Security defense and parental control for all connected devices. Easy installation and configuration via smartphone app. Good close proximity performance. Stylish design.
Parental control foiled by secure anonymizing proxy. In testing, did not block many malware-hosting URLs. Middling range performance. Limited network management controls.
- Bottom Line
The app-controlled Roqos Core is a decent Wi-Fi router with an unusually attractive design, but its security and parental control features didn't shine in our testing.
All of your devices need malware protection, and all of your children's devices may also need parental control. Even with modern cross-platform suites that let you remotely control all installations, getting the local security client installed on every device can be a pain. With the Roqos Core router and service, you don't have to worry about those local installations. All of the action takes place in the router, which you control with a simple smartphone app. The device itself is attractive. It comes in your choice of three colors, and all of its antennas are hidden inside. And it earns decent scores in our router performance tests, too. However, the security features that set it apart from the pack need work.
Pricing and Features
At first glance, the $19.99 price for the Roqos router looks like a mistake. After all, most comparable routers cost hundreds of dollars. The difference here is that you also pay $17 per month for the cloud-based Roqos protection services. If you stop subscribing, you can still use the device as a router, but because all the configuration occurs through your online account, you lose the ability to make router configuration changes.
The Roqos Core isn't a typical router, nor does it look like one, with its choice of cream, ruby, or teal finishes. The low-profile device measures 2.1 by 6.4 by 6.5 inches (HWD) and is meant to be placed out in the open rather than tucked away under a desk or hidden in a closet. There are no external antenna, instead, its body houses five internal high-gain antennas along with a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage memory. It's an AC1600 dual-band router that can reach theoretical maximum speeds of 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band. Of course, we tested the router's actual speeds, and we'll report on them a bit later in this review.
The top of the router has a large LED backlit Roqos logo that glows solid blue when everything is working properly, blinks blue during setup, and blinks red when internet connectivity is lost. A solid red color indicates an unplugged network cable. Around back are four gigabit LAN ports, a gigabit WAN port, a USB 3.0 port, and an HDMI port. The USB and HDMI ports are not currently active and are reserved for future use.
Before you can start managing your security you have get the router up and running. Luckily, getting going with your brand new Roqos Core is a snap. It's a much easier process than setting up the Peace Wireless Router, a competing wireless security device. To start, you download the Roqos app to your Android or iOS smartphone.
The app walks you through all necessary steps, starting with connecting the device to the internet and hooking up the power. At this point, the device glows red for a short while, then blinks blue when it's ready. Like Circle with Disney, the Roqos Core initially broadcasts an unencrypted setup-specific hotspot. You connect your smartphone to that hotspot, log in with the credentials you established at purchase time, and proceed with setup.
During the setup process, you indicate your time zone and enter a name and password for the device's actual wireless hotspot. At this point, the preinstall hotspot has done its job, so it vanishes. As soon as your devices connect to the new hotspot, they're protected against malicious URLs and cyberattacks.
Parental Control Features
To use the parental control system, you start by defining a user profile for each child. Next, you associate each profile with the devices that child uses. There's no provision to apply separate settings for different user accounts, which could be trouble on a family PC used by kids spanning a range of ages. In such a situation, you might be better off with a traditional parental control tool like ContentWatch Net Nanny 7.
This one-user-per-device mode is common in hardware-focused parental control tools. Circle With Disney also assumes each child uses just one device. You can configure separate settings for different user accounts using the Peace wireless router, but the process is dauntingly complex.
For each child, you can configure scheduled pauses, times during which that child's devices won't connect to the internet. Just name the pause, tap the days of the week that it applies to, and select the start and end times. If a child is acting up, you can tap the pause icon at any time to cut off the internet, optionally setting a time to automatically resume. During a pause, the child doesn't get any kind of message or warning. The internet just stops working. The similar feature in Clean Router offers device-specific time scheduling, for those who can wade through the complex setup.
The content filtering system includes six categories: Auto Video, Blogs, Chat, Explicit Content, Games, and Social Media. That's a far cry from the 47 categories managed by software solution Symantec Norton Family Premier, or Mobicip's 86 categories. On the other hand, banning explicit content may be all you want to do. A child who tries to visit a banned site just gets a browser error message. The Roqos representative explained that this silent blocking provides "less intimidation and less domestic discussion between parents and kids."
You can also configure Roqos to force Safe Search in YouTube and popular search portals. In testing, we found that indeed Safe Search was turned on, with no way to turn it off again.
We put Roqos to the test, and found that it did block explicit content. However, we had no trouble circumventing its filter by using a secure anonymizing proxy. And there's no category to prevent use of such a proxy. That's a pretty big hole in the content filter.
Of course, parental control is just one feature of the Roqos service and router. It uses Deep Packet Inspection and other high-level techniques to detect and avoid "ransomware, malware, or suspicious activities." Specifically, it relies on the open source Suricata threat detection tool. And it gets all necessary updates automatically, with no effort on your part.
To put this feature to the test, we gathered a collection of malware-hosting URLs found in the last couple days by MRG-Effitas. We launched each of them on a test system connected through the Roqos device, and noted its response.
