Ubiquiti Amplifi HD Router Wins the Home Mesh Network Game

Amplifi HD Router
Small enough to fit practically anywhere, but that LED ring is bright! (Photo by Anthony Karcz)

A week or so into my test of the Luma router, I started to field complaints from the home office (i.e. my wife and kids) about the speed or reliability of the network. I tried changing how devices were assigned to profiles. Then I changed how filtering was handled. Then I turned off filtering altogether. Each would work for a little while, then something would get in the way and we’d be looking at slowdowns again (although, at least one time, the slowdown could be attributed to my wife unplugging one of the mesh devices). I realized that, while the Luma’s broad focus was appealing, combining mesh networking, content filtering, and security in one package meant there were even more points of failure I had to diagnose. In the end, I punted back to my old Airport Extreme and enjoyed the simplicity of a “dumb” network.

Of course, the Airport Extreme had its own set of issues. It seriously hates my TiVo Bolt and its MOCA network (I guess it wants to the be the only game in town when it comes to serving up a signal). Then there’s the Airport Utility app, which used to be unique and far better than any other maintenance solution among routers. Now it shows every bit of its age, frequently failing to find my hardware on the first or second attempt, then dumping me into a maintenance screen where, yes, I have access to all my router settings; but it’s frustratingly cryptic (unless  you work on wireless networks for a living). Not to mention I only had reliable Wi-Fi in three rooms of the house closest to the router, the master bedroom was a wireless wasteland.

TL;DR – My home Wi-Fi still needed help.

That’s why, when Ubiquiti Networks offered to send over their Amplifi HD system, I jumped at the chance. They have been in the professional wireless network game for over a decade and the Amplifi family of routers is the first home networking product from their new Ubiquiti Labs consumer division.

Ubiquiti has taken their cue from Apple when it comes to packaging. Out of the box, the Amplifi HD has that Cupertino feel. Everything is secure and placed, bento-style, in the box. As you unbox each component, the finish and heft convey quality.

Setup takes ten minutes. No, really. Once you plug in the base router, it prompts you to download the Amplifi app from the unit’s touchscreen (more on that in a minute). Once the app finds the router, it walks you through setup and gets your network up and running. Then it’s a matter of plugging in the mesh points around your home and adjusting their antennas so that they receive a solid signal (you can check in the app or just use the LEDs on the front of the antennas). Here I did miss Luma’s floor plan placement recommendations; but as long as you don’t set the mesh points up so that they’re in line with each other, you should be just fine.

Amplifi HD Mesh Point
The mesh point hardware for the Amplifi HD is higher powered and supports 802.11ac (Photo by Anthony Karcz)

After that, there’s little that you need to worry about. The antennas are held in place by a powerful magnet on a omni-directional base, convenient for repositioning and for those occasions when they get bumped into. You can also poke through the screens on the base router to see various network metrics. I quickly became addicted to the upload and download speed screen.

The real action once you’ve set up your network is in the Amplifi app. From here you can run quick diagnoses of your network, conduct a speed test, adjust the LED brightness for the base (or turn it off if you don’t want it), and check to see what devices are connected to which access point on your network. You can also enable a time and user-limited Guest network (though I wish I could set if for multiple days and not just 24 hours). My one wish is that I could move devices to other mesh points manually. My phone will occasionally stay connected to my Living Room mesh point even when I’m in the bedroom. They’re physically pretty close, so I understand why it’s happening; but an option to override the network’s decision would be helpful.

Do I miss the content monitoring? I happen to have a Circle with Disney on my network that does a much more robust job of age-gating content, so I didn’t. Would I if I didn’t have the Circle? Maybe? The pre-release Luma I was testing didn’t give me enough granular content information to be able to determine if it was blocking sites, so I just don’t know. Is my network less secure now that I don’t have the active security features of the Luma? Again, I don’t know – security was a black box on the Luma (something that can easily be fixed with future software iterations), so what I was being protected from was a mystery.

What I do know is that the Amplifi has served up a rock-solid network since I plugged it in. The only downtime has been when we had power outages or it needed OTA firmware updates. It’s eliminated all the dead spots in my house and has transformed my Wi-Fi network from a persistent trouble point (in my role as Chief IT Officer for my house) into something I don’t even think about. The router packages come in three different flavors – the Amplifi and Amplifi LR (which uses a more powerful radio signal to extend its range) both are shipping as of August 1 and can be purchased directly from the Amplifi website for $199 and $299, respectively. The HD version that I tested out, which boasts the most powerful signal and 802.11ac capability on the router base and mesh points, will ship in September for $349. They’re not inexpensive; but the headache they save and the professional-grade networking they give you are well worth the premium.

Ubiquiti Networks supplied an Amplifi HD for this review. Opinions are my own.

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