This D-Link DIR685 router is an example of what you get when you let engineers get wild and shove in everything they think is cool into a product. And that's just the type of product we like to see.
The Price: $US230 or so on Google Shopping
The Verdict: Very interesting and very promising. It's more expensive than a standard router, but the fact that it does have a small photo frame (it's only 3.2 inches) and space for a 2.5-inch laptop hard drive makes it impressive. All of these features work, but they work in varying degrees.
The Router: D-Link's not inexperienced at making networking devices, so it's not surprising that the DIR-685 works quite well as a wireless hub for all your stuff. Wireless range is comparable to an Airport Extreme or a Linksys WRT610N, and reaches all three floors of my house, through various amounts of walls. Speed is also on par with the other two routers and it can wirelessly stream files with little problem to various media players, as we cover below.
The Media Streamer: Again, the engineers at D-Link managed to shove in a bunch of functionality that you wouldn't expect. You get a BitTorrent downloader, an iTunes server, an FTP server, network file sharing with user management and even a UPnP streamer to video players.
The iTunes server works exactly as you'd imagine, and shoving MP3s onto its hard drive immediately shows the same songs under the shared iTunes library. The video streaming works pretty flawlessly to the Xbox and the PS3, same as if you were streaming from your PC or from a Windows Home Server. Plus, there's D-Link's SharePort tech so you can plug in a printer or an external hard drive to the two USB ports, making for even more networkable storage in a relatively small package.
The only problem is that the combination of a hard drive and a fan inside a compact router makes the thing much, much louder than a standard router. It's probably on par with Xbox 360's level of ambient noise when the fan is on, which everyone knows is quite distracting when you're trying to do anything.
The Photo Frame: It is a photo frame, but a 3.2-inch photo frame is like docking your iPhone and calling that a photo frame. But yeah, it is a photo frame and it does run the standard FrameChannel software, which we're not really fans of.
FrameChannel is an easy way for photo frame makers to add functionality without developing it themselves. It has RSS feeds, news, weather, sports, plus Photosharing sites like Flickr, Facebook, MobileMe, Picasa, Photobucket and smugmug to actually get photos onto your frame. It's "stable", for the most part, but it's nothing pleasurable to use.
The DIR-685's touch buttons aren't that responsive either when navigating the frame, so you're often stuck pressing things multiple times to see if the command's gone through. But it is as good a photo frame as any other photo frame using FrameChannel.
The Whole Package: With all these different components, you're bound to get some conflicting parts. The problem we have is that if you want to use this as a photo frame, you'll want to place this in your living room or your bedroom or kitchen somewhere where you can see it quite often. This clashes with the occasional noise generated by using it as a media streamer, because of the fan and hard drive noise. If you take out the hard drive, the noise goes away.
At $US230, it's a pretty solid package, giving you three bits of functionality usually found separately. Provided you can place it somewhere out of the way to hide the noise, the DIR-685 is a winner. [DLink]
Three-in-one router provides lots of functionality in a small package
The fan/hard drive combination makes for a noisy experience