Cisco Connect Cloud review: Cisco Connect Cloud

Each the apps has a small widget that can be displayed in the center of the Web interface, with a quick function available, such as to turn it on or off. To further customize the feature, you'll need to click on it from the left column. For example, using the widget I could turn the Parental Control feature on or off, but to add which computer to what block list, I needed to use the link on the main volume. The Parental Control feature worked very well and was easy to customize this way, by the way.

The Device List feature displays a list map of all connected devices. Double-clicking on one of these devices will show its IP address and MAC address. Unfortunately, it can't do much else. It would be nice if from the Device List you could customize a particular device with Parent Control or Media Prioritizing, or add its IP address to the reserved list (so that it will get the same IP each time it's connected to the network). To do those things, you'll need to start from the respective feature, such as Media Prioritization.

The Media Prioritization feature is the biggest new feature of Cisco Connect Cloud. You can add up to three devices or application types (such as games and video chat) to the high-priority list. This means these devices and services will get Internet bandwidth before all others. While this worked well in my test, I wished I could add more devices to the list and that the list of support applications were larger. Currently there are only a handful of games on the list of applications, and I didn't find Diablo 3 there. Cisco says it will add more to this list, however. It would also be great if users could manually add new customized QoS settings to this list. Nonetheless, in its current state, this is an excellent feature. It's very easy to add or move a device in or out of the priority list. All you have to do is drag and drop, using the Web interface, or make a few taps using the mobile app.

Except for the fact that they are now easier to work with, there's not much new about Guest Access, USB Storage, and Speed Test. Guest networking is still available only on the 2.4GHz band and you still can't name it to your liking. Instead it takes the name of the main 2.4GHz network plus the -guest suffix. This is not a big deal, unless you want to hide your main network from guests. Speed Test is a nifty feature that quickly shows the speed of your local network's Internet connection. Note that this feature is only available through the Web interface, and only when the computer is connected to the home network. You can't check your home Internet speed when you're out and about.

The Router Settings parts of the interface consists of four subcategories: Connectivity, Troubleshooting, Wireless, and Security. Each of these offers deeper access to the router's common settings. For example in Connectivity you can change the router's Internet settings, Advanced Routing settings, Local Network settings and so on; in Security, you can manage the router's Firewall, DMZ, Port Forwarding and so on. Generally, this part is also very well laid out and intuitive. Despite the changes in design, you can customize the router's settings to do all that it could do with the previous versions of the firmware.

The mobile app and Web version of Cisco Connect Cloud have a similar look and feel. The Web version has more in-depth access, however.
The mobile app and Web version of Cisco Connect Cloud have a similar look and feel. The Web version has more in-depth access, however. Dong Ngo/CNET

Cisco Connect Cloud's Web interface vs. the mobile apps
For the most part the Web interface (which is available when you use any Internet-connected computer with a browser) and Cisco Connect Cloud mobile app (available for iOS and Android devices) are essentially the same. The main difference is that due to the constrained space of the mobile-device screen, widgets appear as slides for you to scroll through, instead of being listed all in one place. The mobile app is designed in a way that's easy and convenient to use, using tapping and swiping.

With the Block The Bad Stuff app you can quickly set the Web filter of a supported router to 1 of 3 security levels.
With the Block The Bad Stuff app you can quickly set the Web filter of a supported router to 1 of 3 security levels. Dong Ngo/CNET

The Web interface offers more access to the router than the mobile app, however. For example, Speed Test and USB Storage features are not available via the mobile app. In my trial, the mobile app also didn't offer access to as many common settings of the router as the Web interface. Generally, it's best to use the mobile app to quickly change a feature setting, such as the priority list of the Media Prioritization feature, or turn a feature on or off. For complete management of the network, the Web interface is a better choice. That said, I found that I could get most of what I wanted done via the mobile app, since generally advanced settings of a router need to be programmed just once.

And even more can be done via mobile devices thanks to third-party apps. Cisco says that there will soon be many mobile apps made for the router that help quickly get things done. During this review, I tried out the Block The Bad Stuff app, available from iTunes for 99 cents, and it worked very well. This is a simple app that, once you're logged in via your Cisco Connect Cloud account, helps quickly set the Web filter of the supported router to one of three levels. At level 1, the router will block malware, phishing, and scam sites; at level 2, pornography will also be blocked; and at level 3, other family-unfriendly material will also be blocked. Now, you can skip this app and change the route's Web filtering manually, but it's much more convenient using the mobile app.

Performance
The performance of Cisco Connect Cloud depends on the router that you use at home, the device you use, and the Internet connection at both ends. In my testing with a few computers, an iPhone 4, a new iPad, and a Linksys EA4500, everything was smooth.

I was able to run the mobile apps via both 3G and 4G LTE connections while I was out and about. Both the Web interface and the mobile app offered good response time.

Overall, Cisco Connect Cloud, though much richer in features and functionality, proved to be the same as the previous simple interface in term of responsiveness. For the performance of the EA series routers themselves, check out their separate in-depth reviews.

Conclusion
Cisco Connect Cloud is probably the most exciting development in home networking in years. Thanks to what it has to offer, the router is no longer something you think about only when it's broken; instead, it's something you want to check on daily; it's now truly the center of your connected home.

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