This month, specialist broadband equipment supplier PCRange was announced as the local distributor for AVM’s new flagship FRITZ!Box 7490 router.
The German firm’s networking equipment is generally highly regarded, with iiNet-owned telco Internode currently offering the lower-end FRITZ!Box 7272 and 7390 routers to customers, along with FRITZ!Box Stick N networking cards and FRITZ!Fon cordless handsets.
The latest model comes with a long list of features, but also has an Australian recommended retail price of $429.
So do the features justify the price? It’s time to find out.
Hardware and features
The FRITZ!Box 7490 is an NBN fibre-ready ADSL2+ router, with an integrated phone system, which will have an Australian recommended retail price of $429.
The device includes four 1 gigabyte ethernet ports and two USB 3.0 ports.
The FRITZ!Box 7490 supports the iEEE 802.11ac WLAN standard, also known as AC wireless across two frequencies, and is capable of 1300 megabits per second (mbps) data throughput in the 5GHz band and 450 mbps in the 2.4 GHz band. AC Wireless is backward compatible with older 802.11a/b/g/n wireless devices.
The 7490’s built-in telephone system includes ports for corded VOIP or analogue handsets, along with a built-in DECT base station for as many six cordless handsets and multiple built-in answering machines.
What’s the consensus?
Let’s face it, when it comes to original or interesting design, computer networking equipment is perhaps the last thing that comes to mind. At best, it’s housed in a sleek and minimalist box and, far more often, it’s a beige box that sits somewhere under a desk or in a cupboard somewhere.
So the first thing you notice with the FRITZ!Box 7490 is its dark red and silver case. It features a sleek, curved design with five large lights on the front and two tail fins – the kind you would expect to find on a model car or toy rocket. While the practical benefits of tail-fins on router speed might be debatable, it does add to its unique aesthetics.
Aside from all the cables you’d expect to find, the router is packed with a large fold-out chart explaining how to plug everything in. That being said, it’s almost redundant. Just plug one cable into the phone socket, another into a power point and a third from the port marked “Fon 1” into your corded phone (assuming you want to use one) and you’re set to go.
For those planning to use this in a home office and still relying on receiving the occasional fax, the good news is the FRITZ!Box supports fax machines too.
The FRITZ!Box is also fibre-ready, so it’s future-proof for when the NBN rolls out to your neighbourhood.
There’s a big button on the top to turn on wireless networking. Once the DSL and WLAN lights on the front start glowing, you’re ready to connect your devices by WiFi.
One thing that really impresses me is that each FRITZ!Box has a unique default passcode printed on the bottom of the device. This really shouldn’t be a big deal, except that one of the leading competing network equipment maker (I won’t name names) uses a standard default password for all of their devices, meaning the home network of anyone who hasn’t changed the password is vulnerable to hackers. That’s not the case with the FRITZ!Box.
Anyway, the rest of the setup process is handled by logging into the FRITZ!Box through your web browser and completing a set of wizards. Overall, the process is all over within about 15 minutes from when you first open the box.
If you own a previous model, it’s even easier to set up, as you can save the settings from your old FRITZ!Box on your computer and then download them to your new one.
Where this device really shines is in terms of its features. For example, it handles both analogue and VoIP phone services. While you can plug in a corded phone, the FRITZ!Box also doubles as the base for a cordless (DECT) phone system. This means that if you have an additional cordless handset, you can pair it with the FRITZ!Box. It also features a built-in answering machine.
As far as connecting a printer goes, there’s really not much to write – I tested it with my printer (a HP- all-in-one 3520) and, following the printer’s instructions, got it all working within minutes.
To test out the FRITZ!Box’s media and file serving capabilities, I used two laptops — one running Windows 7 and a second running Linux (Kubuntu/KDE 4.8) – along with an Android tablet, all connected wirelessly. Any USB stick plugged into the USB 3.0 port at the back of the FRITZ!Box becomes available as a shared network drive for all devices – no further configuration is required.
Aside from local storage, if you have an account with a compatible cloud storage provider such as Box.Net, you can also set the FRITZ!Box to connect to it as well.
After plugging in a USB stick, it instantly became available as a Samba network drive on all my laptops and (through an app called Astro Media Player) on my Android tablet. This meant I was able to save all sorts of files to the drive (including Word documents or Excel spreadshets) and access them from all the other devices as if they were on the hard disk. Likewise, from almost any program on my computer, I was able to save files directly to the USB stick.
For media files, it’s gets even better. UPnP/DLNA capable devices or media apps make it easy to stream media content straight off the FRITZ!Box. If you use VLC for Windows, Mac or Linux, the list can be found by selecting “Docked playlist” in the View menu, and then “Universal Plug and Play” under Local Networks. Even better still, you can set up a list of your favourite podcasts or streaming internet radio stations on the FRITZ!Box itself and access them automatically from any UPnP app or device without having to manually set them up on each individual device you use.
All media files (including photos, videos, music files, streaming radio stations and podcasts) are automatically sorted by type on every device, again without any further set up.
It’s at about this point that AC wireless networking (802.11ac) really comes in handy. Gigabit speeds means a full-length movie can be streamed from a FRITZ!Box to any device within seconds. I was able to stream radio stations and songs to all my devices simultaneously without any lag or slowdown whatsoever.
The signal strength and range is also impressive. I was able to take my tablet outside while listening to a streaming radio station without any buffering or interruption, despite a number of WiFi routers in my neighbourhood.
As you can already see, the FRITZ!Box has an impressive list of capabilities – and I’ve only just scratched the surface of what it can do. Among many other features, it includes parental controls, allows you to log in remotely, monitor incoming and outgoing calls, keep tabs on your internet usage, set a wake-up alarm, and even has support for connecting smart home devices to your WiFi network.
Should I get one?
If price is no issue to you, this is certainly the router to get. When it comes to home networking or networking for a small office, it includes almost every feature you could ask for in a router, along with many you never knew you wanted.
Of course, in the real world, there are many routers (including from FRITZ! itself) that have a price tag well under $429.
At first glance the price might look steep. However, keep in mind that this single box does the work of a number of pieces of separate equipment, including a fibre-ready ADSL 2+ router, VoIP ATA, media/file/print server, answering machine and a DECT cordless phone system base. If you have a UPnP/DLNA capable TV or set-top-box, it does double duty as part of a home entertainment system as well. It’s certainly a much simpler to set up and far more eloquent than all purchasing and setting up that equipment separately.
The fast WiFi speeds and fibre-ready capabilities means it’s also more future proof than many of its competitors.
Overall, if you’re looking for a simple, capable, all-in-one solution for a home or small business option, this is it.
This review is based on a test unit provided to TechCompany by PCRange.