The Fonera is the hippie of the router world. You hook it up and it shares your network with friends and strangers alike.
Owners who share their connections thusly, called “Foneros” in the company’s cutesy marketing-ese, get to use other Foneros’ networks when they travel. And because the router sets up two separate networks, one private (and secure) and one public, you never have to worry about having your bandwidth, or your data, sucked dry.
The new Fonera 2 does all this, and a whole lot more. I have been testing it over the last few weeks, and for the most part, it works. But it also has one big, big problem, which makes it almost useless, for me at least.
First, the Fonera 2 gets 802.11n networking, for faster speeds over a longer range. Hook it up to your network via ethernet (there is no way to join a network via Wi-Fi without hacking) and you have just added a second wireless network to your home.
The Fonera 2 then acts like a tiny computer on your network. You can plug a USB hard drive into the Fonera and access it from any other computer (this was a little janky, requiring a firmware update for my Mac’s Finder to see the disk). You can use the router as a standalone BitTorrent device which can download movies and TV shows while all other computers are switched off (the Fonera uses Transmission, which can be controlled through a nice web interface). You can even stick a 3-G USB dongle into the side and use it like a mains-powered MiFi, creating a Wi-Fi hotspot from the 3G cell signal.
In addition to this you can upload video to YouTube, photos to Flickr, and generally do a lot of what you might leave a computer running to do. This is the idea: to offload the long uploads and downloads to a device which is both always connected and always on.
And it works beautifully, for the most part, although you’ll have to be somewhat geeky to get the most out of it. Setup and control is all done through your web browser, and is slick, polished and easy. It sucks down torrents just fine, and streaming the resulting video files from the connected hard drive is easy and smooth, as it should be.
So what’s the problem? The Fonera has no modem inside. This means that you need to hook it up to an existing router, or the router/modem combo that your ISP provided you with. And if your cable or phone connection is in the hallway, that means you’ll be stacking up one extra box, and a hard drive, just where it can be seen by everyone who visits. Additional glitches: My iPod Touch wouldn’t connect to the Fonera, and my router/modem kept flaking out when the Fonera was also running.
All of these add up to make a gadget that is perfect for the geek who lives alone, but is all but useless when living with anyone who has aesthetic concerns.
It’s a shame. As we said when the router was announced back in April, “this collection of features is fantastic, and exactly what a router should be doing”. Sadly, it doesn’t quite make it as a “set and forget” home appliance just yet. $100.
Product page [Fon]