Skydog review

Skydog offers rich and comprehensive cloud management over a home network. The service is so good at monitoring network activity and controlling content, your kids may call it the "snitch" router.
Photo of Skydog

Skydog is a dual-band consumer router recent to hit the market and unique in that it’s the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. This isn’t a router that amazes with its speeds and feeds. Instead, it offers the richest, most comprehensive cloud management over a home network that I’ve ever tested. Skydog is so good at monitoring network activity and controlling content, I can imagine kids calling it the “snitch” router.

The hardware and native feature set is not suited to hardcore networking geeks, businesses, multiple online gamers sharing the same network, or any other heavy-duty, throughput-demanding tasks. However, for parents looking to lock down and monitor the kiddies’ Internet activities, or for those primarily concerned with knowing who or what is accessing their home networks, Skydog is a great choice.

Specs and Design
Skydog’s price is $149 for the router and a three year subscription service. After three years, the price for the cloud management service is $30 per year At first, because of the relatively simple hardware specs, I thought that price was a little high. However, after testing how well the service works, it’s a fair price.

The design is reminiscent of routers pre-2008. There are no bells and whistles, or glowing logos (although there is an adorable logo of a doggy wearing a cape on the housing). Skydog is a rectangular, small, glossy box. Atop the device are LEDs for WPS, power, each LAN port (there are four Gigabit ports), Wi-Fi status, and the WAN connection. On the back panel are the power connection, WAN/LAN ports, a USB 2.0 port, and a reset button.

In the documentation shipped with the router, there is a note that the USB and WPS features are currently disabled and reserved for future use. Initially, I was puzzled by this—surely these aren’t exotic features and should come as standard with a dual-band router. However, as I tested Skydog and experienced how granular the cloud service control is, I thought it a good idea that the company takes its time to extend that level of management via the cloud to any printers or external devices that may attach to the USB ports. Not sure why the WPS isn’t available, but I’m not a big fan of WPS anyway. I find it works wonky half the time on any router.

Skydog is an 802.11n router, with Qualcomm based 2×2 MIMO configuration. It uses an Atheros chipset and supports up to 300 Mbps at both the 2.4 and 5GHz band.

Unlike the case with most dual-band routers I test, I couldn’t configure either wireless radio in “802.11N-only” mode. I could only set each band to a “Mixed” mode, for example, 2.4GHz in Mixed N, G mode or 5GHz in 802.11N, A mode.

A company spokesman said this is because 802.11N-only mode is achieved at the driver (software-level) layer. The Skydog router is controlled at the physical layer, hence, only Mixed mode is available. The company plans to add the “N-only” option in its next firmware/cloud release at the end of the year.

Newer dual-band routers are shipping with 802.11ac and 3×3 MIMO configuration. So Skydog does not have cutting edge hardware but should suffice for email, Facebooking, and video streaming in homes without multiple devices streaming video at the same time.

Skydog Setup
Skydog ships with a quick install guide. There are two sets of set up instructions. The first is for if you already have a router in place that you want to swap out with Skydog and the second is if you don’t have a router, or a modem that provides DHCP (or aren’t sure that you do).

In either case, set up is fairly straightforward. I connected my DSL modem to the Skydog’s WAN port and then connected an Ethernet cable from my laptop to one of the router’s LAN ports. You can also connect to the router wirelessly since it has a pre-configured SSID.

You have to wait about 90 seconds before accessing the browser-based setup page. Load the page by typing in “setup,” http://setup,” or the default IP address of the router (provided in the instructions) as the URL.

Actually, I didn’t have to type anything. As soon as I fired up Internet Explorer, I was directed to Skydog’s site. From this page, I could view an overview video about Skydog, sign into the page with a Google account, or create a Skydog account—which is what I did.

Creating the account was quick and easy. After signing in, I had to register my router with the Skydog service. The router’s registration is based on the device’s UIC (Unit Identification Code) which is on a sticker at the bottom of the device.

Skydog has managed to do far more elegantly what major networking vendors including D-Link and Cisco Linksys fumbled a bit on: making signing up and registering a networking device with a cloud service a painless and easy process. D-Link has its own cloud capability with the mydlink app to manage its line of cloud routers and Cisco offered its Cisco Connect Cloud service both of which were confusing and problematic to use at each of these vendors’ services launch. Kudos to Skydog for a refined signup and registration process between its hardware and cloud service.

One minor annoyance with Skydog: as you are going through setup, the power LED blinks a reddish amber. When the router is completely set up and ready to go, the LED glows a steady amber color. I do not like to see red, orange, or amber colors on networking devices unless it’s used as a warning, as is traditional with most networking hardware. Any other color would be better to indicate a successful setup.

The final step of set up asks if you want to have the router configured automatically (by clicking the hip, “Make it Happen!” button) or if you want to customize on your own. I opted for the automatic configuration and this created a wired and wireless network with a single zone of service (meaning devices can all connect with one another—this can be changed at any time). The automatic configuration also set security to WPA2-Personal.


Features and the Skydog Experience

The highlighted feature of Skydog is that the router— the entire home network, actually— can be managed via a web browser or from a mobile device, from anywhere at any time.

