We aren't huge fans of Linksys' older E-series of routers, like the E2000 for example. It appeared different from the usual crowd at the onset, but its glossy finishing and ashtray-esque form makes one wonder if Linksys could have done better. And thankfully, they did. The EA6500 is a vast improvement over the older generation where its design is concerned. We love the new matte material, and the curvy yet sleek profile. Similar to the E4200 we reviewed last year, the all-black dress code on the EA6500 is accentuated by a gunmetal "clasp" right in the middle of the unit, which makes the access point appear more like an expensive clutch bag rather than a wireless router. In the case of the EA6500, however, the clasp doesn't extend all the way across the top of the device like the E4200 does. The LAN and WAN status indicators have been relegated to the rear, which leaves only a single LED in the form of a sassy and white CISCO logo. This indicator stops blinking after the router is initialized.
The back panel features four Gigabit LAN ports and a single Gigabit WAN (Internet) port, labelled in blue and yellow respectively. Next to the switch sits two USB 2.0 slots, with support for content or printer sharing over the network. Other controls include a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button on the far left, a recessed Reset button, and an inlet for the power adapter. All in all, Linksys did a fine job in crafting the EA6500; from its design all the way down to the presentation of its I/O ports. There's one interesting item in its package worth a mention. Apart from the bundled Ethernet cable and power adapter, Linksys has thrown in a SimpleTap NFC card for mobile devices as well. Essentially, it enables any NFC compatible mobile device to connect to the router simply by tapping the card on the smartphone. The only catch is you'll require the Cisco Connect Cloud (CCC) mobile app for SimpleTap to work.
To configure the router, you may either connect to the Cisco Connect Cloud portal remotely or do so locally. For the former option, you'll need to associate the router with an existing or new Smart Wi-Fi account upon signing in to the CCC platform. The upside with this implementation is it is fairly painless. However, an online route isn't the best solution in some circumstances, like when you need to access the router to troubleshoot a faulty Internet connection for instance. Privacy issues aren't quite a concern now, considering that Cisco has since assured clients that the company does not track users' network logs or surfing habits. To configure the unit locally, access the "http://myrouter.local" page using the web browser, before clicking on the link at the bottom right that says "for local access, click here". This option wasn't obvious to us at the onset, and we feel compelled to highlight this. It also took a good 10 seconds before we were able to key in the router's admin password on the relatively sluggish Smart Wi-Fi interface. Impatient users, be warned.
The main splash page sports an attractive spread with network options listed under the Smart Wi-Fi Tools menu. The right flank is peppered with "windows" displaying various information about the router, such as its network status, device list, and so forth. Linksys' menu is noticeably less comprehensive compared to brands like D-Link or Netgear, but the core functions are present, such as wireless, security, media prioritization, and USB storage. You may prioritize both devices and applications, of which Linksys has provided an extensive list of common applications and MMO gaming titles within the drop-lists. In addition, both USB slots are capable of file and printer sharing over the home network with added support for DLNA and UPnP compatible devices. Parental Controls is fairly easy to use, with a configurable grid to block internet access for designated time zones. And lastly, this router is also backward compatible with 802.11n clients as well, although you may clamp it in AC mode with a 80MHz channel width if a compatible 802.11ac adapter is available.