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Router Management: Web Interface vs. App and the Trend Linksys Typifies

If you followed my reviews on the latest Linksys Wi-Fi 6/E routers, including the MX5 Velop AX, the MR9600, the MR7500, you’d note how I lamented the fact, among other things, you might think you must use the Linksys mobile app for the setup process, instead of the web interface.

(As it turned out, there’s a way to forgo this app and get the routers up and running using just the web user interface. You’ll find out how to do that in the lower part of this post.)

There’s been a trend in home networking that forces or coerces users into signing up for a login account with the vendor and associate their home network with it. It all started with the eero.

Nowadays, you’ll find this type of practice common in many vendors, such as Linksys, Netgear, TP-Link, each has its own tricks for the same objective.

In my opinion, this is a terrible approach that, among other things, causes privacy and security issues. Let’s find out the differences between using the good old web user interface and the mobile app.

Dong’s note: I first published this piece on August 8, 2020, and last updated it on May 29, 2021, with additional relevant information.

Before Image After Image
Here's Netgear's effort to steer users away from the web interface and lure them into getting a login account.

Router management: Mobile app vs. web user interface

In managing your home network, you generally have two options: A mobile app and a web user interface (UI) — or a web interface for short. Some routers make you choose one or the other, and others give you both.

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Web user interface: It’s real and isolated

For ages, the web interface has been the standard way to control home routers. As the name suggests, it’s a web page that you use a browser, such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Mozilla Firefox.

By default, the web UI is for local access. You can manage your router, hence your home network, when you’re at home. It’s just like the way you use your actual home, like your bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, etc. In other words, it’s real.

If you’re sophisticated enough, you can set up remote access via Dynamic DNS, and now you can watch your home and manage certain things from afar. It’s slightly less real but still within your control. For the most part, there are just you and your home router involved.

So the local web interface is good. It’s about you.

Eero 6 vs Eero Pro6 4
The eero is one of the first, if not the very first, Wi-Fi solution that requires a login account with the vendor to work.

Advantages of using the web user interface

While the look and feel of the interface can be intimidating at first, using this old-school method to manage your router has a lot of advantages, including:

  • It’s ubiquitous: Every computer (and smartphone/tablet) has a browser. As a result, when a router supports a web interface, you can manage it immediately. There’s no need to install an app beforehand. (In other words, it’s a pre-installed app available on all devices.)
  • It’s consistent: No matter what device you use, be it a Mac or a Windows computer or a mobile device, the web interface remains the same. More importantly, most interfaces — in routers of different vendors — share a high level of similarity. As a result, if you know to manage one router via the web interface, chances are you can do so on almost any other routers.
  • In-depth customization: Most, if not all, web interfaces allow access to all of the router’s settings and features.
  • Better privacy: You generally don’t need to register a login account with the vendor to use the web interface. Your router and, therefore, the home network will not connect to the vendor at all times. By default, no third party has access to what you and your family do online.

Mobile app

Using a mobile app to manage around is a new trendy option, starting with the boom of smartphones and tablets.

Due to the pressure of a new generation of users that generally lack patience and don’t bother with a real computer, most networking vendors have made a mobile app for their routers as an alternative (or supplemental) option to the web interface.

Asus Router App
Asus is one of a few vendors that provide an app (called Asus Router) that works without a login account.

The app is supposed to bring ease of use to end-users, and it might deliver that in certain routers. The Asus Router app, for example, works just like the web interface. It doesn’t require a login account with Asus to work.

So the app itself is not inherently bad. Rather it’s the intention behind the app that can be problematic. That’s especially true when a vendor attempt to turn you into a product via the app.

Mobile app: It’s all about your data

That’s right.

Have you ever wonder how exactly the app on your phone is linked to the router at home? There’s no magic. You likely pay for that with your personal information.

In fact, the mining of personal information is so lucrative that many vendors — such as Google or Amazon — have gone as far as taking the web interface entirely out of their home networking devices and make the app the only option. Others try to coerce users into the app artificially.