I was a bit confused at first where to go to start managing the router and settings. While the setup guide provides very detailed setup instructions, you are kind of left hanging about what to do afterwards. On the back cover of the guide however, is the URL for the Skydog cloud service, so that’s where I went.

Once you login to the Skydog site, you are presented with a visually- appealing dashboard. The dashboard provides a snapshot of activity on your network. A pie chart displays overall Internet usage. Click on the chart to drill- down on more information such as how much bandwidth each device uses, the amount of traffic coming from wired versus wireless clients, and so on.

The home page also provides a bandwidth speed test which you can initiate at any time and which shows your Internet up and down speeds. In fact, during setup, the speed test was done automatically and the results were sent to the email account I used to create my Skydog account.

I also noticed that any time I connected a new device to the router, I was sent an email. This notification process happened automatically. I did not have to configure anything within the interface. Why is this useful? Because you get automatic notification if someone (or some device) leeches onto your network who shouldn’t be!

When devices connect to a Skydog network, you can create users and associate them with devices. This is key to content management. I can create a user and associate her account with a tablet, for example. I can then apply any of the number of preset content filtering templates to her account. Skydog offers templates that range from unfiltered access to ones that block adult or political or gambling sites as well as a ton of other catagoriescategories. Of course, you can create your own templates as well.

This content management and level of parental control is what is really impressive about Skydog. With many parental control solutions, the solution only controls the one device it’s installed on. If you want to have more devices to control, you have to install parental controls on every device.

With Skydog, you can control every device that connects to the router including devices that normally lack any sort of content filtering such as gaming consoles.

The only “regular” parental control tool that comes close is Editors’ Choice AVG Family Safety, which has the ability to “push” settings up into supported routers.

You can also create “watchlists.” For instance, you can create a watchlist for Facebook and then apply it to a user. This will keep track of how long that user is on Facebook.  With watchlists, you can log active usage or all traffic to a particular site. You can send yourself an alert if little Johnny has been on Facebook or a gaming site for more than four hours.

Skydog also allows you to schedule Internet access (as do most parental control solutions). I found the interface to do so a little unintuitive at first, but once I got the hang of it, it was quite simple to use. You drag the cursor over a block of time and days and can apply that schedule to any user. It’s a great way to make sure the kids only have Internet access during the week at the times you want them to have access. There is also an “override” button that you can use to block access immediately.

You can also create different “zones” or networks. By default, Skydog has a Work zone and a Guest zone that you can enable (the Home zone is created and enabled upon setup). Once you set up zones, you can assign different bandwidth levels to each zone.

The interface offers a balanced template which distributes bandwidth across each zone evenly. Click the Edit button on this settings page and a slider appears that allows you to adjust bandwidth allocation. You can also prioritize traffic, for instance, you can make “Work” a high priority zone, meaning the devices and users attached to this zone will receive the highest priority bandwidth. The interface allows you to enable Traffic Shaping for each zone, fine-tuning QoS (Quality of Service) to improve performance.

Skydog also supports features you find typically in routers including NAT, SPI firewall, DMZ and port forwarding. It also supports WPA2-Enterprise RADIUS security but there is no VPN service. Some additional capabilities are that it works with 3rd party DNS services such as OpenDNS, and you can disable any of the LAN ports from the interface, remotely. The interface also offers very good contextual help that you can access in case you have any questions about any of the features. 

You can access the Skydog service to remotely manage from a phone or tablet. There is no app to download or install. Instead, the Skydog site uses HTML5 and you can create a shortcut on your mobile device to the service.

Performance
While the Skydog cloud service is excellent, the hardware rates only a “good.” As mentioned, the hardware specs are a bit dated compared to a lot of the newer dual-band routers on the market. Still, the throughput I received in testing is sufficient for most web-related browsing for multiple devices connected to a single network.

Performance is on par with other 2×2 routers I’ve tested such as the Cisco Linksys E3200. At 15 feet from the router, Skydog managed 55Mbps versus the E3200′s 50Mbps. It’s speedier at 5GHz, clocking 83 Mbps from the same distance.

The router delivered the performance I expected and that’s good. I also noticed that as I moved farther away from the router in testing, throughput did not drop significantly, indicating the router offers decent range coverage. Click the links below for full performance results.

Click here for Skydog’s 2.4GHz performance results.

Click here for Skydog’s 5GHz performance results.

Not a Dog of a Router
Color me impressed by Skydog. This is the ultimate family-friendly router. Is it a choice for childless-hardcore gamers who love to tweak their networks and want maximum performance? No. This is a router for families who want granular control over content and for anyone who wants a way to actively monitor their home network access. I would love to see this service with more robust hardware in the future. Until then, it’s still a four out of five star router and an Editors’ Choice for consumer routers.

Specifications
Device Type Router
Networking Options 802.11n (2.4+5 GHz Dualband), 802.11n (2.4+5 GHz Dualband)
Access Control Lists Based on MAC Addresses No
NAT Yes
IPv6 compatible No
Chipset Atheros
Parental Controls Yes
Stateful Packet Inspection Yes
Security WPA2, WPA2-Enterprise

Verdict
Skydog offers rich and comprehensive cloud management over a home network. The service is so good at monitoring network activity and controlling content, your kids may call it the "snitch" router.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc