Home users’ networks are getting more complex and doing more tasks than ever: streaming media, handling online gaming, BitTorrenting, and more. The demands of such tasks require vendors to deliver robust networking products to market and make them easier for home users to set up and manage. Increasingly, vendors like Cisco, Belkin, D-Link, and now Netgear, with the desktop app Genie, are using apps to make devices easier to deploy and manage in a home network.
Netgear’s Genie app can be installed on a PC or Mac desktop, as well as on Android and iOS devices. The purpose of Genie is to make managing and configuring Netgear devices easier than by the conventional method—opening a browser to the IP address of the device and using the Web-based GUI. I took a look at the Genie Desktop version. The desktop app adds some capabilities over the Web GUI, such as real-time monitoring of the home network. Yet, I found error messages when testing it with the Netgear Centria, and some buggy behavior when using it to manage Netgear’s R6300 router, proving the app needs more fine-tuning. In addition, naming the mobile/desktop app Genie the same name as the Web-based interface of Netgear routers, is liable to confuse customers.
When you first setup a Netgear device—I set up and tested Genie with the Netgear Centria WNDR4720 and the Netgear R6300 11ac router—part of the initial setup process is asking you if you want to download the Desktop Genie. This is now standard procedure with newer Netgear devices, such as the Centria and the R6300.
You can also download the app for supported Netgear devices.
Once you install Genie, a shortcut is created on the desktop. Clicking Genie open brings you to the app’s home page. There are six panels you can click on to get to different configuration options: Internet, WiFi Connection, Router Settings, Network Map, Parental Controls, and ReadyShare.
I could see right on the Internet panel that the status of my internet connection was “Good.” Clicking on the panel gives you some ways to get real-time insight into your network traffic. You can run a speed test though either Netgear’s site or click a link to go to speedtest.net to check your bandwidth. There’s also a real-time traffic monitor which shows download and upload traffic in Mbps. You can use a slider to set the high traffic threshold for viewing this data; by default it’s set at 2Mbps.
At the bottom of the Genie window are ads for other Netgear products. These ads change frequently and seem to add some lag to interface. There is also a search field that lets you search Netgear’s support site and knowledge base. I performed a search for “QoS” and was taken to Netgear’s site with relevant links to peruse on QoS.
On the WiFi connection panel I could see my status as “Connected” since I was connected wirelessly. Clicking on this panel pulls a bar graph of all wireless networks in your proximity,and which are using what channel. Hover the mouse over each bar and it will show you which Wi-Fi networks are using what channel. Also displayed is the channel your own network is on, so if you have slow performance you can see if there are lots of other networks on your channel and change the channel if needed, to help boost performance.
There are two additional tabs in this view: Connect Wi-Fi – where you can connect to a network, and Manage, to manage the networks you connect to. When I clicked Manage, the interface text directed me to automatically connect to the available networks in the order listed below in a window, but nothing was listed. There is however, an “Add” button you can use to manually add networks. Still, networks in proximity should show up in that available network window.
Router Settings Panel
When you click the panel, “Router Settings,” there are tabs for managing guest access, a Traffic Meter tab which you can enable. This meter displays your network’s traffic information such as total upload and download traffic for a particular increment of time.
You can also opt to display the data as an average rather than a total. It took a good minute for the data to show up.
Another tab lets you download firmware. I clicked the tab and new firmware for the device I was testing the Genie app on, the R6300 router, was detected. I clicked again to confirm the upgrade and I was taken out of the desktop Genie app and forced to login to the web-based GUI.
In the GUI, I saw a message that new firmware was available and clicked “Yes” to upgrade. The upgrade process was fine. It’s kind of a pain that you have to go into two separate interfaces to upgrade the firmware but there is good workflow between the desktop Genie app and the web GUI.
Network Map Panel
The Network Map panel shows how many devices are connected to the network, and how your network is laid out (which devices are connected to the router and which are connected to the Internet) in an attractive graphic. From this panel, you can also enable access control and notifications when new devices connect to the network.
I had an issue after enabling access control. I saw nothing but a spinning icon and a “please wait” message. I waited about a minute and the icon stopped spinning. I was still in the same screen but the access control box I checked to enable the feature was unchecked. I tried again and the same occurred, I could not enable access control.
Parental Controls Panel
Click on the parental controls panel and a wizard helps you setup the OpenDNS-powered parental controls. The wizard requires you to create an OpenDNS account. Next, you sign into the OpenDNS account and set the filtering level you want—None, Minimal, Low, Moderate, or High. Each level is explained within the interface and the entire setup process including establishing an OpenDNS account is done within the interface, so I’m not sure why Netgear couldn’t do the same for the firmware update.
The sixth panel, ReadyShare is for managing storage attached to the router. When testing Genie app with the R6300 router; clicking the panel gave the option of setting ReadyShare mode to Basic or ReadyShare Printing for attaching a printer to the R6300.
When testing with a Netgear device that has NAS capability beyond attaching a USB storage device, like the Centria which supports SATA HDD storage, the Genie app’s ReadyShare panel will also give you the option to set up ReadyShare Vault—a backup app.
We’ll take a separate look at ReadyShare Vault since it’s a separate app for backup.
ReadyShare in Genie is straightforward to use and provides a way to easily manage storage device and printers attached to a Netgear products.
Network Management Apps: Here to Stay
Besides the six panels on the app’s Home page, there is also a left-side menu that includes all of the same panel options plus two additional menu items: AirPrint for setting up wireless printing to iOS devices and Network support, which gives you troubleshooting tools. These tools include Ping, Traceroute, DNS lookup, and computer profile—which gives details on the network interface and operating system of the machine Genie is installed on.
At the top of the Home screen is a clickable option to “retrieve wireless password.” Doing so, shows the wireless network’s SSID, password, and allows you to modify the security options or wireless channel. You can also export your wireless settings to a USB flash drive—convenient if you have to set a device back to factory settings and don’t want to go through configuring it again from scratch.
I understand this trend from networking vendors of using apps for managing devices—the word “apps” is very consumer-friendly, and telling the typical home user to use the IP address of a device for managing can seem daunting to some.
This new crop of networking device management apps are a step in the right direction. However, there are a few issues. First, I can’t fathom why vendors aren’t giving these apps different names from the traditional management interface. We saw this problem with Cisco consumer devices, when Cisco introduced cloud based apps called the Cisco Cloud Connect. That name was confusing for users who were familiar with the older management interface called Cisco Connect.
Netgear’s doing the same. “Genie” refers both to the app and the web GUI you get by accessing the IP address of a Netgear device through a browser. The naming convention should be distinct so consumers know when they are accessing the app and when they are accessing the web GUI.
I also had a few issues using Genie with the Netgear Centria. I detailed the issues in my review of the device; suffice to say that I received myriad errors using the Desktop Genie with Centria, one of the latest devices from Netgear, even though Centria is listed as a Genie-supported device.
I expect apps to continue to become the standard way to manage home networking devices, and the Genie Desktop is promising, but I don’t currently see it offering much more benefit or ease than the Web GUI, except that it’s easier for users to get to, and you can run it on any device. It’s a three-star earner for networking software. Hopefully, an update or two is coming sometime soon that will work out a few of its problems.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc