A convenient, instant setup with an app controlled network. So easy, a caveman can do it.

It does not seem that long ago that pay phones were readily available and everyone had to have a land line.  I do not think that many of us born in the 1980-1990’s thought that we would one day have a home without a land line.  Along the same idea, who would have thought that one of the most important utilities in our lives would be our internet connection.  It is not uncommon to traverse a mall, a business or even a residential block and your phone WiFi tries to connect to multiple different sources.  It is amazing how powerful WiFi routers have become and yet I seem to have dead zones throughout my own home.   I have tried numerous WiFi extenders, with some positive and negative feelings.  Unfortunately, my home is 2 story, plus a basement, brick home.  My router, like many in America, are forced to place the router at the source of the Broadband connection, an outside wall.  Ideally, we would place them centrally, but alas, mine is downstairs and adjacent to a brick wall.  I have 2 major dead spots, my bedroom (specifically my bed) and my second-floor children’s room (no Roku connection).  Extenders work to enhance the signal of my Wifi by essentially taking in the signal and then creating its own network.  Thus, I found that my signal would stretch, but I would sacrifice strength/speed.  This was somewhat noticeable with streaming Netflix on the Roku device.  Thus, I looked into a MESH networks.

Many sources suggest smaller homes (under 2000 sq feet) may not get much benefit out of a mesh system.  My home is multiple stories, made of WiFi blocking materials (Brick) and the router is in the basement.  For me, a mesh system makes sense.  Touring CES 2016, in las Vegas, I was able to meet with the team from  LUMA and this year at CES 2017, I was exposed to the Linksys Velop.  These systems seemed ideal for larger homes, and are comprised of multiple nodes that relay data throughout your network.  Each node cooperates with the system by sending and receiving data back and forth.  By repeating and amplifying signals, you create an ever-expanding sphere of signal.  Each device you add to the network makes it stronger, but at a cost, it uses a lot of bandwidth.  It is thus not a very efficient system and you may sacrifice some performance.

Amplifi Unbox

In the consumer world, we will often sacrifice for convenience.  The ease of quickly setting up a single system using my iPhone 7 plus and not having to worry about connection points, passwords, what WiFi signal to use for which device may offset the price of the device.  This tech is not new, having been around for a long time in the optical world and in hospitals/military communication systems, but it is relatively new to the consumer world.  Before we get into the argument of hard wiring connections, setting up repeaters, etc., imagine you are setting up a device in your parents home or a friend’s home.  Then imagine the phone call, when they cannot watch Game of Thrones or House of cards, or whatever.  The point I am making is the following:  A system that is really easy to setup, but has some higher end limitations may triumph over a harder to manage, but possibly better system.

Unboxing:
I have been given an Ubiquiti Amplifi HD Home Wi-Fi Mesh system.  The box is a glossy black cardboard with shiny white nodes on the cover.  There appear to be 2 nodes and a central unit.  The cover promises instant setup, ultimate speed, coverage everywhere, long range and high density.  The top of the packaging has a really nice convenient carry handle.  One side displays the AMPLIFI name and the other “U Labs.”  The back of the slipcover shows some of the features of the device.  The package contains 1 AmpliFi Router, #2 Amplifi Mesh points, ethernet cable, USB-C power adaptor (large blocky, unfortunately) and a really easy to understand user manual.  The router has four Gigabit LAN ports, a single WAN port and a USB C power port along the back.  The range of this kit is listed as being able to cover 20,000 Sq feet of space at an aggregate speed of 5.25 Gbps.  This system is designed to provide powerful internet, with easy to use software.  Additionally, you are provided with a few case examples for setup.  First, you can set up the router as the base and then extend the Mesh points out linearly.  For this model, think of a shotgun-like home that you are trying to network.  For best performance, it recommends a centralized router with single hop mesh points.

Slide the slip cover off of the box and make sure the U Labs logo is facing up.  If you make the mistake I did, parts will try to fall out. The inner cardboard box is closed with a magnetic flap. Open the box and you will immediately notice the large white box in the center and 2 antennae-esque nodes to the side.  In the bottom, you will find a black box, with included five-foot white ethernet cable and beneath this a power adaptor with USB C output.  The power adaptor is a little disappointing, as the shape is very boxy and will take up quite a bit of real estate on my battery backup.  Additionally, it requires a 3 prong outlet and I feel that the 38-inch cord length is a bit short.  The main router is a 3 7/8″ white cube, with a 2 3/8″ central touch screen (1 5/8″ useable).  As stated above, there are 4 Gigabit ethernet ports and a WAN (internet in) port. The bottom of the cube is rubberized, to prevent slippage. When plugged in there is a very reassuring soft white LED that glows along the base.  I like the shape of the main device, and I absolutely love the touch screen.  Overall the device gives off a very Apple-like vibe.

