users looking to buy such a high end router.

Still while the AC1300 isn’t the quickest we’ve seen, it also isn’t the most fully featured or stylishly designed. The network analytics are welcome, but available in most premium routers and we would have to run the AC1300 for many months to see if its claims of automatically tackling connectivity problems is true. This is a limitation of the review process.

Superficial as it may sound we also think it is about time WD paid slightly more attention to its external design given the stylish, racy and futuristic looks given to Linksys EA6700, Asus RT-AC66U and D-Link DIR-868L respectively.

In terms of value for money at £139 the AC1300 is cheaper than the EA6700 and AC66U (£169.99 and £159.99), while it comes in at the same price as the 868L. For those on a tight budget the D-Link has the most appeal and – while online offers may affect things – we’d also stretch to get our hands on the EA6700 and AC66U before WD’s offering.
Verdict
Competent is the word which most comes to mind with the AC1300. It is solidly constructed, fast and nicely featured but it looks dull, isn’t as quick as the fastest routers and lacks the ambitious Cloud platforms being developed by Asus, D-Link and Linksys. In that scenario the My Net AC1300 needed to be cheaper to really catch our attention.

Scores In Detail

Design 6/10
Features 7/10
Performance 7/10
Usability 7/10
Value 7/10

To read the original review on TrustedReviews click here

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

 

TalkTalk Plus Fibre router

August 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Following Sky & PlusNet, yet another single band ISP fibre router disappoints

Score 5/10

 

Pros: Simple, thoughtful design, Easy setup USB 2.0 port

Cons: Cannot hit advertised fibre speeds, No Gigabit Ethernet, No IPv6 support, Schizophrenic UI

Review Price £45.00

Key Features: 802.11bgn 2.4GHz WiFi; 4x 10/100 Ethernet ports; WPA / WPA2 & WPS security; Fibre & ADSL2+ ports; USB 2.0

What is the TalkTalk Plus fibre router?

It is the premium router TalkTalk supplies to customers signing up for its 38Mbps and 76Mbps fibre broadband packages. Like the Sky Hub and PlusNet Fibre router, TalkTalk’s Plus router is a single band 802.11n 2.4GHz model, which raises concerns it may struggle deliver Wi-Fi speeds that match the fastest connections – an issue the BT Home Hub 4 and Virgin Media new Super Hub dodge by supporting the 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz bands.

Is the TalkTalk Plus fibre router up to the task of delivering proper fibre speeds over Wi-Fi, or is it another underwhelming effort from a UK ISP? Note: TalkTalk uses two suppliers for the Plus router, D-Link (model number ‘DSL-3780′) and Huawei (model number ‘H533′), but claims both perform very similarly and look identical. We received the D-Link edition of the Plus router so will refer to it as the 3780 in this review.

DSL 3780 B1 Image L Side  TalkTalk Plus Fibre router

TalkTalk Plus fibre router – Design

Out of the box things look promising. TalkTalk has previously spoken of its desire to provide customers with a more stylish router and the 3780 is a marked improvement on previous models. Out goes its predecessor’s glossy white finish, large garish TalkTalk logo and boxy angles to be replaced by a smaller, subtly branded, curvier, matt black unit.

Admittedly we are still a long way from the stylish design seen in the sector’s flagships like the Linksys EA6700 and D-Link DIR-848L, but it is no eye sore. It is also well-built. There are no creaks or squeaks and while we aren’t in the habit of throwing routers on the floor, it feels capable of withstanding a few drops. A moulded base stand means the 3780 can only sit bolt upright though and while this isn’t a major issue it does mean it cannot be wall mounted.

The 3780 also has 11 front facing activity lights (power, ADSL, Fibre, Internet, WLAN, WPS, LAN1-4 and USB) and while all of these won’t be flashing at once you would be advised not to place it in a common eye line.

