Belkin Play Max Wireless Router with Built-in Modem
Belkin's router is simple to set up and use and comes packed with interesting features.
+ Simplest modem router set-up available
+ Lots of extra features
|Product Cons:||- Premium pricing|
Most ADSL broadband services now come with a router that acts as a gateway to the internet. The device will also let you share the broadband connection between several computers, either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. However, the router you get free from your ISP may not be the best available. The Play Max Wireless Router from Belkin has been designed to offer a lot more than the average router, yet still be simple enough for a complete novice to get up and running.
The router is crammed with features and comes with a lot of extra software. On a basic level it has all the things you need from a modern ADSL modem/router, including WPA2 security and good quality 802.11n Wi-Fi. It includes two USB ports for sharing printers and extra storage, and it has some interesting extras such as an open guest Wi-Fi login that will let guests access the net but not your network.
Belkin has also bundled a range of software (that it's calling ‘apps') to make use of these features and help you do more tasks, from downloading files from file-sharing sites without leaving your PC switched on. There's also clever software that will prioritise your bandwidth whether you're streaming, video chatting or playing games online.
Simply swapping an existing 802.11n wireless modem router (in this case a BT Home Hub that's been serving its purpose for a couple of years) for the Belkin didn't offer mammoth improvements in our speed tests. The Play Max offers definite benefits if you're using modern 802.11n adapters across a Wi-Fi network (we tested this using a third-party adapter - you might see faster speeds with a device configured by Belkin), but it doesn't provide an enormous improvement in performance, especially as you move further away from the router.
Ease of use
This is the simplest device of its type that we've seen when it comes to the initial set-up. Open the box and you're given a three-step guide - plug in the phone and the power, then put the disc in your computer. The cables are already plugged into the router and are labelled with tags. There's also another tag with the unit's wireless ID and password taped to the router itself. With the step-by-step software there's little left that can go wrong.
The device still resorts to a web-based interface for tweaking the major settings but you shouldn't need to access it very often, since handy tools such as the Self Healing app will ensure your router is in top shape. One of the things this app regularly checks is whether the router is set to use the clearest Wi-Fi channel.
Value for money
Shop around and you'll find the router for less than the recommended retail price listed here. But when it comes to the crunch, this is at the top end of what you can spend on a device of this type. If you're scratching your head, wondering why you'd want two USB ports, simple installation and the full gamut of software extras on a device that's just supposed to pipe your broadband to a computer or two, then this is clearly overkill. However, the specification and extra features will be very useful to serious internet users and beginners alike.