The two mesh points are rather large, measuring 9 1/2 inches tall by 2 1/8 inches wide and 1 inch deep.  Each mesh is built of two parts, a plug-in base with magnetic attachment and antennae top, with magnetic attachment.  Along the front, when plugged into a wall outlet, you will see 5 small blue LED.  These display the available internet strength and can be utilized to adjust the positioning of the entire unit or to fine tune the positioning of the magnetic antenna.  I really like the base unit of each mesh point.  However, each of the antennae are very obtrusive.  Although it is very useful to be able to move the antenna to obtain better coverage, if you have small children or animals, they may mess with the device.  Additionally, if you live in a home with large furniture covering your outlets, it may be harder to find a good place to hide the mesh points.

Setup:

Amplifi AppTo start, navigate to the IOS App store or to the Google Play store and download the Amplifi app.  For IOS users, make sure that your Bluetooth is in the on position and for Android users, make sure your WiFi is set to the on position.  Next, find a location that you wish to place the mesh nodes and plug them into the wall.  I would recommend the top outlet, as this device will stick upwards and block your other outlet.  I am really impressed with the main unit, it is a really attractive piece of tech.  Unplug your modem, then plug in the Ethernet cable into your modem and into your Amplifi base station.  Plug in the USB C power plug and then power on your modem. The touch screen on the base unit will power on.  It will then display the need to go the app store to get the app.  The touchscreen is very attractive and crisp. Follow the on-screen instructions on your device.   If you do not have a tablet or smartphone, you can navigate to the SSID displayed on the router and connect through that method.

It is recommended to set the main unit between the two mesh nodes for best performance.  If this is not possible, you can set up the system in a Mesh Multi-Hop method.  This system places the base unit at your internet source and then uses the nodes as extenders.  If this system is used, the performance will degrade further from the base unit. I have a two-story home with a basement and my internet source is in the basement office.  I had to use a sort of a mixture between the two models, as I placed the nodes one story up from the main router, but in the mesh “best performance” location. You do not have to choose, which system you will use, the network will do this for you.  You only need to pick the outlet locations.  Once the app connects, you will need to update the software.  This process took about 10 minutes. You will need to name your network, and then give it a password.  Tap the settings button along the top left of the app to access the homepage, see terms of service, access the help center, live support, enable/disable remote access and log out.

Amplifi App

If you are interested in remote access, you can utilize Facebook or Google.  I did opt to set up control for the device with Google, which proved to be just as easy as setting up the main app.  I have not had a need to test the system away from home, however.  Along the bottom of the app, you can access the overview dashboard. If you touch each device on the screen, it will take you to the device settings for that device.  You can adjust the device name, the time zone, volume (the base has pleasing jingles), locate, change the password, reboot and or factory reset.  If you tap the nodes, you can change the device name, turn on/off the LED and pause the mesh point.  If you return to the main screen of the app, next touch performance. You can run a speed test and evaluate the throughput.  Touch “Guest” on the main screen and you can turn on/off access to the internet.  You can adjust the number of guests, adjust settings (password, WPA2 PSK security or WPA-PSK, hide the SSID). If you decide that the guests should not have further access to the internet, turn off their access by pressing the stop button.  You can also have the internet on perpetually by selecting the infinity sign.

One of my favorite features of this app is the Family icon.  You can see each client that is connected, and you can create profiles. Within the profiles, you can set quiet time hours (based on 24-hour clock and 7 day week), where they cannot access the internet. Like setting up a timer for Christmas lights, this will take some getting used to.  However, once you learn the system, you will actually find it useful.  You can also pause the internet for the entire profile or for each device individually.  As a parent, this is an amazing option.  I love that I can set certain internet free times, as well as to have immediate access to each of the devices.  The parental controls of the Amplifi device may be one of the most user-friendly features that I have utilized so far.  Perhaps some of the other Mesh systems can learn from the successes of the Amplifi HD device.