As with the parental control system, the browser simply did not load any page blocked by the device. Distinguishing Roqos activity from a true error is easy, though, because you get a notification via the Roqos app, including the device involved and the IP address of the suspect connection. There's no locally installed antivirus component, so Roqos has no way to identify and eliminate malware downloaded from a non-blocked URL. Out of 100 verified malware-hosting URLs, Roqos blocked access to just 16. That's a much poorer protection rate than achieved by local antivirus products. Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic managed 98 percent protection in this test, some at the URL level and others by detecting the downloaded malware.
Roqos should block exploit attacks as well, but we couldn't use our normal exploit protection test to confirm this. For safety purposes, we keep penetration testing totally inside the local virtual network. That means the Roqos router would never to see the dangerous traffic.
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Here's a nice feature—Guest Wi-Fi. This isn't the same as the guest hotspot option found in many routers. By default, it generates a temporary access code that you can share freely with visitors. When they've gone, you just generate a new code for the next guest.
In addition to parental controls and security settings, the Roqos mobile app offers a somewhat limited number of network management settings. In the Device menu, you can view statistics for each device including the IP and MAC address, which group the device is assigned to, and the online status. The Settings menu lets you enable internet blocking and guest networking, turn on the Ad Blocker and Cybersecurity Protection features, and access Advanced settings where you can create Port Forwarding rules, enable Secure Shell (SSH) capabilities, and change local network IP and Subnet Mask settings.
The Notifications menu is where you go to view recent security events and enable email notifications. Missing from the app are Quality of Service (QoS) settings for assigning network priority, wireless security settings, and wireless channel settings, although these will eventually be added in future app updates.
Router Performance Testing
The Roqos Core produced solid results on our close-proximity (same room) throughput tests but its range performance at 30 feet was middling. Its score of 89.6Mbps on the 2.4GHz close-proximity test was a good deal faster than the Tenda AC1900 AC15 router (53.4Mbps) and the Netgear AC1200 Smart Wi-Fi Router (R6220) (74.1Mbps) and just a hair faster than the Ubiquiti Amplifi HD router (85.9Mbps).
Our Editors' choice for budget routers, the Linksys EA6350 AC1200+ Dual-Band Smart Wi-Fi Wireless Router, scored 72.5Mbps. However, the Roqos only managed 35.8Mbps on the 30-foot test compared to the Netgear R6220 (48.3Mbps) and the Amplifi HD (76Mbps). The Tenda AC15 only scored 27.1Mbps on this test, and the Linksys EA6350 scored 39.3Mbps.
On our 5GHz close proximity test, Roqos delivered an impressive 450Mbps compared to the Tenda AC1900 Wireless Dual Band Router AC15's score of 304Mbps and the Netgear R6220's score of 331Mbps. The Amplifi HD's score of 459 took top honors, and the Linksys EA6350 delivered 427Mbps.
On the 5GHz 30-foot test the Roqos managed 116Mbps which was nearly identical to the Tenda AC15's (116Mbps) and a bit faster than the Netgear R6220 (104Mbps) but significantly slower than the Ubiquiti Amplifi HD Home Wi-Fi System (223Mbps) and the Linksys EA6350 (199Mbps).
While testing the Roqos Core, we asked the company representative about some features that we expected but didn't find. This elicited a whole laundry list of coming attractions, features expected in future versions.
At present, the parental control system doesn't log attempts to access banned sites. This feature is in the works, along with real-time activity, history, and even graphs. Configuration at the Windows user account level is also planned. The designers also plan per-site pausing, for example, to allow internet access during the homework hour, but ban specific distracting sites.
A built-in VPN is in the works, as well as the ability to block all non-US IP addresses. Here's a wild one—they plan to enable LTE-based backup internet access, in case the main ISP goes down. WE don't have full details on that one, but it sounds interesting. And, as noted, a future update will activate the available USB 3.0 and HDMI ports.
Security Needs Some Work
Roqos Core is more attractive than the average networking device, and while it isn't the best wireless router available, its router-specific test results ranged from average to above average. However, its parental control and security features are lacking. Given our test results, paying $17 per month for these features doesn't make sense right now. On the plus side, the router is remotely configurable, and the security features reside in the cloud. If the company rolls out enhanced features, they'll become active immediately.
If what you're after is a budget router, our Editors' Choice, Linksys EA6350 AC1200+ Dual-Band Smart Wi-Fi Wireless Router is our Editors' Choice, lists for $89.99. For thorough parental control, you still need a locally installed application like ContentWatch Net Nanny 7 or Symantec Norton Family Premier, both of which are Editors' Choice products. If you want a security suite that includes both parental control and protection against malware and hackers, try one of our Editors' Choice suites, Bitdefender Internet Security or Kaspersky Internet Security.
Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips… More »
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As a Contributing Editor for PCMag, John Delaney has been testing and reviewing monitors, TVs, PCs, networking and smart home gear, and other assorted hardware and peripherals for almost 20 years. A 13-year veteran of PC Magazine's Labs (most recently as Director of Operations), John was responsible for the recruitment, training and management of the Labs technical staff, as well as evaluating and maintaining the integrity of the Labs testing machines and procedures. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, John spent six years in retail operations for… More »
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