Being the first router from Totolink I've reviewed, the A2004NS AC1200 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router made quite an interesting impression.
Hailing from South Korea, the router matches its petite and somewhat exotic appearance with modest internal hardware, supporting just the midtier dual-stream (2x2) setup of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. (In other words, you'll get the fastest Wi-Fi standard, but with just midtier bandwidth.) In my testing, it turned out to be potentially a great router for most home users, offering just what they need at a very affordable cost.
However, there is a bit of a catch: you need to be willing to spend some time configuring it properly, because the router includes Wi-Fi settings that are not intended for certain countries. And unfortunately, its interface is far from the best I've seen. Once properly set up, however, the router's $90 USD price is money well spent. (Availability and pricing in the UK and Australia are not available at this time, but its US price converts to around £54 and AU$96 at the current exchange rate.)
For some more expensive but also faster and more user-friendly options, however, check out this list of the top 802.11ac routers on the market.
Compact and practical design
The A2004NS has an attractive look that's different from most routers I've seen. It's a squarish box measuring 7.2 x 5.25 x 1 inches (182.5 x 133.5 x 26 mm). On top, toward one of its sides, there are four antennas that stand up for use or can be folded down when not needed. Also on top but close to the edge is an array of tiny LEDs that show the status of the router's power and its ports.
All of its ports (including four Gigabit LAN ports, one Gigabit WAN port, and one USB 2.0 port) are located on the side opposite the antenna. This design makes it hard to determine the front or back side of the router. But in the end it doesn't matter; the router looks good however you place it, and it's convenient to use.
No so user-friendly
The A2004NS is not a router for the novice user. It comes with a CD containing setup software, which walks you through a few simple steps of hardware setup, such as connecting it to a broadband modem and powering it on. (Alas, despite the fact that fewer and fewer PCs have optical drives, the software does not seem to be available for download on Totolink's website.) After that, the software helps launch the router's Web interface for further setup.
You can skip the software entirely and get right to its interface by pointing a connected computer's browser to the router's default IP -- which is 192.168.1.1 -- and log in by using admin as both the user name and password. Once logged in, if you're familiar with home routers' interfaces (or have read this CNET How To story) you'll be able to figure things out. For first-time users, however, working with the router's interface can be a daunting experience.
The interface itself is organized in the traditional granular menus that are divided into different sections that belong to two main parts, Basics and Advanced. However, I found that in the Advanced portion, the sheer number of sections and sub-items could be very intimidating to a nonsavvy user. To make matters worse, the interface uses different acronyms and networking terms from those commonly found in other routers.
There are wizards that make things a bit easier, but I found that following the wireless wizard, which helps set up the router's two Wi-Fi networks, could render the router useless, at least in the US. This is because the router includes settings that are not intended for this market.
Invalid Wi-Fi channels
As a product made for multiple markets, the A2004NS supports all existing Wi-Fi channels. However, per regulations, in some regions, only certain channels are allowed. For example, on the 5GHz frequency band, in the States, generally only channels 36, 40, 44, 48, 149, 153, 157, 161, and 165 are available for home Wi-Fi routers. Yet when set to operate in this market, the A2004NS still allows you to select all other channels, such as channels 60, 64, 100, and so on. To make matters worse, when I used the wizard to pick the "best channel," a tool that basically suggests a channel that's currently not -- or minimally -- used by other routers or access points in the vicinity, it always picked a channel that is not allowed in the region (which explains why it's not being used by any other devices). Picking an invalid channel will lead to all sorts of connection problems, including making the router itself useless as a wireless signal broadcaster, since most clients won't be able to see or connect to its Wi-Fi network.
That said, it's important that you manually pick one of the allowed channels in your region for each of the bands. (For the 2.4GHz band, in the US, the allowed channels range from 1 to 11.)