Are these things useful or even good compared to filters these days? I read the getting started guide but seem to always come across tanks wit these, or find them online for sale with older styled tanks.
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They are old technology that used the substrate as the filter and allowed for all of the beneficial bacteria to grow in. The problem is that any fish that like to dig will ruin it, and it also only does biological filtration compared to mechanical and chemical like other filters can do in a fraction of the size.
Those filters seem to generally be a pain. I dislike needing to clean them frequently, with the possibility of needing to replace them often.
I have only used bubble filters that go under the substrate. I have never used the ones that filter water. It seems like it would be fine for specific tanks with less messy fish but I would imagine it doesn't clean as well.
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