Amplifi App Mesh

Summary/comparison:
As a consumer, I appreciate the quality of product that Amplifi has provided.  I have recently tested the Linksys Velop and found some benefits over the system, namely parental controls, time limits etc.  The base unit of the AmpliFi does have a touch screen, to get information about the system.  You cannot really do anything from the touchscreen, except change between informational screens.  The base unit has a really pleasing low glow (you can adjust brightness), the LED screen has a night mode and will turn off during the night.  The square shape is attractive and very amenable to an Apple ecosystem.  Personally, the base unit has a superior appearance to the Velop and to the Eero.

The major downside to this system, in my opinion, are the wall nodes.  I have 3 small children and my two-year-old likes to wander.  It is difficult to keep track of her every moment and the large device, plugged into an outlet is clearly a “come here and mess with me” message to my daughter.  The magnetic attachment point turns this into a game. The Velop has a wall outlet, but the device rests on a desk/table.  Additionally, each of the nodes has a similar appearance.  The Velop resemble a white colored (square) Amazon Echo.  Another difference/benefit to the Velop are the #2 Ethernet ports on each device and dedicated wired backhaul support.  This is perfect if you have an ethernet camera in a room or the need for wired connection in a different location.

The Amplifi is different than many of the mesh systems, based on the wall outlet nodes.  I prefer a simple wall outlet to the large device, as it does stick out about 1 inch.  The Eero is similar to the Velop, but they are small square devices, a little bigger than the Amazon Dot.  When it comes to overall Ethernet ports, the Amplify has 4 (only on the main unit), the Velop has 2 per node and the Eero has 2 per node.  With the main device sitting on my computer desk, I need access to at least 5 Ethernet ports: Desktop, Apollo Cloud, Synology Diskstation, Lima Ultra Device, Vivint Smart Drive.  No matter the system, I need an ethernet switch (TP-Link 8 port is currently plugged in).    The Amplifi HD has no ethernet ports in the mesh nodes.  This is a problem for backend data hauling as this system is not set up for that.  Additionally, the USB port on the main hub is not currently set up.

The Amplify app is incredibly user-friendly. I love the family controls more on this than I did on the Linksys or the Eero.  There is much more control at the device level.  I have not used the remote access thus far.  I really do not have reason to need to use this, other than to check to make sure my access points are online.  When it comes to signal, the Amplifi HD did an okay job, similar to the Eero but the Velop was superior.  Comparing the Amplifi base device to my Netgear surfboard WiFi router, I had no dead spaces anywhere in my home (two-story and basement).  However, I had no signal on my porch or back deck.  My home, in total, is about 3000 sq feet.  I was able to get a full home signal with all 3 devices, but not the Netgear.  When I installed one node on the main floor, I expanded my internet to my deck, my front porch, and my driveway.  When I installed the second node, I had internet signal to nearly my entire backyard and half of my front yard, a roughly 1/4 acre coverage.  The coverage was pretty good for the Amplifi device.

Amplifi ChildFor the advanced users, the app for the AmpliFi will allow you to set static IP, DHCP, PPPoE network types.  You can clone the MAC address, you can set up the system in bridge mode.  You can set the LCD brightness, the LED brightness of the base unit as well. You can add port forwarding rules for each device (Hello Xbox). You can also activate/deactivate band steering, which will allow your devices to connect to 5GHz band immediately.  If the signal declines, it will automatically redirect you to the 2.4GHz band (more range).  This system is set up this way but can be set to manually select the band.  I love that you do not have to set up separate passwords for each of the bands.  You will enjoy how truly convenient this default setting is.  Lastly, you can also turn on router steering, which will allow you to connect directly to the router, even if the signal is lower than that for the mesh node.  The app suggests that in some instances, this may be a better choice for some.

In conclusion, this system is incredibly easy to set up and provides a seemingly robust network.  Testing the speeds I was able to get 82.7Mbps download and a max of 2.8Mbps upload with a ping time of 48ms.  Testing this on an HTML5 speed test, these speeds were similar.  I did the test during a thunderstorm and had periods of 22.1Mbps download and 1.3Mbps upload.  Having tested three mesh systems, I am incredibly torn about which I would like to maintain in my home.  Personally, I think the Velop from Linksys is still my favorite, despite the superior parental controls of the Amplifi system.  The Eero takes third place, the Amplifi takes a very close, photo finish second. If we add price to the equation, you will get the most bang for the buck with the Amplifi.  The Velop is approximately $150 dollars more for the 3 node kit.  I love the 4 ethernet ports on the main system and the family features are superb, but it needs ethernet ports on the nodes and the nodes themselves are too big.  This system may seem a little costly to some, but the convenience is worth every penny. I would rate the device at 4/5 stars.
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