See also  eero Pro 6 vs eero 6: How to Get the Most out of Your Amazon Wi-Fi

So personally, I have a lot of issues with using the app for router setup and management.

Issues with using mobile app for routers

  • Extra hardware/software required: You must have a mobile device and install an app. That alone can be time-consuming and costly.
  • Privacy concerns: When a login account is required (which is almost always the case), the router and the app connect to the vendor at all times. As a result, your privacy can be compromised. That’s because the party you log into can keep tabs on your online activities or a portion of that.
  • You’re the product: If you ever wonder why a vendor would like to collect data from your network, the answer is, among other things, advertising. Your online habits reveal a lot about what you have bought and are going to buy. This type of information, collected over time, is a gold mine for the receiving end. In other words, you become the product. In most cases, the convenience of using the app is just a tiny gain when you consider the amount of data the app (and the vendor) collect from your network.
  • Limited network settings and features: Generally, the app doesn’t have the same level of access to a router’s settings and features. It’s restrictive due to the screen size and power of the mobile device.
  • Inconsistent experience: The vendor must design the app for a specific platform (iOS or Android) and then for particular screen sizes. And that’s a lot of work. So, it might work well on one and not the other. You will likely not have the same experience using the app on different devices.
  • It’s your router/network, or is it? You pay for the router. You should be able to use it independently from the vendor.

On top of that, there are also security risks. That’s because the vendor itself can be hacked, and when that happens, you have no idea who gets a hold of the data collected from your home network and what they’re going to do with it.

That has happened and will happen again.

Ubiquiti Data Breach
The recent dreadful message from Ubiquiti.

Above is a screenshot of a message Ubiquiti sent to its user in early 2021. Basically, it had used one of its AmpliFi routers, such as the AmpliFi HD or the Alien, your account was at risk at one point. (And nobody can tell you for sure it’s always safe going forward.)

The final thoughts

I’m a fan of owning a product outright. You pay for a router, and you should have the option to use it however you want. It’s yours, after all. App-based devices, to some extent, make the vendor the real owner of your device or even your network.

Also, networking is a complicated category. The deeper access and more control you have over your router, the better chance you’d get the most out of it. The Web UI generally gives you that. On the other hand, mobile apps tend to dumb things down. Consequently, using the app can turn you clueless about certain important aspects.

Finally, note that even when you opt for the web interface, there are routers (from Netgear, or TP-Link, Linksys, and more) that still ask you to sign up for a log-in account and link your home network to it. In this case, you’re not better off, privacy-wise, compared to using an app.

The point is this: Avoid using a login account when you can. Sometimes that’s as simple as paying a bit of attention during the initial setup process.

And that brings us to the next part, where I’ll show you how to avoid having to use a login account or the mobile app with Linksys’s new Wi-Fi routers or mesh systems.

(You can do similarly with Netgear’s or TP-Link’s devices, which are generally more self-explanatory — their local web interfaces are generally less deliberately neutered or obscured.)


Linksys MR7500 AXE6600 Hydra Pro 6E Routers Front
The Linksys MR7500 AXE6600 Hydra Pro 6E router is one of those that require you to pay a bit attention before you can forgo the mobile app or login account.

How to handle a new Linksys broadcaster using just the web interface

All Linksys Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E routers/mesh systems come with both the traditional web UI and the Linksys mobile app. But the networking vendor makes it look as though you must use the mobile app (and all that implies) to set up and use the device at all.

On top of that, by default, Linksys also deliberately removes advanced settings from the web interface to make similar the mobile app in terms of access and functionality.

You’ll learn here how to avoid the login account and mobile app entirely and bring most of the advanced settings back to the web interface. The information provided here is no secret, but it’s something Linksys sure wants to obscure from general home users.

Linksys Intellgenti Mesh Setup
Setting up a Linksys mesh system using the mobile app, while straightforward, is not always a walk in the park.

