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Smart home technology: These gadgets will give you the ultimate high-tech home

A Wi-Fi kettle. Try that again in your best Peter Kay voice. “Wi-Fi? Kettle?” Yes folks, welcome to 2017, the year in which you can buy a kettle that connects to your home network so you can boil water from any room in your house, rather than having actually to be in the kitchen like some kind of bloody caveman.

While this sounds mildly preposterous – the kettle will, after all, have to have been pre-filled which involves you being physically proximate, and you’ll have to trudge to the kitchen to make the tea like said bloody caveman once the thing has boiled – this is nevertheless the moment when the long yearned-for utopian vision of the smart home is finally sputtering fitfully to life.

But how easy is it to give your home some smarts? What kinds of things can you do? And, ultimately, does any of this stuff bring genuine benefits or are we just drawn to the idea of adding a CPU and IP address to everything because we geeks just like tech?

Voice controllers

A smart home doesn’t have to be controlled by your voice, but once you’ve used your voice to do things like turn on the heating or change the lighting, you’re going to want to do it with everything. At the moment, you have two main choices for controlling a smart home via your voice: Amazon Echo, with its Alexa assistant and Google Home, with the Google Assistant. Alexa has been around for longer and has a more mature set of ways of controlling smart home devices. Google Home is newer, arguably better looking, and has the advantage of having Google’s Assistant built-in, which makes searching for information much easier.

Echo works with a wide range of devices, including smart lighting[1] from TP-Link, Hive and Phillips; power switches[2] from Belkin, Wemo, and Hive; and thermostats[3] from Nest, Hive, Netamo and many others. Google Home supports many of the same brands, including Nest, SmartThings, Phillips, and TP-Link. Usefully, it also supports Google’s own Chromecast, which, while not a smart device in itself, will be able to display information from smart devices in the future.

Which voice controller is right for you? At the moment, there’s little to choose between them. Echo has the advantage of being cheaper, if you opt for the smaller (and less loud) Echo Dot (which is available from Amazon in both white[4] and black[5] for the fashion-conscious). Google Home has the advantage of supporting Chromecast, so you can do things like asking it to “Play my vaporwave playlist on the Living Room TV” — but as a smart home controller, it’s a little behind Echo at the moment.

Something that’s worth noting is that as Google Home is so new, there are some offers to be had about it. PC World recently ran an offer which gave you a free Chromecast with one, while Maplins is currently offering both a Chromecast and three months of Google Music[6] – so it pays to shop around.

Read next: Google Home review[7] 

One final consideration for iPhone users is compatibility with Apple’s Siri voice assistant. Although Apple doesn’t have a standalone smart speaker at present – you can instead talk to Siri and control things via your phone – it’s rumoured to be releasing one in the future. And Apple has a well-developed ecosystem of third-party smart devices compatible with its HomeKit system.

Lighting

There are three core areas which you should look at first for equipping your smart phone: lighting; security; and heating. The most simple place to start with is lighting. The first thing to note is that you can get bulbs to fit most standard fittings, so there will be both bayonet and screw versions of bulbs available from most makers.

Some systems – such as the Phillips Hue range[8] – consist of a hub which communicates with compatible bulbs. The advantage of this is that some of the “smart” aspect can live in the hub, rather than your phone. So, for example, Phillips also makes a standalone motion sensor[9] which communicates directly with the hub. This kind of system is designed for people who want smart lighting, but don’t want everything to be run through your phone.

Other lighting systems have the bulbs communicating directly with your Wi-Fi network, meaning you can control them directly from your smartphone or the cloud. The LIFX range is a good example of this. Bulbs like this tend to be more expensive – a single LIFX bulb, for example, might cost around £50[10]– but there’s no single point of failure. If your Hue hub dies, so does all your smart lighting.

Security

The second key area you should look at when setting up your smart home is security. There’s a wide range of security-related devices, such as cameras, motion detectors, locks, and more.

Setting things up can be complicated, so if you’re serious about security you might want to consider getting some personal advice from a security company or retailer. Maplin, for example, offers a Smart Home Survey which could be worth looking at. However if you want to go it alone, one easy option is to start by buying a kit which includes a hub and some of the devices, such as the Panasonic Home Safety Starter Kit.[11][12]

The key thing is to thoroughly audit what you need to make your home secure. You’re only every as secure as the weakest point of entry, so there’s no point in having motion detectors and cameras which only cover (say) the front of the house – you’re just making it easy for someone who can gain access to the back. Likewise, if you’re installing smart locks which alert you when they’re opened, make sure you have both front and back doors covered.

