Admittedly, we were a bit hesitant when Cisco contacted us with jubilation over a router, but now we can kind of see why. The company has pulled in design experts from its recently-acquired Flip for what it's banking on is a much simpler and friendlier user experience, from the packaging to the set up and maintenance menus, with a new lineup of routers it's calling Valet. The hardware itself is not too shabby -- it'd probably be quite inconspicuous in a Tomorrowland exhibit -- but the internals are nothing mind-blowing. Both the Valet and Valet Plus offer 2.4GHz Wireless N, while the latter model boasts a longer range and a quartet of Gigabit ports (the standard only uses 10/100).

Eschewing the usual CD installation key is what Cisco's calling the USB Easy Setup Key. Similar idea to the other routers, just plug in and install the software. After two clicks of the menu, it auto-located our Valet and connected to a newly-minted, protected wireless service (in this case "BusyFish") with the password saved in our keychain. Adjusting guest access and parental controls are easy enough, and nice part of the USB key is that you can write the settings onto it, letting you simply plug it into another computer and auto-load the settings. Manual controls are still available and should be fine for most readers. Nothing mind-blowing, but for the audience Cisco's targeting, it's definitely a step in the right direction. According to Cisco, availability is "immediately" and prices are $100 for Valet and $150 for Valet Plus. Press release and oodles (yes, oodles) more pictures after the break.
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Cisco Valet hands-on

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Cisco Valet menu walkthrough

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Cisco Valet press photos

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Cisco Introduces Valet Home Wireless Products

Breakthrough Simplicity Makes Wireless Accessible for Everyone

March 31, 2010 – Irvine, Calif., – Cisco is pairing its wireless technology leadership with Flip Video's simplicity-in-design approach to launch Valet™ -- a breakthrough new product line that makes home wireless simple and accessible for everyone. Valet is designed to transform how families use the Internet in their homes so they can enjoy the freedom of wireless access without frustration and complexity of setting up a home network.

"Valet is home wireless made easy," said Jonathan Kaplan, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Consumer Products. "With complementary backgrounds and expertise, our Cisco and Flip teams have combined forces to change the rules for home wireless with a product line that empowers consumers to easily set up, use and manage all of their wireless devices anywhere in their home."

Untapped Home Wireless Market
While consumer demand for wireless products is on the rise with a tremendous array of new devices in the market, research from IDC1 reveals that only one-third of US homes are currently set up for wireless use. This surprisingly slow adoption of home wireless is largely due to the complexity of current offerings that are too technical for the average consumer to install and manage on their own. At the same time, the demand for wireless-enabled products – such as mobile phones, gaming systems, and music players – is extremely strong according to ABI Research data that reports more than 264 million devices shipped worldwide in 2009.

"Consumers have felt powerless and frustrated with the entire process of home wireless, but with Valet we are tearing down the walls and opening it up to everyone," added Kaplan. "The market for wireless-enabled products is exploding and now mainstream users will be able to take full advantage of all the new opportunities."

Quick Set-Up and Simple Management
Valet is the first wireless product line to make it simple for anyone to set up and manage their own home wireless network. Getting started with Valet is incredibly easy. Consumers simply insert the included USB set-up key right into their PC or Mac and the Cisco Connect software takes over. Unlike other wireless products that require 20 to 30 complicated steps to set up, Valet takes only three steps from start to finish for a single computer. The Valet set-up key retains all set-up information and can be easily inserted into additional home computers to add them to the home's wireless seamlessly.

Personalized Wireless Experience
Once set up, Valet gives consumers a simple way to manage their family's home wireless experience. The included Cisco Connect software makes it easy to: 1) add additional devices to the network, 2) set parental controls, 3) provide Internet access for guests on a separate guest network and 4) customize personal security settings such as passwords.

Valet also provides a new level of control for parents with simple tools to manage their family's online experience. Valet's Cisco Connect software lets parents easily set controls on the fly, so they can modify web usage for certain days and times of the week, or even for temporary periods. If teens are spending too much time on social networks or game systems, for example, parents can modify their wireless access so that they cannot go online after 9:00 p.m on weeknights. Internet access for each personal device connected to a Valet - from a computer, to a gaming system, to a smartphone - can be individually controlled or changed as needed for the particular child or teen, including blocking inappropriate web content.

In addition, Valet makes it easy to set up wireless access when friends or family come to visit. With a completely separate wireless connection, guests can use their laptops or mobile phones around the house, while the main Valet home network remains highly secure and private.

Price and Availability
The new Valet line is offered in two models – Valet and Valet Plus – based on the size of the home and the mix of wired and wireless devices. In addition, there is a simple Valet Connector to update older computers without built-in wireless capabilities or to upgrade to wireless-n. Valet users have access to Cisco's award-winning 24/7 phone support in the unlikely event they have a question or problem. The Valet product line is available immediately at Amazon and Staples, and soon at Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and other leading retailers.

Valet For small to medium-sized homes with primarily wireless devices. MSRP: $99.99
Valet Plus For Medium to large homes with a mix of wireless and wired devices. MSRP: $149.99
Valet Connector Upgrades an older computer to wireless and ideal complement to Valet or Valet Plus. MSRP: $69.99

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Cisco's Valet routers take a cue from Flip's design department