Give D-Link points for creativity. A router that serves overtime as a photo frame? Sure, why not? It’s already on the network. And if you thought the LCD display on Belkin’s N1 Vision was cool, D-Link’s widgety-looking 3.2" LCD on the DIR-685 ($209.99) is downright futuristic. The question is whether you think a 3.2" display—roughly the size of your palm—makes a practical, viewable photo frame within your environment. If not, then you’re probably back to using the display for router control...if you use it at all.
Fortunately, there’s a lot more to the DIR-685 than being a quarter-sized photo frame. While there’s no external switch for an easy short-cut, you can still configure the router’s options to turn it into an access point. There are menu options for configuring Internet access via a 3G USB adapter, as well as QoS support for specifically optimizing VoIP and streaming traffic.
Of course, the headline feature of this unit is that it’s a “storage router.” Normally, that means the vendor integrates a USB port or two and provides remote access to USB-attached storage. D-Link gives you two USB ports but then takes the unique step of adding a 2.5" hard drive bay into one edge. You could plant a top-end drive in that bad boy and have yourself 640GB or more of instant network-attached storage accessible by up to 64 user accounts or general FTP. With only one internal drive, there’s obviously no RAID support, so use this drive for redundant data you want easily accessible for outsiders, not as your primary storage location.
Other hot router features include a UPnP server and iTunes server for media streaming to compatible players on the LAN. The seemingly obligatory BitTorrent download manager is present (this requires a 2.5" HDD to be installed). We like that the DIR-685 can email alert and firmware patch messages to the admin. And yeah, getting LAN, WAN, and wireless performance speedometers on the LCD (and several other widgets besides) is still pretty cool, too.
D-Link did the right thing by putting four gigabit ports in place, although that’s pretty much expected at this price point. And for the price (which still shows as $299.99 on D-Link’s site), we would have expected 2.4/5.0 GHz dual-band support. As it is, the DIR-685 is 2.4 GHz-only, which seems a gaping oversight for a supposedly media- and streaming-savvy router. On the other hand, we dig D-Link’s SharePort feature, which makes attached USB devices appear as local assets to client systems running D-Link’s SharePort software. For these and several other small but useful perks, we found the DIR-685 to be one of this roundup’s most intriguing routers. If nothing else, it sets a positive example for the networking industry in how to innovate for a more experienced consumer audience.