Heating

The final key area for your smart home is heating. The main thing you’ll want to install is some kind of smart thermostat, from manufacturers like Nest, Hive, or Honeywell.

There are two main reasons to install a smart thermostat. First, there’s the level of remote control you get over heating in your house. Go on holiday and forget to turn the heating off? No problem – with a smart thermostat, you can do it from your phone. Want to turn the heating on just before you get home? Easy – you can even use an app on your phone to set up a geofence which turns it on automatically if you’re close by.

The second reason is the potential for saving money. If you have a regular routine, smart thermostats like the Nest can learn it, making sure your home is warm when you’re in and colder when you’re not. Most manufacturers make claims about the amount of money you could save with their thermostat, but remember this is under ideal conditions, and depends on you training the device, and – of course – on your own previous behaviour. If you’re the kind of person who always had your thermostat set to turn off during the hours you’re usually out, you’re not going to save that much money with a smart one.

References

  1. ^ smart lighting (click.linksynergy.com)
  2. ^ power switches (click.linksynergy.com)
  3. ^ thermostats (click.linksynergy.com)
  4. ^ white (www.amazon.co.uk)
  5. ^ black (www.amazon.co.uk)
  6. ^ Maplins is currently offering both a Chromecast and three months of Google Music (click.linksynergy.com)
  7. ^ Google Home review (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
  8. ^ Phillips Hue range (click.linksynergy.com)
  9. ^ standalone motion sensor (click.linksynergy.com)
  10. ^ LIFX bulb, for example, might cost around £50 (click.linksynergy.com)
  11. ^ Smart Home Survey (www.maplin.co.uk)
  12. ^ Panasonic Home Safety Starter Kit. (click.linksynergy.com)

Asus ROG Zephyrus hands-on review: The world’s slimmest gaming laptop is simply sublime

Asus’ ROG Zephyrus bucks all trends. While the Razer Blade showed gaming laptops could be stylish, the Razer Blade Stealth proved it wasn’t possible to pack ultra-slim laptops with masses of power. The Asus ROG Zephyrus, aided by Nvidia’s Max-Q design ethos, marries those two possibilities together, creating a beautiful and powerful ultra-portable gaming laptop.

That may sound too good to be true and it certainly comes with a hefty price tag, but I suspect it’ll be something die-hard laptop gamers will happily fork out for. And while Asus’ more beastly GX800, which comes complete with SLI GTX 1080s, will have hardware nuts salivating at the mouth, for gamers more focused on portability, the Zephyrus looks like it could hit the mark.

Expect a more detailed breakdown of performance and battery life in our upcoming review – for now though, here’s my first impression of Asus’ new beauty from the Computex show floor.

Asus ROG Zephyrus review: Price and release date

Let’s get the sticky issue of pricing out of the way before we delve beneath the Zephyrus’ flesh. Set to be released at the end of June 2017 (so, very soon) the Zephyrus comes in two flavours. We’re still waiting on UK prices, but in the US the laptop will start at $2,299 (around £1,800) for the GTX 1070 model and $2,699 (£2,100) for the flagship GTX 1080 version.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, both of those models are at the upper end of what you’d usually pay for a gaming laptop. That may well disappoint some of you hoping to pick up an ultra-portable gaming laptop at a palatable price but it’s not too much of a surprise.

A cheaper Zephyrus with a GTX 1060 will also be made available, but that won’t come to market until July 2017, so you’ll need to hold on just a bit longer.

Asus ROG Zephyrus review: Specifications and performance

For a laptop that’s just 16.9mm thick, the Zephyrus is quite the beast. The top-line model unveiled at Computex comes equipped with a luscious 15.6in Full HD 120Hz “Wide View” screen, an Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, up to 1TB of SSD storage and capacity for an eye-watering 24GB of RAM.
This translates to a silky-smooth gaming experience wherever you decide to sit down and play. I was unable to actually benchmark the Zephyrus that was on display, but was able to play a little Mass Effect: Andromeda. With the game pumped up to its maximum settings, Asus’ new laptop handled itself just fine.

