Interestingly, despite its identikit looks, the DIR-826L is actually about a third smaller than the DIR-645. There are also sensible tweaks to the design with less dust-catching grooves and some tasteful matt finishes. In fact the DIR-826L is even less obtrusive than the DIR-645 and makes the rare case of being a router which is actually worth displaying for the conversation it generates. A job well done.
It is only at setup that the DIR-826L starts to deviate from being a bog standard D-Link router. Interestingly D-Link differs from Cisco as its 'mydlink' Cloud platform doesn't replace the standard, more complex user interface we have come to expect from our routers but instead works as an alternative. Given the frustration expressed at Cisco's totalitarian introduction of CCC, power users in particular will welcome this halfway measure, but it does make setup less straightforward.
First users have to login to the router at http://dlinkrouter where they set a password and register for the mydlink service. This directs you to another site and there are several confirmation emails and router reboots along the way. Once done you can go to www.mydlink.com login with your username and password and remotely manage the router's connected devices, block unwelcome connections, customise notifications, alter wireless settings and change passwords. It certainly is easier than the standard D-Link router user interface, but it cannot match the sophisticated functionality of CCC or its intuitive drag and drop user interface.
It is a similar story with the mobile apps. 'mydlink Lite' and 'SharePort' are currently available for Android and iOS and the former mimics the basic functionality of the mydlink website while the latter lets you access files, music and video from devices (including NAS) on the DIR-826L's network. The latter is the more sophisticated app, but it has to be manually configured and we’ve seen simpler apps such as the superlative Air Video which do it better and don't require you to own specific networking equipment.
So with mydlink clearly in its infancy how does the DIR-826L stand up on its own? In reality not well. As we feared the lack of multiple antennas and the curious omission of the company's own SmartBeam technology mean the DIR-826L is not just behind the latest cutting edge 802.11n routers, it is annihilated by them.
At two metres the DIR-826L managed just 2.37MB per second (18.96Mbit) and 3.47MB per second (27.76Mbit) during the transfer of a 3GB file across the network using 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands respectively. This weak figure did at least hold up at 1.99MB per second (2.4GHz) and 2.66MB per second (5GHz) at 10 metres with a clear line of sight, but already these are speeds where streaming 720p video can suffer. Happily at 10 metres with a wall in-between drops from these figures were only marginal, but at a more challenging 13 metres with two standing walls in the way the DIR-826L collapsed to a near-useless 548Kbps (2.4GHz) and 628Kbps (5GHz) - barely enough for decent web surfing.