In the competitive networking market companies are doing more and more to stand out.
Many have gone for making super-charged gaming hardware, but D-Link are looking to serve the family market with the new D-Fend AC2600 Wi-Fi Router (RRP $499.99), which comes with heaps of in-built security and parental control features.
It’s a focus I really respect, because diverse people need diverse products. A family-oriented router sounds fabulous to help parents keep on top of their tech savvy kids.
It’s also choc-full of security features. Being partnered with McAfee, it aims to make your web surfing safe across the board, rather than trying to secure individual devices.
But from my experience this attempt to make an easy-to-use router has backfired, with extra bells and whistles making the device more complicated than it needs to be.
My problems began as soon as I tried to set the D-Fend up. I did my usual – plugged everything in, turned it on, then used my (hardwired) computer to login to the router via a browser to set everything up. However, despite the new wireless network being visible to my devices, nothing seemed to be able to connect.
My TV couldn’t connect. My laptop couldn’t connect. My phone could sometimes get onto the network, but had no internet access.
The router management software told me that the phone wasn't on the network, either.
Now, perhaps I'm an outlier. Maybe most people wouldn't default to a browser to setup a new router. But that's how I've done it with every router I've ever owned.
That's the system I'm used to at this stage, and I feel I should be forgiven for assuming that it should still work - especially given that it's still offered as an option.
But alas, I am a fool. The router wants you to set it up using its dedicated app. In fact, it demands it. Using the app for setup was the only way that I could get it to work.
This involves scanning the QR code on the bottom of the unit, then going through a step-by-step wizard. To its credit, it is fairly easy and it works.
Although I'm not sure "it works" should be high praise for a $500 router.
You're forced to set a router access password during setup. This seems like a small thing, but it's great.
It pushes you away from the default 'admin/password' combo which allowed me to circumvent parental controls throughout my entire childhood.
Once everything was working it was happy days. The D-Fend is a considerable upgrade from my old Asus RT-N16, and I noticed the better signal strength and speeds straight away.
However, wireless networks can be a fickle thing, and my connection wasn't always rock solid.
The D-Fend also employs a technology called SmartConnect, which "automatically directs your devices to the optimal wireless band". This is the perfect way to avoid the "should I put this on the 2.4 or the 5GHz band?" dance, giving you just one easy network to connect to.
Just when I was getting comfortable and happy with the new router I hit another snag. Again in my foolishness I decided to move the router, thus unplugging it and plugging it in elsewhere.
Traditionally, a router would just boot up and pick up where it left off. But not this bad boy.
Not only did it not boot, but it seemed to require me to go through the setup process again on the app.
This created some issues with the router partially remembering the network I'd set up previously, and partially setting up a whole new network.
In fact, I've had to go through the app's setup process numerous times. Any time I need to move the router, or it decides it needs a reset. Routers are cursed objects that do as they please.
It's not an altogether uncommon experience of technology, the ol' "it's great when it works". But I was fully expecting the D-Fend to be one of the easiest router experiences I'd have.
One of the major selling points, the McAfee powered security, isn't on by default, but can be turned on via the D-Fend app. This is a second app you're prompted to download through the original D-Link app.
Why a second app, you ask? Because apps are cool. Apps are h-app-ening.
There's not many settings to tweak, other than the ability to set up individual profiles to control permissions.
Through this you can dictate categories of content or websites to block, which is helpful for easily controlling what your young ones have access to.
You can also set what times their devices can and can't connect to the internet - a handy tool for forcing them into boredom and thus sleep.
As my young one is a dog, this is not a major issue for me. However, the tools are easy to use, and super useful for easily gaining control over how the internet is used in your household.
All in all, the D-Fend is a solid piece of hardware, but for its high price it didn't blow me away. The need to set it up through the app every single time I want to reset it was pain enough for me to seriously consider going back to my old router.