Read Next: Best gaming laptops 2017[1]

Asus ROG Zephyrus review: Design

From afar, the Zephyrus is a head-turner. It measures a mere 379 x 262 x 16.9mm (WDH), weighs 2.2kg, and its svelte frame and angular, brushed-metal chassis looks gorgeous. As you open the Zephyrus’ lid, a flash of red light shines forth from its underside as the plastic base raises itself off the desk, tilting the keyboard forward and raising the screen ever so slightly. It’s a subtle touch, but a welcome one.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as well built as the likes of Razer’s range of laptops. The metal casing is more flexible than I’d like, it picks up fingerprints like there’s no tomorrow, and the positioning of the trackpad – off to the right of its MacBook Pro-like keyboard – is somewhat awkward, too, although I’m willing to be persuaded that I might get used to it over time.

Asus ROG Zephyrus review: Verdict

Despite its small design niggles, though, the Asus ROG Zephyrus is undeniably beautiful to look at and unprecedentedly powerful for such a thin and lightweight device. It isn’t the only Nvidia Max-Q laptop available – MSI has also released a rehashed version of its VR Stealth laptop under the new design principles – but it is the best effort I’ve seen so far.

We’ll have a full review and breakdown of the Asus Zephyrus closer to its release later this month. Until then, feast your eyes…

References

  1. ^ Best gaming laptops 2017 (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
Warehouse Discounts

Best dash cam 2017: The UK’s best dash cams from £30

Dash cams, who needs them? Well, in 2017, quite a lot of us. Britain’s roads can be a dangerous place, and with the ever-increasing cost of car insurance, video evidence of any scrapes and shunts can help put your mind and wallet at ease. Some dash cams will even see your insurance cut by over 10%, so it’s well worth shelling out if you want to guard your no-claims premium.

Some countries – Russia, for one – have seen millions of drivers adopt dash cams in an attempt to stem the rise of crash-for-cash schemes and hit-and-run scammers. And if you’re wondering if you can take your dash cam on holiday for use in a hire car, then the answer is normally yes – countries such as Austria, Switzerland and Germany, who either prohibit or limit their use due to privacy and data-protection issues, are in the minority.

You might think that many dash cams would offer poor-quality recording, something akin to a Crimewatch CCTV tape, but you’d be wrong. Modern dash cams deliver crisp HD resolution, dual cameras and smartphone integration to produce great-quality video and make managing captured clips all the easier – and, best of all, without you having to spend a fortune.

How to buy the best dash cam for you

How much should I spend?

Dash cams vary hugely in price, with budget models starting around £20 and working right up to GPS navigation devices with built-in cameras that can cost as much as £300. Cheaper models often do away with luxuries such as a screen for previewing footage, but while this makes setup a little more straightforward, it’s by no means essential. Pay more, and you can expect higher-quality video thanks to increased recording bit rates and higher sensor resolutions – basic cameras may offer only middling 720p HD video, whereas the best use 1080p sensors to offer a big leap in image quality. However, if you’re after something a little more fancy to film track days or scenic drives, then a dash cam is unlikely to cut the mustard – in that instance it’s worth considering a pricier dedicated action camera, such as a GoPro, which will provide vastly improved image quality.

Is a dual-camera dash cam worth it?

Some pricier models offer a dual-camera setup. These can be a little bulkier than single-camera models, but will allow you to record both the front and rear view at the same time – meaning you’ll be better covered in the event of a collision. For a better view of what’s happening in front of and behind you, however, some models use two separate cameras mounted in the front and rear of the car. Alternatively, of course, you can just buy two (or more) cheaper dash cams and mount them wherever you want.

Do I need a memory card?

Most dash cams are going to need a microSD card to store footage on – some come with one but it might be on the small side. Generally, we wouldn’t recommend buying one smaller than 32GB or you could end up running out of space. These cards aren’t expensive, however, as you can get a 32GB card for little more than a tenner, and at 720P resolution and standard bit rates, this should store around seven hours of footage. However, if you’re looking at a dash cam that records video in 1080p, HD and higher bit rates, then it’s well worth shelling out for a 64GB or 128GB card – otherwise the card will fill up more quickly and record over old footage.

