Thursday, January 21st, 2021

Firewalla Blue / Plus Review: A Little Capable Watchdog with Some Catches

Firewalla Blue Plus
The Firewalla Blue / Plus is a tiny little blue box that could.

You’ll likely be amazed by the Firewalla Blue or Blue Plus. Each is a tiny device that can do so much. Almost instantly.

Indeed, connect it to your router, and you’ll be able to monitor, manage, and view the status of your entire home network, in great detail, with ease. And the performance panned out well in my testing, for the most part.

In all, if you have 500Mbps or slower Internet and feel a bit cavalier about your privacy, or if you trust Firewalla, this little Blue cube is an excellent home protection investment for the one-time cost of some $180, or better yet pay another $20 for the Blue Plus. Get one!

Dong’s note: I tested the Blue Plus for this review, but you can expect a similar experience with the slightly lesser Firewalla Blue. As the name suggests, the former is essential the latter plus a bit more.

Firewalla Blue Plus

8.4

Performance

8.0/10

Features

8.5/10

Design and Setup

9.0/10

Value

8.0/10

Pros

  • Super easy to set up and use
  • Lots of useful and well-designed network protection, monitoring, and managing features
  • Intuitive mobile app and web interface
  • Compact design
  • No subscription required

Cons

  • Privacy concerns
  • Causes Internet to max out at sub-500Mbps
  • No PoE support
  • VPN is a bit hard for home users to set up
  • Excessive notifications

Firewalla Blue / Plus: A colorful home firewall application

There’s nothing blue, as in depressing, about the Firewalla Blue. It’s an exciting product. But yes, it’s totally blue all around and does look a bit underwhelming.

Firewalla Blue Plus
The Firewalla Blue is, well, totally blue. Note the included 16GB miniSD card.

Tiny design, simple setup

So yes, I had low expectations getting the Blue Plus out of the box.

This is a tiny cube — almost tiny enough to be a choking hazard — with a Gigabit port on the back to connect to an existing network (like a router or a switch) and not much else.

In fact, the Firewalla is so small that it’s such a shame not to be a PoE device. The included power adapter, which is smaller than that of a phone, seems a bit too big for the device itself.

The Blue uses a micro-USB port for charging and has another USB-A port currently of no use as far as I know. On the front, you’ll find a miniSD card slot already occupied by an included 16GB SanDisk card that works as its storage — don’t remove it!

And finally, on the underside, you’ll find a QR code for the setup process. And this code is all you need. Run the Firewall mobile app on your phone, scan this code when prompted and you’re all set.

Once set up, the Firewall Blue virtually inserts itself in between the router and the rest of your network. Virtually because it’s physically attached to the network at the same level as all other devices. Nonetheless, it functions as a firewall and, among other things, allows you to monitor your home via the mobile app.

Note on ease of use: By default, the Firewalla works via ARP spoofing and therefore is compatible with most home routers. If you happen to have one that is not compatible, you’ll have to opt for the DHCP Mode, where the setup gets more involved and only suitable for advanced users.

Firewalla Blue: Detail photos

Firewalla Blue Plus
The Firewalla Blue / Plus’s retail box.

Firewalla Blue Plus
Out of the box, the Firewalla Blue / Plus comes with a charger, a USB charging cable, and a network cable. It’s ready for action.

Firewalla Blue 6
The Firewalla Blue is quite tiny. Here’s it’s front with the miniSD card slot.

Firewalla Blue 9
Here’s is the back of the Firewalla Blue Plus. Note the network and USB ports.

Firewalla Blue Bottom
The QR code for the setup process can be found on the device’s underside.

Firewalla Blue 8
Here’s another close look at the Firewalla Blue Plus’s ports.

Firewalla hardware specification: Red vs. Blue vs. Blue Plus vs. Gold

Other than the Blue, Firewalla comes in a few flavors. They all share the same set of core features and differentiate only in the capacities and advanced features.

All of these are add-on devices that you connect to an existing network, except the Gold version, which is a full-fledged non-Wi-Fi router that can host a network on its own. I might do a separate review on it at a later time.

Which Firewalla to get?

For most homes, the Blue is a good fit.

If you have a home with lots of devices, the Blue Plus might be more suitable — it has double memory and, therefore, is more capable.

The Red virtually the same as the Blue but designed for those with sub-100Mbps Internet — so I’d skip it.

All the three above will give you the same core experience. Get the Gold only if you plan to add Wi-Fi broadcasters separately — it’s also the only one that can handle Internet speed faster than 500Mbps.

 

Firewalla Mobile App
The Firewalla mobile app allows or quickly apply certain setting to all or select devices.

