The router is very versatile in terms of applying the level of filtering to a specific connected user. For example, you can apply the Basic level to John during daytime but the Advanced level during nighttime. You can also add specific Web sites to the blacklist (blocked) or whitelist (never blocked).
Judging the effectiveness of the content filtering feature is hard; I couldn't try every scenario. This is because it depends on how properly Web sites are categorized. For the most part it worked well in my trial, but there was at least one thing that didn't work: the search result. No matter which level of filtering was in effect, I could still use Google to search for anything and the search results, especially when they were images, were displayed, including content that's supposed to be blocked.
The fact that the Skydog offers a lot of tools to monitor users' activity but you can only access this information by logging in from skydog.com makes me a little concerned about privacy, to say the least. It's quite clear that the router allows PowerCloud Systems to have the same access to the users' Internet usage. How this information is being used is another question; I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people were concerned about their privacy and security.
Simple design, handy context-based help Novice users won't have any problem figuring out the Skydog, including its advanced features. The router's Web interface comes with great context-based help that includes both text and video tutorials. You can also find all of the support information in a separate sections called Support & Tutorials within the router's interface.
As far as the hardware is concerned, the Skydog has a simple squarish design with internal antennae. There's an array of LEDs on top near the front of the router that shows the status of the Wi-Fi network, the Internet connections, and the LAN ports. Near these lights is a Wi-Fi Protect Setup button that, as I mentioned, is not currently working.
On the back the router comes with the usual four Gigabit LAN ports and one LAN port. There's also the USB port I mentioned earlier that's not working for now.
The router is designed to be placed on a flat surface, but it can also be mounted on a wall.Subpar performance
The Skydog's performance is the deal-breaker for many users. I tested the router on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands and it wasn't impressive on either. On the 5GHz band, it scored some 64Mbps at close range (10 feet). When I increased the distance to 75 feet, it registered just 27Mbps.
All similarly priced routers on the market offer much faster speeds.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
On the 2.4GHz band, the router offers 45Mbps at close range and just 12.3Mbps from 75 feet away. These are the worst numbers I've seen among Wi-Fi routers in years. But then again, this is the first time in a long time that I've reviewed an N600 router.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note that most of the routers on the charts support faster Wi-Fi standards, but they cost just about as much as the Skydog does. Also I tested the Skydog at CNET's offices, where there are walls and many Wi-Fi devices that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live.
The router offered a stable Wi-Fi signal, passing my 24-hour stress test -- where it was set to transfer data nonstop between clients -- without disconnecting once.
The Skydog also offered short range, just about 150 feet at most. Effectively, it should be used within no less than 75 feet if you want to have a decent wireless connection. And this means it might be OK for a small home or apartment if it's placed in the middle of it.
The Skydog is an exciting router that has a lot of potential. The privacy concern aside, its cloud-connected firmware and the way it was structured might be the best I've seen. Unfortunately, for home networking, data rates are a very important factor; after all, you want your information to flow fast, and the router doesn't deliver at all in this department.
The fact that its Web filtering feature, though advanced, can't block Google's search results (something that might be impossible because of the way Google works) means it's not exactly an ideal router for parents who want to strictly keep their children from inappropriate content, either. Note that since there might not be an ideal router for this particular function, the Skydog is still one of the best as far as Web filtering is concerned.
PowerCloud Systems has a lot of plans for the future, including using more updated hardware. Maybe then its state-of-the-art firmware will get to shine. For now, all things considered, the Skydog is very much an experiment that you don't really want to be part of.