Read next: The best microSD cards to buy from £8[1]

How to fit a dash cam

Much like a satnav, most dash cams have suction mounts that allow the device to be securely fixed onto the vehicle’s windows. Smaller models make it easy to attach a dash cam just behind the rear-view mirror, but it’s advisable to position any dash cam near the top of the windscreen rather than the bottom, if possible, as this will allow the cam to get a great, high-level view of the road. This means that trailing cables obscuring your vision can be a potential hazard, however, so you’ll want to look into buying sticky pads (or gaffer tape, if you’re less fussy about looks) for routing the cables where they don’t obstruct your view. If you have a particularly large vehicle or are looking to install a rear-facing dash cam, then it’s worth checking how long the supplied power and extension cables are, as you may need to get a little creative with cable routing.

How to power a dash cam

Dash cams have built-in batteries that will only last a few hours on a full charge, so unless you’re only driving up the road, it will need constant power from a USB port or 12V accessory socket. If you don’t want to lose your cigarette lighter, then hard-wiring is also an option. These tend to draw power from the fuse box, meaning the camera will power up at ignition. If this all sounds like too much hassle, it’s worth looking to see if any retailers in your area will install a dash cam for a fee.

The best dash cams to buy

1. Nextbase 512G: The best all-round dash cam

Price: £130

Nextbase revamped its dash cams not too long ago and besides the dual-camera Duo model (which we review lower down the page), the 512G sits right at the top of company’s current lineup. The Sony Exmor sensor records crisp 1080p video at a frame rate of 30fps; the good-quality lens ensures that images are sharp and detailed from corner to corner; and the sensor’s wide dynamic range allows the Nextbase to capture good-quality footage at night time. An integrated anti-glare polarising filter reduces glare from the windscreen, and the 140-degree field of view means that it will capture everything going on in front of your bonnet. Not only that, but the the 512G has built-in GPS and an accelerometer for recording your location and potential impacts – if it detects a collision, it will automatically save the footage recorded. For a fully featured dash cam at a sensible price, the 512G is hard to beat.

2. Nextbase 101: The best budget dash cam

Price: £35

The 101 is one of the cheaper dash cams on the market, but Nextbase has done its bit to pack in all the essentials for well under £50. You get a camera capable of recording 720p video with a 120 degree field of view – noticeably less wide than that of pricier units – and small enough to almost disappear behind the rear-view mirror. Unlike some budget models, Nextbase has equipped the 101 with a small colour 2in display, which makes it possible to view footage and adjust settings a little more easily. There are some downsides: transferring files over a USB cable is torturously slow, and you’ll need to stump up for a microSD card. At this price, though, the Nextbase 101 is a steal.

3. Garmin Dash Cam 55: Stunning video quality with a ton of GPS options

Price: £150

Garmin might be better known for its satnav systems, but its top-of-the-range dash cam is something special. The 55’s 1440p sensor records supremely crisp video footage that puts 1080p rivals in the shade, and you can quickly sync videos to your mobile via Wi-Fi with Garmin’s Virb app. In the event of an accident, the Dash Cam 55’s 3.7-megapixel sensor allows you to take decent-quality photos of the scene, and while the voice control is a little gimmicky, it’s handy for snapping a quick photo without taking your hands off the wheel. GPS location recording and collision detection are present and correct, and the clear, straightforward menus and bright 2in display make it easy to set up and play back footage. Some of the more premium features include lane-departure and forward-collision warnings in the event that you swerve out of your lane or drive to closely to the car in front.

4. Mio MiVue 658: Sterling image quality and premium features

Price: £152

Mio’s MiVue 658 is one of the pricier dash cams out there, but it pays its dues by packing in a whole host of premium features. Image quality is superb in both daytime and nighttime settings thanks to the light-gathering abilities of the f/1.8 lens, and the Extreme HD setting records video at higher-than-1080p resolution. The integrated three-axis accelerometer automatically stops video footage from being overwritten when it detects an impact, and the in-built GPS tracks your speed and location and embeds it into the video clips. The secondary microSD slot is a lovely touch, too – it backs up your recordings in case the first microSD card fails. The big 2.7in touchscreen is a boon, making setup and video playback superbly straightforward, and it also pops up safety camera warnings and alerts when you go over the speed limit.

