The Nighthawk X4 AC2350 Smart Wi-Fi R7500 Router has aspirations to be Netgear's competitor to the recently reviewed Asus RT-AC87U. Alas, it doesn't turn out that way.
Despite sporting a much more powerful processor, the new router doesn't outdo its Asus counterpart. In fact, it doesn't even fare much better than Netgear's original Nighthawk AC1900 R7000. What's more, the router's bloated interface shows no improvements over those of previous Netgear models.
The R7500 is not a complete loss, though. On the whole, it's still quite fast, it has very long Wi-Fi range, and it includes a smart QoS feature that intelligently manages your Internet connection for a better overall experience. When hosting an external hard drive, the router becomes a robust NAS server, and even supports Time Machine natively.
In the end, it's the price makes it hard for me to recommended the Netgear R7500 to anyone. At $280 in the US and £230 in the UK (pricing for Australia is not yet available, but converted it's about AU$300), you're better off buying the Asus RT-AC87U (which also runs $280) instead. The Asus is much faster and easier to manage, and has more features.
For more choices, check out this list of top 802.11ac wireless routers on the market.
Most powerful hardware to date
The Netgear R7500 is the second quad-stream (4x4) 802.11ac router on the market, after the Asus RT-AC87U that came out a month ago. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.) Yet it sports a Qualcomm 1.4GHz dual-core main processor, currently the fastest on the market. By comparison, the Asus uses a dual-core 1GHz model from Broadcom as its main processor.
This chip powers the 2.4GHz frequency band (at up to 600Mbps), NAS functionality, and all other functions of the router. For the 5GHz frequency band, the router uses second dedicated dual-core chip, the 500MHz Quantenna QT3840BC, which is the first quad-stream 802.11ac chip on the market, capable of delivering up to 1,733Mbps of Wi-Fi speed.
As a true dual-band router, the R7500 has the combined total bandwidth of 2,333Mbps. Netgear rounds this number up to designate the R7500 as a AC2350 router. Asus, on the other hand, rounds up even farther and calls the RT-AC87U an AC2400 router. Both routers have the same total Wi-Fi bandwidth, however.
Note that while the router supports all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, in order to achieve the quad-stream speed, you'll need clients (such as a smartphone, tablet, or PC) that adhere to the same standard. Currently there's no quad-stream client on the market, though first adopters are expected to be available by early 2015.
The R7500 is also the first home router that has two USB 3.0 ports and one eSATA port, promising to be a very powerful network attached storage (NAS) server when coupled with external hard drives.
The R7500 looks almost exactly the same as the R7000, using the squarish shape designed to stay flat on a surface. But now it's even bulkier, thanks to the four detachable antennas (the R7000 has only three antennas). These antennas are numbered from 1 to 4, and you need to attach each one to the router at a specific place. The router is wall-mountable but considering how large it is, it's a better idea to keep it on the floor.
On the back, the R7500 has the usual four Gigabit LAN ports (for wired clients) and one Gigabit WAN port, to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem. There's also the power port, a power on/off button, an on/off switch for the LED lights and a recessed Reset button, which brings the router back to its default settings.
On the left side, the router has two USB 3.0 ports, and on the right side, there's an eSATA port. Up until now, the R7500 is the first that has these many high-bandwidth peripheral ports. (Most others have just one USB 3.0 port, if at all.) You can use these ports to host printers or external storage devices.
On top, toward the front, there's an array of usual LED lights that show the power status and the status of the Wi-Fi networks, the router' ports. There's also a Wi-Fi on/off button and a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button that initiates a two-minute window that other WPS-enabled clients can enter the router's Wi-Fi networks.
Easy setup, not so easy to customize
Similar to the R7000, the R7500 is ready to use right out of the box if you're happy with its default settings. The router comes preconfigured with a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network for which the information -- name and password -- is printed on a label on its underside. (The 5GHz band network's name is the same as the 2.4GHz network plus the "-5G" suffix and shares the same password. Note that these networks' names are visible to Wi-Fi clients.) With this information, you just can just plug the router to an Internet source using the included network cable, turn it on, and you're good to go.
If you want to change these network's name or customize other settings or features of the router, you'll need to use the router's Web interface, and for certain features, also its downloadable Netgear Genie app. While you can use the interface to access most of the router's features and settings, you can't use it to do everything. For example, the Parental Control feature -- which is an OpenDNS-based service -- requires you to set up the app. On the other hand, the Genie app has limited access to the router's settings. For example, it can turn on the Guest network feature for just the 2.4GHz band, but not the 5GHz band.
The Netgear Genie app is available for Windows, Mac OS, Amazon Kindle Fire, Android, and iOS, but it only works within the local network. This means you can't use the app on your smartphone to remotely manage your home network when you're out and about.
It's quite easy to access the router's Web interface. From any computer that's connected to the router, just point its browser to www.routerlogin.net or the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1. The default log-in credentials are "admin"for the username and "password" for the password.