DSL 3780 B1 Image L Back  TalkTalk Plus Fibre router

 

TalkTalk Plus fibre router – Features

While the look of the 3780 causes no offense, much of its feature set does raise concern. The aforementioned limitation of 802.11n 2.4GHz WiFi is the most obvious talking point, but it doesn’t even come with the fastest implementation of 2.4GHz. As such it uses a 2×2 antenna array when a stronger 3×3 array is common in many single band routers including D-Link’s own excellent DIR-645. In addition to this the 3780 fits four 10/100 Ethernet ports rather than the more common Gigabit (1000Mbps) Ethernet standard.

This will be an instant deal breaker for users running NAS boxes as it creates a fixed bottleneck even for wired connections. IPv6 is also missing, though D-Link confirms the hardware is capable of being updated to support it in future. Elsewhere we are pleased to see the 3780 supports WPA/WPA2 and WPS security and there is also a USB 2.0 port on the back for sharing a printer or USB storage across the network. Interestingly, the 3780 packs both ADSL2 and Fibre internet ports. This adds flexibility but, like the PlusNet fibre router, really only shows that this is a bridging product (ADSL2 reaches just 16Mbps) rather than a router purely intended to do justice to the speeds of fibre optic broadband.

Still this is better than the PlusNet Fibre router which had to commandeer one of its Ethernet ports just to support Fibre – a real botch job.

TalkTalk D Link DSL 3780 TT UI TalkTalk Plus Fibre router

TalkTalk Plus fibre router – Setup

For technophobes TalkTalk supplies both a CD-based setup wizard and a manual which includes step by step graphical guides for Mac OS X, Windows XP, Vista, 7 and (impressively) Windows 8. Users will also be able to simply plug the 3780 in and connect to its Wi-Fi using the key printed on the back of the router.

Happily, WPA2 security is enabled default, but slapped wrists are in order for setting up the default username and password for the router’s settings as admin/admin. We thought we had long passed the days of this aged and easily guessed combo and they should be changed immediately… something we doubt many mainstream TalkTalk users will do. For those who do dare to fiddle with the 3780′s settings, they will find not one but two UIs. By default the 3780 loads a simple TalkTalk status screen (shown above), but clicking the ‘advanced’ tab sees it open D-Link’s standard router UI in a new window (below).

We weren’t expecting the smoothness of Linksys or D-Link’s premium Cloud platforms Smart WiFi and mydlink, but the effect is jarring and akin to jumping between the desktop and touch-friendly modes in Windows 8.

TalkTalk D Link DSL 3780 Settings TalkTalk Plus Fibre router

 

TalkTalk Plus fibre router – Performance

TalkTalk D Link DSL 3780  TalkTalk Plus Fibre router Given the glaring array of old tech within the 3780 we expected it to perform little better than the subpar efforts of the PlusNet Fibre and Sky Hub and sadly we were proved right. At our test distances of two metres and 10 metres line of sight plus 13 metres behind two standing walls the 3780 hit speeds of 8.57 megabytes per second (69.36 megabits per second), 8.55MBps (68.4Mbps) and 3.2MBps (25.6Mbps) respectively.

The immediate point to note is even at two metres the 3780 won’t achieve the 76Mbps fibre speeds TalkTalk advertises. There isn’t a massive shortfall like the Sky Hub’s 5.8MBps (46.4Mbps) and it is over the 62.7Mbps Ofcom claims is average for 76Mbps customers, but it does mean you will need a wired connection should you be lucky enough to receive real world broadband speeds in excess of 70Mbps to your door.

Furthermore the 3780 is outstripped by the aged PlusNet fibre router’s 9.63MBps (77.04Mbps) and 8.82MBps (70.56Mbps) at two and 10 metres, though its 13m performance of just 2.2MBps (17.6Mbps) falls well short as does the Sky Hub’s woeful 1.3MBps (10.4Mbps) at the same distance. That said any victories here are hollow are all three routers falling well short of providing satisfying fibre optic speeds once walls come into play which highlights the limitations of 2.4GHz WiFi.