5. Nextbase Duo: A great-value dual-camera dash cam

Price: £145

The Nextbase Duo packs in two cameras for the price of one high-end dash cam. Twin 720p cameras are positioned on either edge, both of which swivel back and forth to get the perfect view of the road. The rear camera has a zoom lens that focuses in on what’s happening behind your car rather than inside it, and both lenses have a 140-degree field of view that covers all the action front and rear. One quibble is that the lower-resolution sensors can struggle to pick up number plates at nighttime, but the motion-sensing feature is a nice touch – it automatically starts recording if it detects something moving nearby, even when your car is parked. All the key features such as GPS logging and crash-sensing are present and correct, too, so clips are automatically saved in the event of a collision. If you can’t be bothered faffing with installing separate cameras front and rear, then the Duo is a solid option.

6. Snooper DVR-4HD: Feature-packed, but the speed alerts are iffy

Price: £133

Snooper’s DVR-4HD has been knocked down the rankings by Nextbase’s offerings, but this is still a solid dash cam for a reasonable price. The good-quality lens and 1080p sensor provide strong, sharp image quality, and only begin to struggle in darker conditions, where the likes of the Nextbase 512G comes out on top. The built-in accelerometer adds collision detection to the feature list, allowing the DVR-4HD to automatically save footage in the event of an accident. Wi-Fi support means that you can stream footage direct to a smartphone or tablet, too. There are a few niggles: it can be tricky to unclip from the windshield mount when you need to remove it, and the speed camera alerts are patchy at best. If you can find it for a good price, however, then it’s well worth considering.

References

  1. ^ The best microSD cards to buy from £8 (www.expertreviews.co.uk)

Raspberry Pi Zero W Review: At £10, this could be the world’s best-value computer

You’ve got to hand it to the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Not content with making hobbyist computing cheap and cool again, the Foundation did something rather unexpected last year: it released an even cheaper model. Priced at a ridiculously low £4, the Raspberry Pi Zero was effectively an original Raspberry Pi in a smaller form factor. In fact, it was so cheap that the Pi Zero become the first computer to be given away for free with a magazine.

Getting the size of the Raspberry Pi down to the Zero’s diminutive size (65 x 30 x 5mm) meant that a fair few things had to be cut out. But progress is an unstoppable beast, and a year later, in time for the Pi Foundation’s fifth birthday, comes an improved version, the Raspberry Pi Zero W. You can probably guess from the “W” in the name that this Zero model now has integrated wireless. Thanks to the onboard chip, the Pi Zero W has integrated Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi (2.4GHz).

Raspberry Pi Zero W review: Internet of wins

This may not be the latest flavour of Wi-Fi, but for the types of jobs that you’re likely to use the computer for it’s more than enough. In fact, having integrated network access can’t be applauded enough. With the old Pi Zero, adding network access meant buying a Wi-Fi dongle, which added bulk and made everything a little clumsier.

With wireless integration, the Pi Zero W suddenly becomes much more useful in many more situations. That’s not to say there aren’t limitations. The small size of the Pi Zero W means there’s no room for full-sized ports. Instead, you get one micro-USB power input, one micro-USB On-The-Go (OTG) port for connecting devices and a mini-HDMI output.

Realistically, these small ports mean that you’ll need to buy adapters to hook up the Pi Zero W to a monitor. With only a single USB port, you’ll need to buy a USB hub to connect a keyboard and mouse at the same time. We would recommend that you buy a powered hub, as our review sample’s micro-USB port couldn’t deliver enough power for a regular hub, keyboard and mouse at the same time. New for this model of Pi is an official 3D-printed case (£6). It’s absolutely tiny, with the Pi dropping in and clipping into place. We love the look of it, and the case makes the Pi Zero W feel much more like a finished product: the USB power and USB peripheral ports are clearly marked, for example.

The one minor issue we had was that the case didn’t hold the micro-HDMI adapter dongle in place securely, and ours kept dropping out. We recommend using a mini-HDMI to HDMI converter cable instead, as this will put less weight on the port for a more secure connection. You get a choice of lids with the case, with different cutouts in them, depending on how many wires (if any) you need to run internally to the Pi.

Raspberry Pi Zero W review: Upping Tools

You can hook up external devices through the HAT-compatible 40-pin general input/output (GPIO) connector. As with the original Pi, this connector is unpopulated, which means you’ll need a soldering iron to connect the pins that you want to use. On the one hand, this approach is a little fiddly; on the other, it can make for a neater and smaller final build. While the original Pi Zero didn’t have the camera connector (CSI), this was added for the next production run. We’re pleased to say that the CSI remains for the Pi Zero, making it easy to hook up the official camera and build yourself a wireless camera.