Steps to set up a new Linksys router or mesh system sans mobile app

Following are the steps to use a Linksys router’s local web interface for the initial setup process. Again, you won’t need your phone nor do you need to use the Linksys mobile app.

All you need is a computer with a web browser — all computers have one. Then follow these steps.

1. Note the default information

Flip the router up and take a look at its default information on the underside. This info includes the Wi-Fi name and password. There’s also a Recovery Key (or PIN) — make a note of it.

Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6Es underside
The underside of a Linksys Wi-Fi 6 router, note the default Wi-Fi network name and the Recovery Key.

2. Access the router’s web interface

Connect a computer to the router using the default Wi-Fi information mentioned above or a network cable.

Now access its web user interface by pointing a browser to the router’s default IP address, which (almost always) is 192.168.1.1 (no quotes). (Don’t know what this is? Find out more in this post about IP addresses.)

A webpage will open as you can see in the screenshot below.

Linksys UI Start Page
Ignore the message about downloading an app. Instead click on the picture of the app itself.

Ignore the message about downloading the mobile app. Instead, click on the picture of the app on the left. (Note that your mouse cursor’s shape will not change when you hover on the image to suggest the image is clickable, but it is.) A new page will open up, as seen in the next step.

3. Log in the interface

The new page will show the traditional login page of the router. Enter the default password, which is admin.

Linksys UI Password Page

Alternatively, or if the password doesn’t work, you can click on Reset password. You’ll be prompted to enter the Recovery Key. In this case, follow the subsequent steps to create a new password.

And that’s it. Now you can log in to the router’s local web interface where you can change the settings the standard way.

How to enable access to advanced settings in a Linksys Wi-Fi 6/E router

Once you’ve successfully logged into the web interface, there’s just one more thing to do to make sure you access the advanced settings of the router.

Linksys User Web Interface Main Page
Click on the CA link at the bottom of the web page will enable advanced access to the router’s settings.

Look for the word CA at the bottom of the webpage and click on it. (CA stands for consumer advocacy, by the way.) Now, the page will reload, and you’ll be able to access all possible settings of the router.

Here are a few screenshots of some extra settings you’ll find.

Linksys MX8500 Wi Fi Settings
The Wi-Fi settings now have more than “Mixed” option.

Linksys UI Firmware Page
You now can update the firmware manually.

Linksys CA Mode with Node Setup
The Linksys CA Mode also allows for adding satellite nodes to the main router without the app.

Using this trick, you’ll be able to set up and use your new Wi-Fi solution, be it a single router or a mesh system, without giving Linksys any personal information. If you want remote management, you can use Dynamic DNS.

Unfortunately, even with this trick, the option to backup the router’s settings to a file and restore it later or on a different hardware unit is still missing. Linksys told me that it would consider bringing that backup via a future firmware update. We’ll have to wait and see. I’d not bet on that, though.

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23 thoughts on “Router Management: Web Interface vs. App and the Trend Linksys Typifies”

  1. I just got a lynksys MR7350 and was just wondering if it is possible to use IP tables with this kind of routers. Right now I have an old router dlink router with ddwrt configure to direct all the DNS request from port 53 to port 54 to scape my ISP DNS hijack, otherwise no matter the changes I do with my DNS configuration my router will always use my ISP DNS. Is there a way to do this with this new routers?

    Reply
  2. I was actually looking at getting a Linksys Velop because it supports Apple HomeKit, which lets you stop HomeKit devices from communicating with the internet (or even other devices on your network), while still being controllable via the Apple Home app and Siri — so no phoning home.

    I can’t believe Linksys require an account to set up a Velop using its app. I work in data protection and what Linksys (and Amazon etc) is doing is straight up illegal under GDPR.

    I wish the data protection authorities were more proactive at pursuing illegal behaviour like this. Instead, their policies are currently to investigate only after receiving a complaint, so that’s what I will be doing as soon as possible.

