It's pretty rare that we come across a router design that's anything worth talking about. Most of them are plain creatures, and that's fine for a device that, frankly speaking, you want to spend as little time as possible actually looking at. If you're looking at it, then something has typically gone wrong, and that's not a "feature" that you really want out of a router.
iiNet's BoB is a little different, in that it's designed to be an object in view, by dint of it also acting as a DECT base station for its provided handset and up to four additional compatible handsets. As such, Blinkenlights are kept to a minimum, down the right-hand side of the router. A gap in the middle can either accommodate and charge a handset or be covered by a plastic flap. The side of the router houses two USB ports, while the rear is stacked with sockets. Four Ethernet, one phone, one PSTN fallover ports and an ADSL socket to be precise.
We do have to chuckle slightly at iiNet's description of BoB as having a "black premium glass look & feel". There's no glass here, just very shiny plastic that like all piano black plastic is the ideal way to leave your fingerprints for future generations to puzzle over. And while we're being picky, BoB's called BoB because it's "Broadband in a Box". Shouldn't that be BiaB? Our review sample turned up in two boxes, which only makes it worse, as we technically reviewed ... BiTB.
BoB's an 802.11n router with an in-built ADSL2+ modem. To be specific, it's a Belkin modem/router, with shared branding between iiNet and Belkin. Wireless support is in the 2.4GHz range only, and we were rather surprised when checking BoB's interface to discover that it's a dual-radio router. Not a dual-band router, however, which is what we'd expect. Instead of getting a 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio, you instead get two 2.4GHz radios, one of which is disabled by default. It's a puzzling design inclusion, although if you left BoB to its own devices, you'd never even know that it was there.
BoB's also VoIP capable with PSTN passthrough, and up to two accounts can be configured, although only via one provider. Not surprisingly, iiNet would prefer that you choose it as the provider. BoB's Ethernet ports are only 10/100 rather than gigabit, which we might reasonably expect at this asking price. To be fair, though, BoB's target market probably won't care. What may entice them are the two USB ports on the side. One's a shared storage and 3G USB modem port, although the initial release of BoB doesn't have the 3G-capable firmware installed. The other port is solely for USB charging of compatible gadgets. Not a killer feature, but a potentially quite handy one.
The normal state of affairs for any "in a box" product is that they come with everything needed and a particular emphasis on easy set-up. That's exactly the case with BoB, and to its credit when we plugged it into an iiNet ADSL account it quickly synchronised, grabbed our account details and had broadband up and running with exactly zero user input. There is something attractive about not having to remember account names, passwords, default MTU settings and all the other ephemera of networking lore, although whether that's worth AU$369 of your money is debatable, as it was with Engin's OneHub.
The BoB DECT handset's value isn't debatable. It's ordinary at best, and awful in some circumstances. We hit a lot of call interference in our testing, and when we connected up some third-party DECT handsets, things got a lot worse. We couldn't pick up from the third-party handsets, even though they were ringing. If an incoming call was terminated at the calling side, the BoB handset would ring until it was picked up from its charging cradle, even though the call was dead. Whether that's the fault of the alternate handsets or BoB we can't entirely say, but it's not impressive. The handsets themselves have plain screens and menus, although you do get an in-built stopwatch on each phone if that impresses you.
We ran BoB through our standard set of wireless signal strength and throughput tests, both with and without the secondary 2.4GHz network enabled. To our surprise, there was a negligible difference in both signal and throughput in either case. Our test figures represent a single antenna installation, as that's what you'd get out of the box.
Signal strength: 2.4GHz
|Belkin N+ Wireless Router||88%||63%||62%|
|Edimax nMax AR-7265Wn||77%||58%||55%|
|Billion BiPAC 7300N||75%||59%||54%|
BoB performed well at close range and a little worse than comparable 2.4GHz routers in our test environment. As always, figures may vary depending on the environment in which you're running BoB.
|Belkin N+ Wireless Router||31.75Mbps||31.35Mbps|
|Edimax nMax AR-7265Wn||2.95Mbps||3.09Mbps|
|Billion BiPAC 7300N||21Mbps||13.3Mbps|
BoB's throughput figures weren't the worst we've seen, and neither were they the greatest. Predictably, you won't see anything like the claimed "300Mbps" speeds that iiNet's breathy BoB FAQ promises. We're used to 802.11n failing to come close to the hype in real tests, but that doesn't make it acceptable, merely inevitable.
BoB's target market are people who just want to get on with using their broadband connections rather than fiddling around with router settings, and on that score it works quite well. The router feature set is pretty impressive, and those who do want to tinker under the hood will find a surprising number of unlockable features.
Our only real caveat with BoB is the pricing and the handsets. The handsets are ordinary at best, and for a premium priced product that's not a good state of affairs. At AU$369 for a 2.4GHz-only router with 10/100 ports, BoB's also not cheap, so you do pay a premium for the convenience of easy installation.