You’ll need to buy the ribbon cable adapter to fit the camera, though, as the Pi Zero W has a smaller CSI connector than the regular Pi. There’s still no DSI connector for hooking up the Pi display, though, and no way of adding one. There’s also no analogue audio connector, although you can add one using a soldering iron and some online instructions. Likewise, there’s no composite video connector, but you can solder the connection on if this is something you want.

Raspberry Pi Zero W review: Operating Procedures

In general, then, the Raspberry Pi Zero W’s shortcomings can be largely overcome if you’re happy to whip out a soldering iron. The true benefit of this approach is that it’s much easier to build smaller projects, as there’s nothing extraneous on the Pi Zero W, just the essentials.

Otherwise, running it is just the same as it is with other Pi computers. You need to install the operating system (most likely the Linux-based Raspbian) on a microSD card (8GB minimum), which then plugs into the card reader at the end of the board. It’s easy to configure using the instructions on the Raspberry Pi website.

The Raspberry Pi Zero W isn’t particularly powerful, though. It’s powered by a 1GHz single-core Broadcom BCM2835 processor and 512MB of RAM, which is the same CPU that powered the original Pi with a slightly higher clock speed.

If you’re used to the quad-core Raspberry Pi 3, then the Pi Zero W feels positively slow in comparison. Running the Sysbench test to verify every prime number up to 10,000, the Pi Zero W completed the task in 530.27 seconds. As the Pi 3 has a quad-core CPU, it’s capable of completing the task in just 45.86 seconds by running four threads. Boot times are considerably slower, too, with the Pi Zero W taking 53 seconds to boot.

Raspberry Pi Zero W review: Mini Muscle

That said, the Pi Zero W is not designed as a high-performance computer. It’s fast enough to run Raspian’s GUI, and it’s quick enough to run the types of job that you’d want it for. For example, we’ve been running a Lightwave RF server on a Pi so that we could integrate our lights with Samsung SmartThings. Using a Raspberry Pi 3 was overkill for this kind of job, but the Raspberry Pi Zero W is a perfect fit with its integrated Wi-Fi once again proving to be a real benefit.

Ultimately, the Raspberry Pi Zero W is an ideal choice for less-demanding projects and those where space is at a premium. Whether or not the Raspberry Pi Zero W is the computer for you depends on what you want to achieve. For general hobbyists that want to play with a lot of different projects, the faster Raspberry Pi 3 with its full-sized ports and populated GPIO connector is going to make the most sense, giving you the most flexibility. If you want a cheap computer for a specific job, on the other hand, particularly a low-power server, then the Pi Zero W comes into its own. It’s also a great choice for custom projects, for people with a steady hand and a soldering iron.

Raspberry Pi Zero W review: Zero to Hero

Ultimately, it’s hard to be anything other than impressed by a computer that costs less than £10. It may cost more than twice as much as the original but the integrated Wi-Fi more than justifies this extra cost. Once again, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has managed to astound us, and the Pi Zero W is a beautifully designed and well-thought out computer.

Netgear Nighthawk X10: Unbelievably fast but with a very high price tag

Wireless technology has received a bit of a boost of late, what with the emergence of multi-box mesh wireless systems such as BY Whole Home Wi-Fi and Linksys Velop and Google Wifi. But sometimes only a traditional single-unit router will do. Although traditional routers typically don’t have the same throughput over distance as mesh Wi-Fi systems, the good ones usually have more features and are far more configurable. The Netgear Nighthawk X10 is comfortably one of the most advanced and pricient I’ve ever come across.

The Netgear Nighthawk X10 is hands down the most expensive router we’ve ever tested. It’ll set you back £400, more than a games console or a cheap TV, as much as a decent washing machine and it’s pricier than the award-winning mesh Wi-Fi systems this month. But in 2017, spending £300-£400 to get your WiFi sorted is beginning to look like the going rate.

