Bitdefender thinks it has a solution with the Box. Now in its second generation, the Box is a cross between a home router and antivirus software. It does the usual home router tasks, but also scans devices for common vulnerabilities, and warns you of unusual behavior.
Easy to install, usually
Simple, quick installation is a focus of the Box. It comes with straightforward instructions that get the router up and running within five minutes. Bitdefender knows that you likely already have a Wi-Fi network, and so prominently includes the option to clone your existing network, which makes for a seamless transition. That’s an important feature given the number of Wi-Fi devices in today’s homes. Resetting ever smart speaker, laptop, phone, and game console is a chore the Box avoids.
We did run into an issue setting up the Box with a Zyxel C2100z router provided by CenturyLink. Setup was easy yet wired Ethernet speeds were mysteriously constrained. Thankfully, this initial issue seems an exception, since we had no problem configuring the router with several other networks.
Simple, quick installation is a focus of the Box.
Box is designed as part of a full ecosystem of Bitdefender products including its Total Security software (a one-year subscription is included). That means you’ll have to install Bitdefender on your PC and smartphones for fully functionally. The Bitdefender Central smartphone app makes that simple, as you can push email links to devices for quick setup.
The router’s performance is acceptable. It supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi over the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and we found it reliable at ranges of 20 to 30 meters, which is enough for most homes. Wired use is more limited because there’s only a single gigabit Ethernet port. This seems to be a trend among more modern, security-minded routers. Still, given the price, we’d like to see more ports. There’s no support for smart home standards like ZigBee of Z-Wave, either.
A watchful router
Once up and running, the Box is fully controlled through Bitdefender Central. Despite the name, Central is split between app and browser interfaces.
The app handles most tasks. You can use it to check up on data use, see what’s connected to your network, pause devices, and so on. It also delivers notifications; for example, it will tell you when a new device connects to your network, or when any protected device attempts to access a malicious URL. That latter feature is, we think, a key benefit for families. Maybe you’re being mindful of security, but what about everyone else who uses your computer or network? The Box can tip you off if someone’s gullible enough to click on an ad promising a free iPhone.
Given the price, we’d like to see more Ethernet ports.
We can’t tell you with certainty that the Box will defend against any threat, and even if it did protect against all malware at the moment you read this review, it wouldn’t protect against malware that exists tomorrow. A degree of trust is required. Luckily, there is reason to believe in Bitdefender. The company’s antivirus scores well in AV-Comparatives testing and has earned tops marks from the AV-Test Institute.
Parents may also be interested in the parental control features, which are mostly handled through the web interface. Box has the usual tricks, like restricting access by time or by type of website. It goes a step further though with phone management — and lets your kid check in as “safe” with the press of a button. An even greater degree of monitoring is available with Android phones, including real-time location tracking.
Box can detect threats through social media, too. The software can, if given proper access, alert you if someone asks for your child’s address. At the same time, the tool is built for a degree of privacy. Box doesn’t continually log conversations, but instead exposes only the messages it believes a threat. It seems a nice compromise between privacy and safety.
Security, at a price
The Bitdefender Box is expensive at $250. It comes with a year’s subscription to Bitdefender Total Security (with support for an unlimited number of devices) but, after that, you’ll need to spend around $40-$50 per year on the software. The Box will work as a router without it, but its network monitoring and parental control features will be severely curtailed.
That adds up to a good chunk of change. You’re likely used to free antivirus suites, and Bitdefender’s Box is a step in a different direction. Whether it’s worthwhile depends on your household. The bigger it is, the more sense the Box makes. A family of five will likely have at least five devices but, once you’ve added sensors and phones and laptops, it could be in the upper teens.
Just make sure you’re okay going all-in on the Bitdefender ecosystem and paying a subscription fee each year. This is not just a router. It’s a commitment.
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