By contrast the BT Hub Home 4 (while actually more sluggish than both the PlusNet and TalkTalk routers at 2.4GHz) hits speeds of 13.5MBps (108Mbps), 13.1MBps (104.8Mbps) and 4.92MBps (39.36Mbps) at 5GHz. Meanwhile the Virgin Media new Super Hub’s 5GHz performance achieves 17.5MBps (140Mbps), 11.5MBps (92Mbps) and 4.3MBps (34.4Mbps) and even its 2.4GHz performance reaches 10.1MBps (80.8Mbps), 8.5MBps (68Mbps) and 3.2MBps (25.6Mbps).

TalkTalk D Link DSL 3780 USB2 TalkTalk Plus Fibre router One slightly brighter spark is the 3780′s USB performance, which peaks at 3.02MBps (24.16Mbps). This batters the 1.42MBps (11.36Mbps) of the PlusNet fibre router and inches ahead of the BT Home Hub 4′s 2.79MBps (22.32Mbps) while the Sky Hub has no USB port at all. Still the new Super Hub comes out on top here as well managing 3.2MBps (25.6Mbps), though USB remains a poor medium for file transfer until routers significantly boost the power of their chipsets.

DSL 3780 B1 Image L Front  TalkTalk Plus Fibre router

Should I buy the TalkTalk Plus fibre router?

As with the single band routers supplied by PlusNet and Sky, the answer is a straightforward ‘no’. Of course new customers get the 3780 free and existing customers can upgrade (TalkTalk says the router is worth £45, subject to your haggling) so avoiding it may be easier said than done.

Despite this we would argue any TalkTalk customer receiving decent fibre speeds and living in more than a single room studio should ditch the 3780 even if they got it free. And upgraders should put their £45 towards the circa £100 RRP of the excellent dual band D-Link DIR-845L, whose 5GHz speeds hit 7.1MBps (56.8Mbps) at 13m and even its 2.4GHz performance reaches 5.5MBps (44Mbps) at the same distance.

Going further, those who are prepared to pay around £150 should opt for a next generation 802.11ac router such as the superb Linksys EA6700, D-Link DIR-868L and Asus RT-AC66U. All offer blazing 5GHz speeds and their wireless ac performance universally tops 24MBps (190Mbps) at 13 metres. For those pushing a lot of traffic over local networks in particular they’re a whole new ball game.

Verdict

In supplying its fibre customers with a single band router TalkTalk falls foul of the same errors as Sky and PlusNet. In itself the 3780 isn’t to blame, it is a reasonably good-looking, basic, 2.4GHz router which performs as it should, but it is the wrong standard to supply with fibre optic broadband. The pre-fibre days have made many ISPs lazy in the routers they supply. Fibre is now showing this up and it needs to stop, quickly.

Scores In Detail: Build Quality 6/10, Design 6/10, Features 4/10, Performance 5/10, Value 5/10

To read the original review on TrustedReviews click here

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

PlusNet Fibre router

August 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Can a single band router really serve a fibre optic broadband connection?

Score 5/10

Review Price £39.99

Pros
Cheap
Straightforward setup
Admin password unique to each router

Cons
Barely achieves advertised fibre speeds
Just 3x 10/100 usable Ethernet ports
No USB ports to network drives or printers
Basic router settings
Ugly design

Key Features: 802.11n 2.4GHz wireless; 3x (usable) 10/100 Ethernet ports; WPA / WPA2 & WPS security; Integrated DSL modem

What is the PlusNet Fibre router?

This is the router PlusNet supplies with its fibre optic broadband service which provides customers with speeds of up to 76 megabit (Mbps). The model is in fact a Technicolour TG582n which is also supplied by Zen Internet (along with other more expensive options) and Be Unlimited (which is folding into Sky). The products should be identical, but our sample came from PlusNet and features the company’s logo in the router’s settings hence the main review title.