Excellent mobile app and sleak web interface

Like all add-on security devices, the Firewall Blue (as well as all other versions) requires the Firewalla mobile app to work. And to use the app, you need a login account with Firewalla and all that implies — more below.

In return, you can manage your home network from anywhere in the world, as long as you have Intenet on your phone.

The app worked well in my testing. On my Pixel 3 XL, it launched fast and was always responsive. Most importantly it allowed access to all of the Firewalla Blue’s settings and features with an excellent level of detail.

But if you’re like me and prefer the web user interface, you can have that too.

Here’s how: On an Internet-connected computer, navigate a browser to my.firewalla.com, and you’ll get to a page with a QR quote. Now on your phone, run the Firewalla app, hit the Firewalla Web button to scan the quote, and voila, you can access the device’s web UI. The whole process is quite neat.

The web interface makes working with things easier since you can use a big screen and a set of mouse and keyboard. However, it has the same level of access as the mobile app.

Firewalla Web Interface
The Firewalla’s web interface is like that of the mobile app, but the big screen will make working with things much easier.

Effective features, flexible controls

The Firewalla Blue has a lot of features and settings but the following are the prominent categories:

  • Protects home devices from cyberattacks
  • Content filtering and safe search
  • Detailed insights into your home network
  • Ad-blocking and data usage monitoring
  • VPN server and clients

I tried them all out, and they worked, though not as you might imagine.

For example, the protection feature, called Active Protect, can only be turned on or off. It works behind the scenes, and you generally have no say in what it does and how it does it. But it did prove to be a layer of protection for the entire network, in my trial.

Content filtering allows for blocking Internet access, porn, social, gaming, video, and so on. And that worked. However, you can’t block a particular website, nor can you set up a comprehensive schedule. Instead, you can quickly invoke it on any or all devices, for an hour at a time.

The Ad Blocking feature kind of worked in my trial. It wasn’t super effective. While it blocked text and image ads, the frame of the ads still appeared. So if you hope to keep a web page uncluttered, that’s not gonna happen. Also, most video ads still got through.

The VPN feature also took a bit of work for me to set up. It’s easy enough for advanced users but still far harder than the TelePort feature found in Ubiquiti AmpliFi routers, such as the Alien. The Blue can work either as a VPN server or a VPN client, where it turns the entire network to be part of another at a remote location.

In all, I loved the flexibility of the app. For any of the available features and settings, you can set it up manually and apply that to a certain number of connected devices or all of them. Or you can also tap on a device, view its details, and then apply a setting manually.

Firewalla Mobile
The Firewalla Blue gives you lots of details about each security incident.

Another thing worth noting is the level of detail. The Blue treats each suspicious activity as an alarm. You’ll get a notification when each happens. Or you can proactively view them all on the Firewalla app’s interface. And when you tap on one, you’ll see a ton of information about the event.

For example, I used a couple of Arlo security cameras that upload recorded security footage to Arlo’s server. Each time this happened the Blue detected data being transmitted out of the network and referred to that as an “Abnormal upload” alarm.

When I tapped on the alarm, not only I saw the time when the upload happed, the IP address of the destination server, the amount of uploaded data, the port that was used, etc., but also the location of the server on a world map.

Yes, I could find out all that information manually, but the idea here is that you can see everything in one place via just one tap. You could get used to that convenience fast. I know I did.

Some catches

For this review, I used Firewalla Blue Plus for more than a week, and it was overall a fun and positive experience. That’s not to say the device is perfect. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The privacy issue

First of all, like all firewall devices, the Firewalla virtually puts itself in between your router and the rest of your network. That means all of your Internet traffic, inbound and outbound, goes through it. Consequently, folks at Firewalla can collect a lot of information from you.

Here’s the company’s lengthy Privacy Policy. (Or check out this page of friendly-worded FAQs on the matter that Firewalla provided me.) You’ll note the device does collect quite a bit of information. Again, that’s the nature of any vendor-assisted firewall hardware.

Reduced Internet speed

The Firewalla Blue / Plus will throttle your Internet down to slightly slower than the speed it can handle, which is 500Mbps.

Firewalla Internet Speed
My Internet speed before (top) and right after the Firewalla Blue was installed.

In my case, I had a cable plan with over 600Mbps download. With the Blue plugged in, my broadband immediately reduced to below 500Mbps and remained that way. When I unplugged the Blue, within half a minute, things got back to normal.

That said, keep in mind that you’ll have to sacrifice a portion of your Internet bandwidth when using this device. And if you have a super-fast broadband connection, chances are you’ll lose everything over 500Mbps and then some.

That’s quite normal, however, and also what I experienced with other similar devices, such as the TrendMicro Home Network Security.

So, pick the Blue or Blue Plus only if you have 500Mbps or slower Internet. Else you should go with the Firewalla Gold or skip this type of device at all.