Netgear Nighthawk review: Tl;dr

What do you get for your money, then? The first thing to note is that the X10 doesn’t come with an ADSL/VDSL modem built in, which is disappointing for the price. But otherwise it’s a router with more features and power than you could ever possibly want. It has six Gigabit Ethernet ports, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, it can run a Plex Server natively from any connected hard disk or USB thumb drive and it’s the fastest most powerful wireless router we’ve tested.

Netgear Nighthawk review: Price and competition

At £400 there’s not much direct competition for the Nighthawk X10 but the TP-Link Archer VR2800[1] is our current favourite and it’s just as quick over Wi-Fi and half the price at £200. It may suit your needs if you don’t need the extra features of the Nighthawk X10. If you already have a router and all you need is better Wi-Fi coverage, consider either BT Whole Home Wi-Fi[2], which is a bargain £200 right now or Google Wifi[3], which is the cleverest most user-friendly mesh network system for £229. 

Netgear Nighthawk review: Features and performance

As I said, this router is right at the bleeding edge and it’s fully stacked with the very latest in wireless tech. The X10 is a tri-band 802.11ac wave 2 router, it supports MU-MIMO and 160MHz channels for link speeds up to 1,733Mbits/sec on each of its 5GHz networks and 800Mbits/sec on its 2.4GHz network.

It has a 1.7GHz quad-core processor and four external antennae with embedded amplification for the strongest possible signal. There’s also support here for the next generation wireless standard, 802.11ad, for potential short-range speeds of up to 4,600Mbits/secs at 60MHz. This is more future-proofing than practical, though, as hardly any devices support the new standard right now.

Over normal Wi-Fi, though, the Nighthawk X10 is a champ and, in our throughput tests, it was the fastest overall single-unit router I’ve seen. I measured download rates of 102MB/sec at close range – that’s nigh-on Gigabit Ethernet speed – and 17.1MB/sec at long range in my tough kitchen location in a notorious black spot in my house. 

The only systems significantly faster than the X10 at long range are the multi-point mesh WiFi systems, which cost up to £500. At £400, the X10 might be expensive, but it clearly isn’t completely out of line with the market rate.

And, in many respects, this router offers a lot more than all these multi-box systems. For one, if you don’t have one already, it’s one of the few routers on the market that can truly be considered a true replacement for a proper NAS drive.

The USB transfer rate is ridiculously quick at 75.8MB/sec over wired Gigabit Ethernet and with that powerful processor inside, it should be able to deal with multiple connections without too much hassle. And there’s the software here to back it up as well.

Netgear’s Readycloud system provides easy remote access to your files, ReadyNAS Vault lets you backup files from PCs and laptops to connected USB drives and there’s also Amazon Cloud drive support, so you can mirror files to the cloud automatically. Strangely, though, this only supports single-folder backup.

There’s also DLNA, TiVo and iTunes media server support and, impressively, the Nighthawk X10 can also run a PLEX media server natively. The X10’s CPU is even powerful enough to transcode video on the fly for remote streaming.

Finally, if the onboard USB storage features aren’t enough for you, the X10 has six Gigabit Ethernet ports, two of which can be teamed together for a 2Gbits/sec NAS drive connection and there’s also an SFP+ port so you go right the way up to 10Gbits/sec if you want to.

Perhaps the one disappointment is that Netgear hasn’t hugely overhauled its Genie software at the same time as packing in so much hardware. While Genie is reasonably comprehensive, it has some strange gaps and inconsistencies. For example, while you can set parental control content filtering levels using OpenDNS on a per device basis, the feature is only available via the accompanying smartphone app, not via the router’s web management pages.

Likewise, although it is possible to block and pause internet access by device you can’t apply a schedule per device, which is a basic feature we’d expect all routers to offer. Still, you can tweak most other settings on the router and it has a couple of useful extras: OpenVPN support and a BitTorrent downloader.

Netgear Nighthawk X10 review: Verdict

The Nighthawk X10 is an impressive router, no doubt about that. It’s the fastest router around and has great range. It’s extremely powerful and packed with features, although there are some odd omissions. For most people, though, £400 would be better spent on a multi-box system like Google Wifi or BT Whole Home WiFi, while the TP-Link Archer VR2800 offers the same sort of speed, if not the same magic box full of features. 

References

  1. ^ TP-Link Archer VR-2800 review (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
  2. ^ BT Whole Home Wi-Fi (www.shop.bt.com)
  3. ^ Google Wifi (www.maplin.co.uk)
       
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