Interestingly, like the controversial Sky Hub, the TG582n is a single band 802.11n 2.4GHz router. This slower wireless standard often struggles to distribute WiFi fast enough to reach fibre broadband speeds, so it has our Spidey-sense tingling.

technicolor tg582n top large PlusNet Fibre router

PlusNet Fiber router – Design

Without a doubt, the TG582n is the most aged looking router we have seen in recent years. Its beige finish, prominent vents and array of flashing green lights will delight hipsters and terrify techophiles in equal measure.

On the upside, the matt white finish doesn’t collect fingerprints or dust easily and its boxy design is rugged. The TG582n is also wall mountable, though the wall mount points come at the expense of rubber feet at the front of the router so we wouldn’t advise sitting it on any particularly delicate surfaces should it get knocked.

PlusNet Fiber router – Features

Looking at the TG582n may be like stepping back in time, but the greater concern is it evokes a similar feeling when looking at the spec sheet. For starters the TG582n is merely a single band 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz router and it features just a 2×2 antenna array when dual band 3×3 arrays have been standard for some time.

In addition to passing up 5GHz WiFi, the TG582n also skips Gigabit Ethernet and just three of its four 10/100 ports can be used. This is because one has been commandeered as a WAN port (signified by red tape stuck below it) to accept Internet from PlusNet’s dedicated fibre broadband modem. As such anyone looking to run a fast local network from the TG582n – like the four port 10/100 Ethernet of the Sky Hub – would be well advised to steer clear.

TG582n 2 PlusNet Fibre router

The fact the TG582n also features a DSL port beside its Ethernet ports in theory adds flexibility, but in reality it simply highlights that this is a router designed for ADSL2 (up to 16Mbit) services and has been customised in an attempt to squeeze more mileage from the clock.

The better news is the TG582n does pack up to date security with WPA2 and WPS aboard and a firmware update means it is IPV6 ready. The router also provides dynamic DNS and some basic parental control which allows parents to block specific websites. That said this is an outdated method (you’ll be typing in websites until the end of time) and you’d be better off using smarter free dedicated software such as Norton Family, Microsoft Live Family Safety, KuruPira WebFilter and Qustodio, to name but a few.

Lastly the TG582n has a USB 2.0 port for sharing a printer or external storage across your local network. Strangely it is located on the side of the router, rather than the back, which is the first time we’ve seen this. USB should be a default on any modern router and it was also included on the Virgin Super Hub and BT Home Hub 4 (both of which are also dual band) but surprisingly omitted from the Sky Hub.

PlusNet UI PlusNet Fibre router

PlusNet Fibre router – Setup

PlusNet UIGiven you’ll have spotted the TG582n is a rather basic router you’ll be pleased to know its setup process is similarly stripped down. Connect it up and use the key printed on the bottom of the router to connect to its WiFi and you’re away.

If you do want to change some settings you won’t be surprised to learn the TG582n eschews more modern URLs from its settings and you’ll find them instead by typing 192.168.1.254 into your web browser. A nice touch is the admin password is set to the router’s serial number so each one is unique and given many households don’t change their basic router settings, avoiding the default password of ‘admin’ or ‘password’ is to be applauded.

Against this is that the router UI is archaic. Traffic management requires individually typing in device IP addresses and its hyperlinked text to indicate clickable links is a mile away from the slick, Cloud-based drag and drop interface of something like the Linksys Smart WiFi platform.

PlusNet Fibre router – Performance
PlusNet 2 4GHz PlusNet Fibre router So the TG582n is pretty ugly, its functionality is basic and its settings seem to come from an era before animation… all of which means its performance will be an absolutely disaster? Surprisingly, not entirely.

We put the TG582n through its paces in our residential test environment and it recorded speeds of 9.63 megabytes per second (77 megabits per second), 8.82MBps (70.6Mbps) and 2.2MBps (17.6Mbps) at two metres and 10 metres line of sight and 13 metres behind two standing walls.

