Network routers are the dark secret of the tech world. Odds are, unless you’re completely mobile dongle-dependent, you own one of these pieces of gear and you’ve probably arranged matters so that you don’t actually have to look at it. Unless you’re peering at the lights, wondering why your magic internet box has stopped working, that is.
This isn’t because these devices are inherently ugly, they’re just never designed to be front and centre. Okay, some of them are ugly. The Blue Cave, a dual-band Wi-Fi router from Asus, is not one of the ugly ones.
The hole is supposed to be there
A network router is just a boring white/black box with some ports and a few lights in it, right? Usually. The Blue Cave is white, it’s got some startup lights (and status lights) and a nice little collection of ports along the rear — one modem input and four gigabit LAN jacks. In case you’re feeling old-school, or you’re looking to connect your smart TV or gaming console with a cable, which is often better than relying on Wi-Fi alone.
The Blue Cave’s also got a large blue-edged hole through the middle, as though a Smurf took aim at one of those boring white boxes with a smurfing great big blunderbuss. The hole is, apparently, just a design element. It’s not going to do anything special like extend your range or boost your signal — something that was the topic of much office speculation before we hauled it out of its box.
What the Blue Cave does with that hole is arrange its internal antennae (yup, no fiddly bits here) around the circular hole to blanket a home or any other internet-requiring location with Wi-Fi signals without needing to mess with the orientation of outside pieces. Which makes for an even simpler setup process — something that we’re never going to complain about. It does make it look like a mini Dyson fan, though. Of the blowy kind, not the World Cup kind.
Getting set up
Getting the Blue Cave set up and connected is the work of just a few minutes. Physical connections are done in seconds, once you’ve levered all of the pieces out of the box. There’s a power cable, a single network cable, some instructions and other paperwork we’re never going to look at, and the Blue Cave router itself. It’s very difficult to muck that up. As a handy bonus, the Blue Cave also comes bundled with a year’s worth of antivirus protection for up to four devices.
The software might have been a different beast but Asus has included a handy wizard that should make initial setup easy for anyone who knows how to read. If you’re reasonably savvy, a short list of your network settings scribbled on a scrap of paper (or read from a smartphone screen) will suffice, while the steps required to complete setup are simple and clear enough that anyone reading them over the phone to a long-suffering relative who “knows computers” won’t have any hassles making themselves understood.
Long story short: Just about anyone will be able to set up the Blue Cave, even if they’re being talked through it by an ISP call centre agent.
Which, if you’re anything like us, is where you want to stop. Box on, internet up, and forget about it until something stops working. We’d like to tell you what happens when you get to that last point but… we didn’t. Not in the time we had to play with the Blue Cave. It just kept on working, till load shedding made it stop.
You’ll need to look to the Smurf ring for most of your visual cues for the device. When it powers on there’s a small blue light that lights up on the white area of the box and this changes over to the (flashing) blue ring when you’re busy setting up. After everything is neatly squared away, the Blue Cave glows with a solid blue light inside its er… ring.
Once setup is done, you don’t have to do anything else. You can if you want to, if you’re technically minded or just pedantic about which of your devices should have priority in your home. You don’t want the smart fridge hogging all the bandwidth when you’re trying to get your 4K Netflix on, do you? Asus’ software is very basic if all you’re hitting are the basic settings, but if you want a deeper dive, those options are all there as well. QoS features are available and entirely up to you.
You can get the Asus router — just about any of the current generation, they share the same software — to automatically manage matters, or you can be a little more… ruthless in your implementation. Because you shouldn’t be streaming all those food shows, Craig. If you’re up on your home automation, Asus’ software supports Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant and IFTTT. Alexa might not be all that useful here in South Africa, but we’ve got a few recipes for IFTTT…
Target within range
Which leaves us with just two items unticked — the speed and the range. The Asus Blue Cave supports both 2.5GHz and 5GHz bands, on the 802.11ac standard. It’s supposed to be fast and, based on the documentation, it is. You can expect speeds of up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,730Mbps or so on the 5GHz band, at least on paper, but during practical testing we… didn’t even need close to those speeds. We certainly had them in reserve, though we don’t expect that we would hit the theoretical maximum. Nobody ever does, unless they’re in a lab or happen to live in a house made from Wi-Fi boosters.
Streaming data over the network was certainly speedy, whether we were playing 1080p video to a smart TV or copying files over the network. The only area where there was some slowdown was when making use of the USB 3.0 port to share data from a hard drive to wireless devices. Not ideal but not a deal-breaker, by any means.
Range is more than serviceable, though you’ll find yourself having issues towards the outer edges — as is the case with most routers, the closer you are to the router the stronger your signal. We didn’t do any technical range-testing other than use it in an average-sized home. There were no dead-spots and the range extended beyond the confines of the home, which is all we could ever ask for (besides free Wi-Fi that follows us everywhere but that’s still a ways in the future, right?).
Asus Blue Cave Verdict
Look, no amount of attractiveness is going to make a network router anything other than something that you have to own, and hopefully don’t have to think about again for a decade. It’s like a printer in that sense, except that you’re not stuck purchasing the most expensive liquid on the planet for ages afterwards. Okay, so maybe more like a washing machine. Asus has done a decent job of making a piece of networking gear that looks good sitting on a table instead of being hidden behind a door, monitor, or out of sight behind your computer desk.
It’s got the technical chops you’ll need in order to be properly proud of its out-front position too. If your home network could do with more style, the Blue Cave is your port of call. At a recommended retail price of R5,000 you’re paying a premium for the Blue Cave’s good looks, internal antennae and easy setup. Sure, there are plenty of cheaper home routers out there, but those you’ll want to hide in a cupboard. Of course, if aesthetics aren’t important to you, this is likely going to be a tough sell.