From budget smartphones to rugged devices and onto wireless earbuds, here's the kit we got our hands on in January.
Caption by: Peter Judge
It's two years since AVM's iconic Fritz!Box 7050 appeared in the UK, combining a Wi-Fi-equipped broadband router with the basic features of a PBX. Now the Germans are back, with integrated DECT and fast Draft-N 802.11n Wi-Fi.
DECT and 802.11n may be the headline features, but the Fritz!Box 7270 — which can be had for £159 (inc. VAT) from Sipgate — has an impressive list of other added or enhanced features. These include an answering machine, fax handling, USB storage sharing and an eco-mode that monitors power usage — all managed through the same clear and functional user interface developed for the 7270's precursors.
This is a major new Fritz!Box, but it's recognisably the same family, with the same claret and grey design. The biggest difference is the third antenna required for 802.11n, and buttons on the top for WLAN and DECT. The box contains all the cables required, including adapters to plug a phone into the Fritz's analogue port, and a Y-cable to connect it to both phone and DSL data.
AVM's Fritz!Box 7270 adds 802.11n Wi-Fi (hence the 3 antennas), DECT support and more.
The basics worked immediately. The 7270 connected to the internet using ADSL 2+ at our line's top speed of 6.5Mbps, and presented a useful screen of DSL performance stats. PCs, notebooks and networked storage all connected to the Ethernet and Wi-Fi.
The Fritz!Box has plenty of 'green' and 'security' features. There are options to use lower Wi-Fi power, and to prompt the machine to turn off functions that aren't in use. Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi uses proper WPA2 security (the AES encryption key is printed on the base of the unit), and the web management screens (at http://fritz.box) prompt you to protect the router with a password.
So what about the new features?
Faster Wi-Fi with 802.11n
The 802.11g 7050 model we reviewed two years ago delivered around 20Mbps of real throughput from a nominal 54Mbps. The new 802.11n 7270 is faster: the nominal connection speed — in the next room to the router — varied between 108Mbps and 300Mbps, and we saw real throughput of at least 40Mbps when transferring a folder-full of music from a notebook computer to a stick in the Fritz's USB slot. Any bottleneck was most likely in the notebook.
The 7270 is a dual-band 802.11n system that can transmit on the 2.4GHz band used by 802.11b/g Wi-Fi (and Bluetooth, microwave ovens, cordless phones and other equipment), and also the 5GHz band opened up by the new 802.11n standard.
However, the 7270 only transmits on one band or the other. If you are plagued by interference from your neighbours' Wi-Fi networks or other 2.4GHz sources, you can jump to the 5GHz band, which is mostly empty (save for occasional 802.11a networks) and has many more channels. If you want to use 5GHz you'll have to make sure all your PCs and notebooks can operate in that frequency band.
The dual-band Fritz!Stick can add 5GHz support if your notebook lacks this feature.
New notebooks such as Centrino 2 systems may include 5GHz radios. If they don't, then you can use an adapter like AVM's own dual-band Fritz!Stick (pictured above, price ~£25), which plugs into the Fritz!Box's USB port and downloads settings, allowing it to install and connect immediately when plugged into a notebook.
DECT and phones
DECT may seem a bit retro, but the telephony part of the Fritz!Box 7270 is exciting. There are two wired ports for phones, while the built-in DECT base station can support up to six handsets. The 7270 can manage up to four simultaneous calls. One of those will be on the landline, while the others use VoIP subscriptions — you can load up to ten services on the box.
The 7270 has ports for analogue and ISDN phones, a USB connector and four LAN ports, plus your DSL connection.
This means that you can give workgroup or family members their own extensions. Those handsets can be anywhere in the building, without needing a wired connection to the base station. You can set rules for dialling out, and link each handset to one or more VoIP subscriptions. Each one can have its own incoming numbers.
We loaded three VoIP services, connected two wired phones and registered a DECT handset. We used a five-year-old BT handset, but AVM promises to support all DECT handsets that meet the GAP standard, and the new CAT-iq standard, which is hi-fidelity DECT.
It also does ISDN, if you have that equipment.
More voice features
That turns out to be just the start. The Fritz!Box 7270 includes up to five answering machines — put one on each of your VoIP services, and it will store the messages as WAV files or email them to you. It also accepts faxes, again sending them to you as emails.
There are enough call-diversion features to play with for hours. The box can reroute incoming calls to a preset number — or filter them, perhaps only sending certain numbers on, and routing others to particular extensions. It also has call-through, so you can dial in to it, use a PIN, and have your call routed onwards over the internet.
The 7270 can hold a phone book, allowing you to dial from the screen, plus a very thorough call log. You can also set an alarm call on any of the extensions.
Pretty Good USB
Unlike earlier Fritz!Box models, the 7270 has a fast USB 2.0 socket, blessed with decent software to enable shared access to any storage or printer you attach to that slot (mass storage and printers have pretty standard drivers). USB storage can be mapped as a regular network drive on any or all PCs on the network.
The 7270 can support multiple USB devices via a hub. And if you have more complex USB peripherals, it supports a USB remote connection. This makes the device appear as a local USB device to one of the PCs, and you can load the device drivers there.
The Fritz!Box 7270 is well designed and packed with features. DECT and 802.11n are major additions, but the real value lies in the detailed features built around those functions. The 7270 should prove extremely useful as a small office or home gateway. Finally, be sure to check the detailed manual for further abilities, including shortcut keys.
Caption by: Peter Judge