This means the TG582n can – by the skin of its teeth – provide close range wireless speeds above the 76Mbps fibre broadband packages PlusNet supplies. In addition it operates above the 62.7Mbps average Ofcom claims is the average for 76Mbit fibre connections at both 2m and 10m with line of sight to the router.

These figures are also significantly better than our Sky Hub test sample achieved in identical conditions recording 5.8MBps (46.4Mbps), 5.1MBps (40.8Mbps) and 1.3MBps (10.4Mbps) at 2m, 10m and 13m respectively. It also gives the BT Home Hub 4 a run for its money as its 2.4GHz results came in at 7.61MBps (60.88Mbps), 7.45MBps (59.6Mbps) and 2.79MBps (22.32Mbps) though it cannot match the Virgin Media new Super Hub which tallied 10.1MBps (80.8Mbps), 8.5MBps (68Mbit) and 3.2MBps (25.6Mbps).

Crucially both the new Super Hub and Home Hub 4 also sport 5GHz 802.11n wireless. This saw Virgin’s router score 17.5MBps (140Mbps), 11.5MBps (92Mbps) and 4.3MBps (34.4Mbps) with the Home Hub 4 coming in at 13.5MBps (108Mbps), 13.1MBps (104.8Mbps) and 4.92MBps (39.4Mbps) in identical circumstances.

All of which shows 802.11n 5GHz wireless really should be a mandatory requirement for any fibre optic broadband router. After all we don’t buy fibre broadband services to only get the speed we pay for without walls or doors in the way.

As for USB, speeds were disappointing with the TG582n hitting just 1.42MBps (11.36Mbps) – enough to stream HD video, but this functionality will quickly drop away with distance. Another let down is TG582n only supports external storage formatted with FAT32, a format which doesn’t accept file sizes above 4GB which therefore suppers HD film options. NTFS has been part of mainstream computing since the turn of the century, so this omission is a shocker.

technicolor tg582n front large PlusNet Fibre router

Should I buy the PlusNet Fibre router?

In a word, no. The TG582n is yesterday’s technology trying to scrape by and supply today’s broadband advances. The good news is it does at least supply close range wireless speeds capable of PlusNet’s 76Mbit service, but only just. Whether this makes it fit for purpose is debatable.

Happily PlusNet only charges postage and packing (£5) for the TG582n, which it values at £40. Still we’d personally put that £5 towards either the £60 D-Link DIR-645 which is the fastest single band router we have tested, or the £100 D-Link 845L which is the fastest dual band router we’ve tested.

For those looking to future proof the 802.11ac compliant Asus RT-AC66U, D-Link DIR-868L and Linksys EA6700 provide blazing dual band wireless n and with ac compliant equipment they can top 35MBps (280Mbps) at close range and over 24MBps (in excess of 190Mbps) even at 13m behind two standing walls. If you can afford it, their circa £150 RRPs are well worth the investment.

PlusNet Fibre router – Verdict

The TG582n is hopefully part of a fading trend to supply single band routers with fibre optic broadband services. Unlike the Sky Hub it can achieve its provider’s wireless speeds at close proximity, but make no mistake this is an outdated product in both design and features and we would advise all customers to seek out a dual band third party router instead.

Scores In Detail
Build Quality 6/10
Design 5/10
Features 4/10
Performance 5/10
Value 5/10

To read the original review on TrustedReviews click here 

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

 

 

 

 

TR – 802.11ac wireless router group test: 7 models benchmarked

August 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

A screen grab of my lengthy group test of the  best 802.11ac routers from ITProPortal. Click it to enlarge (if your browser scales it in a new window you will need to click that scaled image once more)

The original article can be found here

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   
ITProPortal ac router group test TR   802.11ac wireless router group test: 7 models benchmarked

Asus RT-AC66U 802.11ac router

August 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

 

 

 

Asus’s first wireless 802.11ac router is very fast, but is that enough?