    I’m quite busy but I’ll try and post the specific sections of the GDPR that Linksys is violating to help others if they would like to complain to the DPAs in their countries (assuming they are in Europe). Although that information isn’t needed for a complaint, it can speed it along somewhat.

    Reply
  3. Hello Dong, I love the work you do. Your information is top notch and informative.
    I have the ZenWiFi XT8 and use the web interface and mobile app. I don’t remember ever logging into the app or how I set it up, but I don’t see anyway to log out of it. Would you consider the Asus Router app to be safe from a personal data standpoint?

    Reply
    • Asus doesn’t require a login account, wen UI or App. I mentioned that in the post under the screenshot of the Asus app. You’re good.

      Reply
  4. I bought a Nighthawk RAX50 that required me to set it up using the mobile app. I got most of it set up and then finalized settings via the web interface, but that confused the app. The router is very slow at applying changes. The web interface feels very basic like something from the early 2000s. I’d rather have a router that doesn’t require using my phone and has a decent web interface to manage it. On a positive note, speed tests from my MacBook achieve upload speeds close to my Fios plan, unlike the Asus RT-AX86u. The screenshots of the Linksys interface look much better than Netgear.

    Reply
    • You can use the web interface to set it up, Casey. You just have to pay attention and ignore the mobile app coercion. They are all doing that these days.

      Reply
  5. I successfully configured the MR9600 out-of-the-box without downloading the app. The router works great. But the light is staying solid purple, which is supposed to mean that the router has not yet been configured. And it does not turn red like its supposed to when I unplug it from the cable modem.

    Reply
    • Same issue, JJ. I also set up via web interface and am left with a purple (awaiting setup) light.

      All seems to be working fine regardless of the purple light.

      We’ll see if OCD kicks in and I break down and download the app.

      Reply
  6. Thanks for the CA tip. I was just able to set my channels to the ones I wanted. Let’s see if it helps with the router’s issue of constantly becoming unresponsive.

    Reply
    • And to add… if the app is required for the mesh system setup, is there a way to disconnect from Linksys after initial setup? Would much rather they not have traffic information after initial setup.

      Reply
      • It’s a bit of a trick, but yes, Brian. You can just log into the Linksys account and choose to Close it. After that, you can keep using the system via the Interface. You won’t be able to add or remove nodes until you connect the the system to another account.

        Reply
  7. So I am going back and forth on: one to keep the Mr9600 and two how to configure it.

    I like the Linksys because the interface is just like the last few linksys routers I have had, once I enabled the more advanced settings.
    However, when looking at my EA8500, I realize I have the wifi settings pretty generic, mixed mode on both 2.4 and 5.0 and Auto on channel and channel width. I haven’t had a lot of issues but I am looking for better WIFI throughput thus the MR9600. Our Comcast connection is 1GB down, 20MB up using my own router and cable modem.

    Sitting at my desktop the wired speed is fine, would like better wifi for the house, about 1500sqft. My current router is in a rack in the basement and does ok, even on the 3rd floor since this isn’t exactly the best built house.

    So my question is, what settings to tweak in the wifi interface to make it better without causeing dropouts?

    Thanks for any insight.

    Reply
    • You seem to be one of those who love tinkering, Greg, which is great. But, then, you should move to an Asus router. To answer your questions, Linksys doesn’t allow for a lot of tweaks, I’d just leave the setting at the default (auto).

      Reply
      • I like to tinker if it solves a problem, not if it causes a problem. Now TBH I got this router for $200.00 as there was a big price drop on them last week. One of my issues with the ASUS is availability, seems like a lot of these routers are sold out of stock.

        Reply
  8. Thanks for figuring this out. I can’t stand having to use an app to do setup. I want to configure the router from my laptop and then connect it when I am sure all the settings are where I want them.

    Too bad about the inability to backup and restore settings, that is just stupid.

    Reply

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