The truth be told, most routers are ugly little creatures. Sure, there's the odd aberration — Linksys' rather swishy WRT160N is a good exception, and certainly stands out in the room — but for the most part, router design is traditionally boring, and generally cheap looking. It's into this exact design bucket that the Conceptronic Wireless 300Mbps router falls; it's an essentially pedestrian looking black box of plastic with an absolutely stock standard assortment of status lights on the front and four 10/100 Ethernet ports. The one factor where the router stands out is the WPS set-up button, which sits on the front of the router in the form of a prominent red button. Again, though, the effect isn't striking in a good way as much as it is striking in that it looks rather cheap and tacky.
As this is sold as a starter pack, you also need some form of wireless networking adapter thrown in, and with an eye to both the notebook and desktop market, this takes the form of a USB adapter, in a similar style to. Again, though, the design is bland, functional and above all thick. Those with space-constrained USB ports should note that the Conceptronic take on the USB adapter is much thicker than most; thankfully a USB extension cable is provided to sneak it into those heavily recessed ports. If you plug it directly into a pair of adjacent ports, you can simply kiss one of them goodbye.
The Conceptronic wireless router adorns itself with a 300Mbps suffix, and that can only mean that we're back into Wireless N territory. To be specific, the router is a 2.4GHz band model, and it's not immediately clear from the external packaging which particular variant of the Wireless N draft the router falls under. The USB adapter will work with any USB port, although the notes do specify that it'll fall to 12MBps if used in a USB 1.1 port.
From a features point of view, the router supports WEP, WPA, WPA2 (PSK, TKIP or AES), Bridging and VPN modes. It supports UPnP and Wi-Fi Protected set-up and like most routers, configuration is via a Web-based interface. The Web-based interface is password protected, and if you're at all familiar with home routers, you could probably guess the default password and IP address. Go on, have a try. You're almost certainly not wrong.
In any case, the router's configuration page offers the usual mix of a straight configuration wizard for those who want an easy route, or a more in-depth set-up routine for the wired, wireless and firewall configuration. We will say this about Conceptronic's take on browser-based configuration — it's much greener than we're used to, and not in an environmental sense; the entire UI is decked in various emerald shades.
Initial set-up of both the router and adapter was much akin to any other router or adapter; we configured the router via its green Web interface, and weren't surprised when the driver screen for the adapter was in similar hues.
Wireless testing can be terribly subjective, as the testing conditions between any two places can vary a great deal. With that in mind, we put the ugly duckling Conceptronic up against one of the few routers we've tested that actually has an aesthetically pleasing design — the AU$169.95 Linksys WRT160N. Would beauty beat out the beast?
In terms of basic signal strength, there was virtually no contest; while both managed good signal propagation even from a distance, the Conceptronic was the clear winner.