Score 8/10

Review Price £159.99

Pros
The fastest wireless ac router yet
Excellent 802.11n speed and range
Intuitive user interface
Fast, simple setup and management

Cons
No USB 3.0 ports
Lacks true Cloud platform of D-Link/Linksys
Design not the most subtle
Review Price £159.99

Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless; Six amplified antennas; 4x Gigabit Ethernet Ports; 2x USB 2.0 ports; AiCloud remote access

Asus RT-AC66U 802.11ac router
What is the Asus RT-AC66U?
This is Asus’ first 802.11ac wireless router. While Asus is primarily known for its laptops, tablets and smartphones the company has also been carving out a niche for itself in the router market. Performance has been at the forefront of its success and consequently our expectations for the AC66U are high.

4 Asus RT AC66U 802.11ac router
Asus RT-AC66U – Design
The look of the AC66U can be described in just one word: imposing. This impression is given by the router’s three optional (and upgradeable) external antennas and its sharp angular design. Both elements fly in the face of recent router trends that veer towards internal antennas and smooth, curved finishes. As such the AC66U won’t subtly fade into the background of a room, but it will sit there declaring that it means business.

Asus continues to break trends elsewhere too. The usual plain matt and gloss finishes of most routers has been replaced by a textured tartan on the AC66U’s main body and the tendency to minimise flashing lights is spun on its head with the router featuring no less than nine separate blinking status indicators. There are (from left to right) power and activity lights for four Ethernet ports, Internet, 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi and USB.

Like all routers the AC66U is constructed from plastic so it won’t hinder wireless signal, but is well made and feels durable. The antennas also mean the router has flexible positioning, it is wall mountable and comes with a stand that lets it rest on its front edge to lift up those antennas even higher.

3 Asus RT AC66U 802.11ac router

Asus RT-AC66U – Features
While the antennas bring positional flexibility, one of the most interesting aspects to the AC66U is its functional flexibility since it can work as a router, wireless bridge and wireless access point. Of course the price for bridges (to bring wireless connectivity to wired devices) and access points (to extend wireless signal) are much cheaper than the AC66U, but it gives the router a welcome second life when you upgrade in the future.

But the real draw is the AC66U’s 802.11ac functionality and like other wireless ac routers it is also backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n and offers dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless n signals – all of which are bolstered by those three large antennas.

You’ll also find 4x Gigabit (10/100/1000) Ethernet ports as is standard these days on any premium router (though we continue to cry out for more) and two USB ports for sharing printers and storage over a network. It is perhaps surprising to see Asus not include a USB 3.0 port like the D-Link DIR-868L or Linksys EA6700, but USB network performance has yet to test the bottleneck of the USB 2.0 standard in any case so it tends to be more for superficial bragging rights.

Internally, the AC66U ticks all the boxes: WPA/WPA2 wireless encryption, parental controls, UPnP, IPv6 support, traffic prioritisation, guest access, QoS and WPS. Curiously, though, for all the blinking activity lights on the router, there isn’t one for WPS, which is frustrating as you can’t see how long it is running when trying to connect to other devices.

Asus has yet to go down the D-Link/Linksys route of providing a full Cloud platform like SmartWiFi and mydlink, but it does offer a halfway house via a smartphone app. AiCloud lets users remotely access audio and video on their network and can be tied in with the the company’s WebStorage Dropbox-a-like service. The combination doesn’t add up to the power and flexibility of its rival’s offerings, but we would expect Asus to fold them into a more complete offering before too long.

Asus Setup Asus RT AC66U 802.11ac router

Asus RT-AC66U – Setup
While most router setups are slick these days Asus deserves great credit for making the AC66U one of the most enjoyable. Again this is because it bucks a trend.

Unlike rivals, the AC66U doesn’t encrypt its wireless signals by default so you connect without a password. Once you do this, however, your default browser automatically loads the router’s setup page where it walks you through setting Wi-Fi and router passwords and the SSID (router ID). This is clever because it means there is no need to print a key on the bottom of the router and everyone must choose their own password.

