Securifi is banking on the touch trend, unveiling the first touch-enabled wireless router, the Almond (available from Amazon for £64.99). The device was launched nearly a year ago in the US and has only just gone on sale in the UK. Yet over the last 12 months, no other manufacturer has managed to emulate the Almond’s unique selling feature.
(We received that update from Securifi - There's a new firmware out for the Almond that adds some new features like an improved weather app, a new beta feature which allows you to set up the Almond as a range extender, but it enables it to also act as a DHCP server at the same time, as well as support for traditional Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese)
The Almond's touch interface is reminiscent of the colorful tiles in Microsoft's Windows 8 modern interface because Almond too, uses something similar. Decent throughput, easy touch-screen setup, and the ability to operate Almond as a wireless extender are all good reasons to consider this affordable Wi-Fi router. This isn't a powerful router capable of blazing fast speeds but that’s not the audience the Almond is aiming for.
Securifi's Almond is a small device, measuring about 11.43 by 12.07 by 3.81 cm (HxWxD). A large portion of the front of the housing is dedicated to the 320 x 240 pixel, 2.8-inch color touchscreen. I suppose you could operate Almond vertically (which is how it sits), but the casing is slightly curved and the touchscreen orientation does not change if you position the router horizontally.
The 2x2 MIMO antenna hardware provides up to 300 Mbps throughput at 2.4 GHz. The hardware is not the latest in the Wi-Fi market, but it's sufficient for connecting legacy 802.11b/g devices as well as 802.11n clients. The vendor's specs state the device can support up to 50 concurrent connections. While I didn't stress it to that extent in my testing, I did leave it running for three days straight, and the router stayed extremely cool the entire time.
There's a small stylus tucked away at the base of the router for more precise touch when selecting menu options. Since Almond and its screen are relatively small, those with less-than-slender fingers may find the stylus easier to work with. Using a touch screen to set up a Wi-Fi router was, I have to admit, sort of fun. More importantly, the Almond's set up was quite easy, easily fulfilling its most important promise.
Getting the router started is a matter of powering up Almond and then following simple, on-screen instructions. In a matter of minutes I had Almond configured as a wireless router. The device set up its own default SSID and passphrase (you can change both).
Menu options are on the Windows 8-like tiles and include Internet, Security, Wireless, Range extender, Help and More. Touching these tiles allows you to see or edit the router's configuration. Configuration options are very basic, for example, opening the "Wireless" tile lets you change the SSID or password and enable a guest network. "Security" gives you the choice of changing the encryption level—it's WPA/WPA2 by default—or enabling a screen lock that can be unlocked with a password.
You can also change the router's administrator password from the touchscreen. The on-screen keyboard is pretty tiny, but very responsive to touch without need for hitting the key dead-center. Users can also view information such as device status, system log, and adding devices. There are two options for adding devices; you can touch the "Add" tile, which simply displays the SSID and password needed for manually connecting other devices or you can touch the "WPS" tile/menu option on screen. There's no physical WPS button on the housing as there is on most routers, but you can press WPS and the router gives you three minutes to connect a client via that client's WPS button.
The only problem with having WPS within the touch interface rather than the screen is that if you accidentally touch the WPS tile and want to cancel, there's no way to do so. You are stuck on that screen for three minutes. If you accidentally press an external WPS button on a typical router, of course, that does not interfere with you continuing to work in the management interface.
Some features are more useful than others. "Connection" for instance gives you very light, basic network mapping as it graphically depicts your network connections. A really handy feature is the ability to update firmware with just a touch. After touching the "Firmware" tile, the screen indicated that a firmware update was available. At a touch, Almond downloaded and applied the firmware—a far easier and more elegant process than most other routers provide for updating firmware.
You don’t have the option of setting any granular wireless settings with Almond, but it's targeted for users who probably wouldn't be interested in tweaking advanced settings such as Frame Burst.
The latest firmware update adds some new features accessible from the LCD's interface. For example, there are two new apps in (which are still in beta): Weather—which will display local temperature, and Time, which displays date and time. When I first opened the Time app, the time was incorrect. There's a settings icon which gives the option of syncing the router with an NTP (Network Time Protocol) server. The time displays in military time and I didn’t see an option to switch it to standard format.
There is also a content filtering capability. You can block content based on URL or website. The filtering works well. I added Facebook to block and the restriction went into effect immediately on my network. Unblocking worked just as quickly—without requiring clients to close and re-open a browser or requiring a cache clear.
The router also supports adding a DMZ IP address and users can also block access to any devices that connect to the router. However, I didn’t see a way to manually add clients to block, only devices that had already connected.
Fortunately, you aren't limited to the touch interface in case you aren't near the router, or there's an issue with the touch screen because Almond also has a web interface. It's got that same Windows 8-like UI as the touch screen's display. You can do a little bit more management in the web interface, for example, this is where you can change the wireless mode from Mixed to 802.11n-only.
As mentioned, I experienced none of the freezing issues I first encountered using Almond with its original firmware as I navigated through the LCD interface. One minor quirk: When switching the wireless mode from Mixed to N-only, I had problems getting back into the web interface with Internet Explorer. I switched browsers to Chrome and was able to go back into the UI. Then, I was able to get back into the interface with IE. A minor problem, but a bit frustrating if you are managing through the web interface.
For a 2x2 router, performance is decent, even on par with some 3x3 300 Mbps dual-bands I've tested. In 2.4GHz Mixed mode, throughput averaged about 55Mbps. That speed did not get much of a bump when I switched into N-only mode; at the same distance, I reached 57Mbps. Also, there was so significant change testing throughput with the new firmware over the previous version.
Let's cut right to the chase; you aren't going to want to use Almond as a router for high-definition video streaming or for a network that has heavy gaming or VoIP traffic. There's no QoS and no 5GHz band. What Almond provides is an easy way to setup a wireless router for Facebooking, chatting, emailing and your garden-variety Internet activity. I would consider Almond appropriate for my Dad, because he doesn't need an intense, expensive dual-band.
Almond's attractive interface and touch display is bound to draw tech neophiles looking for the latest, shiny gadget. And Almond looks more like a gadget than a router, making it more attractive than the typical router. Even better, for light Internet needs, it's got decent performance. I am a bit cautious about the touch screen freeze, and even though this is designed for those with light throughput needs, there ought to be at least Gigabit on the two LAN ports. You can also get a router with similar or even better specs for much less but the price of the Almond can be seem as being pretty reasonable since you are paying a little extra for the touch screen.
Overall, Almond is a novel approach to wireless networking and aside from a few concerns mentioned, it's not a bad single-band router. Note that Securifi also has a more feature-laden router called the Almond+ in the pipeline, one that can also acts like a Smarthome hub (with Zigbee and Z-wave integration).