Excessive notifications

The Firewalla app, as mentioned above, is a bit oversensitive and treats almost everything that takes place within your network as an alarm.

As a result, if you opt to have the notification turned on, which is the default setting, be prepared to get bothered constantly. It can be ridiculous.

Indeed, every time somebody in your home starts a game, stream a video, search for something even slightly controversial, or just do whatever online, you’ll get a notification on the phone.

In my case, the uploads of the Arlo cameras alone were enough to drive me nuts.

Yes, you can turn the notifications off (which I did), but then, you will get no update even when something bad happens, unless you check with the app. It’s a bit of a dilemma.

For now, the notification is an all or nothing approach. Hopefully, the app will allow for picking and choosing when and what you’d like to be notified via updates.

Conclusion

As a home firewall box, the Firewalla Blue / Plus is way ahead of the Trend Micro Home Network Security, on all counts.

The device works well and is super user-friendly. In a way, it puts your entire home network in your palm for you to manage, at any given time, no matter where you are. And for that, it’s worth the relatively pricey one-time cost.

So, the only sticking point is the matter of privacy and the Blue’s slight adverse effect on the Internet speed. And that the call you have to make.

Personally, I decided to stop using the Firewalla despite the positive experience. For one, I can do most of what it has to offer manually. Most importantly, it recently took me quite a bit of effort to get to the 600Mbps download speed. I’m not gonna give that up easily.

8 thoughts on “Firewalla Blue / Plus Review: A Little Capable Watchdog with Some Catches”

  1. What do you think about the Synology RT 2600AC router’s (SRM) Threat Prevention feature? Is it similar and comparable to Firewalla on most of it’s features? Or is it different?

    Thanks for your expertise.

    Reply
      • Thank you for your prompt reply. Could you elaborate on how Firewalla is heavy on monitoring? In what way? How is that different from Synology Threat Protection? Doesn’t the Synology router also monitor in some way? I’m a newbie at home networking, so any information would be helpful. Thank you again for your expertise.

        Reply
        • I mentioned that in the review, Manny. It basically monitors all activities within your network and spams you with notifications. All applications of this type are similar and different by degrees. I can’t go into details, nor should you expect that from me — your need to find books or take courses if you want to know the intricate details.

          Reply
  2. arp poisoning / spoofing is slow, terrible, and unsuitable for anything.

    how can anyone justify not putting a firewall inline? double nat is far preferable to arp spoofing and thats bad enough.

    its sad to see cheapskates try and charge big bucks for artificially crippled firewall machines. put two damn ports on there.

    i run my own firewalling on my own vanilla hardware and pay less, can attach a keyboard/mouse/monitor in a break glass situation. this firewall industry is mostly a joke and none of them keep the damned kids from playing fortnite and watching youtube crap effectively. nothing l7 or intelligent goes on with these piece of garbage, and people care and ooh and aaah over L4 firewalling stuff which has been doable with iptables for 20 years (or pfsense, etc).

    Reply
    • @Mick Russom, Hi Mick, what makes Dong’s site stick out above most, is that is very understandable for a layman. I also think I’m not alone in this. I read your review and I do not understand a word of it, but you end with a harsh judgement. Perhaps you could elaborate for the audience on this site. I’m curious in what you have to say.

      Grtz Henk

      Reply
    • @Mick Russom, while I agree with most of what you said, you are wrong on the Firewalla. I have no affiliation WITH firewalla except owning a Gold and while not currently a Network Engineer, I still hold 2 of Cisco’s certifications. I know my way around the network and have a highly customized router, but I still couldn’t truly accomplish what the Gold did. Take blocking YouTube or Fortnight. I spent hours hunting down the IP ranges of Google and Google video.com and then GogVid, etc. And after hours of work, they judr add a new range. I never could block them all. Sure, I could segment my network and run everything thru a proxy and then filter out video feeds, but then I have to run another box, maybe two and to be honest, who wants to do all that for your spouse to then say, “let the kids watch YouTube for an hour”? However, I put up the Firewalla Gold and tap a button twice (first to block it for 1 hour and the second will block it until you unblock it) and poof YouTube and I can unblock it just as quick. There is even a “Family Hou” setting so you can setup an hour that you designate to force you kids to come to dinner and participate in an actual conversation. So, in conclusion, can you manually do everything this can do? Yes. Can you do it in a one box solution like they did? Maybe.. If you had the time, effort, and equipment (on-hand or willing to buy it), but you will have to invest hours to get it running and keep it running, especially if you have a layperson spouse who thinks the “internet” is at her whim since she is married to a “Computer Expert”. For me, it is worth every penny and I’m not paying $400 or $600 annually for the firewall subscription from the other players in this arena.

      Reply

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