I was considerably objective before installing and configuring all of my devices on my home network for the Norton Core. I have a NUMBER of PCs and mobile devices in my house (I'm currently protecting 2 Windows 10 Laptops, 3 Macbooks, 5 iPhones, 5 iPads, 1 iPod Touch and 1 Android phone.) - I've never really thought about anti-virus or intrusion protection for my devices beyond built-in services (I own and use most of the above regularly - 7 of the above are for ME or for work!) and my kids were practically in kiosk mode just to use their phones and tablets for basic web and video surfing with restrictions maxed out.
But things are changing in my home - My oldest daugter is approaching her teens, and has her own cellular line now. My wife continues to want "just works" functionality, and didn't like the headache of WiFi coverage issues in our home, but also didn't like the Mesh network nodes everywhere. In addition, I see a growing need to provide additional parental controls NOW to my kids while they're young to set a precedent of management and use monitoring/limits for them as they get into the years where these devices could become a problem.
Thats where Norton comes in with the Core and the included suite of products:
At first it seems just like any other wifi device. And for the most part, the hardware is. The exception being that it is the FIRST device physically to cover my entire ~2500 sqft home with ONE DEVICE! I had resorted to a 4-node mesh network (one of the most popular) before this, and that offered decent coverage, but mesh networks still dont work well with things like video doorbells, certain wireless remotes and apps that depend on not being on a heavily segmented network - There's just too much going on behind the scenes in a mesh. This Core device covered the far reaches of my home well enough that I was still able to get my full Internet speed even at the furthest point. The other advantage over "Mesh" configs is that this device has an Ethernet switch integrated, so I can still hard-wire up to 3 Ethernet devices to the router without resorting to an external switch. This is old hat on traditional routers, but these modern devices seem to be eschewing wired ports which diminishes the experience for those of us running a home office with mini streaming servers, etc. that need the wired connection.
My only complaint with the device as a router, is that configuration is AGAIN only available via a mobile app - I dont like having to dig out my phone to make a network change or review parental control content and Id love a web interface at least inside the network to do everything. Also, said mobile app is pretty limited when it comes to actual network configuration - You can do port forwarding, reserve static IPs, etc. but there's no way to specify your own IP range if you have a preference as to the appearance of your class C subnet (nerd stuff/neat freak stuff, I know - I just prefer a "10.0" range vs the one offered (at least its not a "192" address range!)
Security Features/Management/Parental Controls:
On top of the router itself, which does a phenominal job of managing traffic, and offering strong signal, the software suite included is phenomenal. Norton bundles the Core with 1 year of included Norton Security Plus (a specialized SKU it brands as "Norton Core Security Plus" which offers a special licensing model also - Unlimited devices (PCs, Macs, and mobile) under a single subscription. This makes sense for the modern home where devices are burgeioning with digitally native kids, etc. The software is the same on mobile devices as is offered from Norton normally, and the PC version seems to be largely the same (I'm not closely familiar with the non-Core-aligned offering.) - The Norton Anti-Virus and Intrusion protection has always worked well, but it seems to be seamless in Windows 10 - No noticeable additional CPU or networking overhead. Every device on the Core network will want to have this installed, and I had no trouble with my Macs, iOS devices, Windows 10 PCs, and an Android phone installing the core software and saw no performance impact from real use.
The included Parental controls are two-stage as well - While most modern family-oriented home setups offer "bedtime" and "pause" controls for the network or device groups, Norton Core and the Core Security Suite let me configure the following:
- House Rules for each age group/child
- Web filtering/monitoring
- Text Message monitoring (Android Only)
- Time Limits
- Scheduled downtime
- Pause for users AND individual devices
- Appropriate sites filtering by age group
- Individual site blocking (useful for blocking Minecraft or YouTube on specific devices, for example)
This is all accomplished on-router and in concert with the parental control abilities of the Norton Security Plus and Norton Family cloud products bundled with this service. This means that your child's phone or tablet is equally manageable when roaming on other WiFi and Cellular networks even when away from home. This is a key differentiator of the service and device.
I didn't have any trouble installing the services, but it might be confusing for a non-IT person, as you need to install separate client apps for Norton Mobile and Norton family on each iOS/Android client, and separate Norton Security and Norton Family apps on desktop/notebook PCs. What's cool about the PC version is that you can specify management of each Windows user, so you can have a multi-user home PC or shared laptop that gets management for the kiddos, but Mom and Dad are free to be adults.
The intrusion protection and packet inspection seems thorough, and you can specify more stringent packet inspection, which may result in speed impact, but I kept everything at the recommended levels and it dind't seem to affect performance at all. Speed tests and local responsiveness weren't noticeably impacted.
The router configuration also protects Smart devices on your network as it analyses packet behavior for them, but you will want to turn off their "management" in the app, so as to increase your network security score, as you cannot install the software-side on IoT/Smart devices and the behavior analysis still happens.
The router is an elegant looking device, and even comes with cord management for the power and ethernet cables that would come from it. I didn't do too much testing on the included 2 (yes, TWO) USB 3.0 ports on the router, but when I connected a Thumb Drive or External HDD sharing was a breeze and performance was great! If this router supported iTunes sharing, we would be selling a home server! :)
All of this is free for the first year, but also WELL worth the ~$10/month thereafter. I'll be keeping this as my new home network and paying for parental controls as my kids grow... And as my home network becomes more and more complex. I'm still surprised at everything this thing can handle! I will be recommending this thing to anyone looking to get the most out of their home network and home security investments!