A few years ago the Finnish anti-virus company F-Secure released their SENSE router. The promise was that it can be a shield protecting your home from dodgy IoT devices and other security concerns. The problem? It’s not very good.
The F-Secure SENSE is a security router with the aim of protecting your home network from dodgy IoT (Internet of Things) devices such as smart bulbs and smart fridges, the SENSE is a sleek glossy white plastic tower with an LED display that displays a clock and errors the SENSE might be encountering such as a lost internet connection. It features Wi-Fi, basic routing controls, and is controlled by an app.
Prices correct at time of writing.
The SENSE sells for £89 on its own, but requires a pricey F-Secure TOTAL subscription if you want any of the protection features. This puts the combined cost of the router and the cheapest 1 year subscription of F-Secure TOTAL (protecting 3 devices with anti-virus and every other device on your network with the router) at £164.99. For context, Bitdefender offer the Bitdefender BOX + 1 year subscription to their anti-virus for £129.99, protecting unlimited devices with installed anti-virus. Both F-Secure and Bitdefender have excellent reputations for providing best-in-class anti-virus solutions for Windows and macOS.
Competition is cheaper, but might not look as good.
Featuring Wi-Fi 5/ Wi-Fi AC1700, it offers reasonable speeds and a surprisingly good range of cover. Despite my phone dropping down a bar in the same room as the SENSE, it still had a strong connection in a part of the house that Wi-Fi previously dropped out in with a DrayTek VigorAP 902. If you set the SENSE up with an Android phone, you will have two SSIDs (e.g; ‘Cyberhatch Wi-Fi’ and ‘Cyberhatch Wi-Fi 5GHz’), and if you use an iOS device you can have either that or re-name the 5GHz network to make both SSIDs have the same name. There is a guest network feature too, so you can keep guests separate.
Competition may have faster Wi-Fi, but strength in previous dead-spots is very good.
As mentioned, the SENSE is controlled by the F-Secure SENSE Router app. The app is available for Android and iOS but the functionality between platforms is different despite the router having been available about 3 years before this review. I set the SENSE up initially on an Android phone but then moved over to my iPad to rename the 5GHz SSID to be the same as the 2.4GHz one, but to do that I had to factory reset the SENSE router and re-configure the entire network all over again. I moved the SSID and password over from the old network, but for those just use the default settings they will have to re-enter the new Wi-Fi password in on every device again. You cannot have multiple devices manage a SENSE router either, and there is no web based management interface. You cannot disable DHCP (but can define your own range + DNS servers), you cannot disable Wi-Fi. You can forward TCP and UDP traffic to internal devices, but you have to enter every port one-by-one with no support for port-ranges.
All of the problems from above might be fine if the router offered protection to your devices. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t. Well, it does. It’s just not very good. F-Secure provide malicious site blocking and may block some known files if the URL is known to be offering infected files, but beyond that it offers very little browsing protection. The EICAR test files are not blocked if the .ZIP versions are downloaded, and I doubt it will block virus infected downloads or email attachments. It doesn’t block pop-up ads on adult/torrenting websites so malicious advertising and infected ads can still get through to your devices. It offers no content filtering/parental control. SENSE also blocked outbound SSH and RDP connections for me (but you can add IPs/hostnames to the allowed list), but F-Secure claim it monitors IoT devices to ensure they’re not misbehaving. This is its only redeeming feature in my eyes.
My issue is that I could have spent £30-50 on Amazon for another router that offers essentially the same level of protection at no additional cost. The F-Secure TOTAL subscription that is required for the security features on the SENSE to work is a rip-off. £99 /year for 3 devices is unacceptable, but TOTAL does include F-Secure’s excellent Freedome VPN app. If you get it for free or discounted, it may be worth it if you can get a SENSE router for free. But otherwise this is not a product I could recommend to anybody. The extremely basic management options and feature-set is unacceptable when the competition offers far more for less money. I understand this device is aimed at consumers who don’t have much need for advanced features but the cheapest of the cheap competition offers it. The idea of a security router with content filtering is nothing new, but outside of the enterprise they rarely charge anything for the service (even DrayTek’s CSF pricing for the Vigor 3900 is £89.00 /year, and that’s an enterprise grade router intended for hundreds/thousands of concurrent users and offers granular levels of content filtering control).
Network Protection: 1/5
Why do I need a subscription for it to work when it doesn’t even do very much that other brand content filtering offers for free?
Overall? Don’t bother. Get the Bitdefender BOX if you want protection, it can’t get any worse than this. Its target market is people who want Wi-Fi and security and don’t care about features, but it doesn’t even offer the security side of things very well. It’s overpriced, underfeatured, and massively disappointing. It looks good, but even that can’t save it. F-Secure have recently entered into a partnership with ZyXel to offer ZyXel routers and F-Secure protection (branded confusingly as F-Secure SENSE) with many more features that haven’t been back-ported so they have clearly moved on from their own-brand SENSE Router.