Asus RT-AC66U – Performance

AC performance Asus RT AC66U 802.11ac routerSo how does this fiesty looking router perform? Impressively. In our test environment of 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m between two standing walls, the AC66U clocked 802.11ac transfer speeds of 39.1MBps (312.8Mbit), 31.2MBps (249.6Mbit) and 27.8MBps (22.2Mbit).

The first of these is the fastest we have seen from any router, besting the 36.7MBps (293.6Mbit) achieved by the Linksys EA6700. As distance increases the EA6700 regains the lead with 35.2MBps (281.6Mbit) and 28.8MBps (230.4Mbit), but the AC66U remains the second fastest ac router we have tested, edging ahead of the D-Link DIR-868L.

It was a similar story with 5GHz wireless performance with the AC66U falling between the D-Link and Linksys. 2m, 10m and 13m speeds managed 21.1Mbit (168.8Mbit), 19.8MBps (158.4Mbit) and 11MBps (88Mbit), which makes it second to the Linksys at 2m and 10m, but much faster at 13m and faster than the D-Link at 2m and 10m, but slower than its remarkable 14.1MBps (112.8Mbit) at 13m.

Asus RT-AC66U 2.4GHz speedsInterestingly – despite these excellent figures – the AC66U shines brightest at 2.4GHz 802.11n. It managed 11.6MBps (92.8Mbit), 10.6MBps (84.8Mbit) and 5.3MBps (42.4Mbit) at 2m, 10m and 13m respectively.

2 4GHz performance Asus RT AC66U 802.11ac routerThis makes it the fastest wireless ac router we’ve seen at 2.4GHz wireless n and much faster than the Linksys’ previous leading 13m benchmark of 3.3MBps (28Mbit).

In fact only the dedicated 802.11n D-Link DIR-845L can pip it at any distance with 5.5MBps (44Mbit) at 13m.


All of which means the AC66U won’t just bring you next generation speeds, it will significantly bolster speeds for your existing wireless n devices too.

As for performance via USB, like all other routers, it disappoints. The AC66U managed just 3.1MBps (24.8Mbit), which is a long way down on the USB 3.0 equipped Linksys EA6700 and D-Link DIR-868L [7.1MBps (56.8Mbit) and 4.9MBps (39.2Mbit) respectively] and it continues to show USB network sharing – while convenient – struggles badly compared to Gigabit Ethernet.

Why? While it differs from router to router, typically they lack enough memory to cache large amounts of USB data before firing it over their network. By contrast Ethernet is already part of the network and doesn’t need caching.

2 Asus RT AC66U 802.11ac router

Should I buy the Asus RT-AC66U?
Based on wireless performance alone the AC66U is well deserving of your attention as it tussles successfully in all wireless n/ac tests with the two fastest routers we have seen to date. At £159.99 it also splits both routers in price with the Linksys EA6700 dearer at £169.99 and the D-Link DIR-868L a bit cheaper at £139.99.

If you can afford it we would still give the EA6700 the edge, despite its ropey 5GHz wireless n performance at range. This is because its Smart WiFi platform remains a real benefit, offering complete control of the router from any location with an internet connection. Mydlink is far more limited in this way, but you save money and D-Link has a Cloud platform to develop while Asus is keeping schtum on any fully fledged Cloud platform plans for now.

We can’t see any purchasers being disappointed in the AC66U, but given performance levels are beginning to even out it is the extras which are starting to make the difference.

Verdict
The Asus RT-AC66U is a superb router, but it’s not quite our favourite. It’s very, very fast, which is great news if you only care about performance, but rivals have a few more features we’d like Asus to add.

Scores In Detail

Build Quality 8/10
Design 7/10
Features 8/10
Performance 9/10
Usability 8/10
Value 7/10

To read the original review on TrustedReviews click here

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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