July 9, 2020

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Born to play

AmpliFi Alien review: This Wi-Fi 6 mesh router is futuristic, but not future-proof

The AmpliFi Alien is one of several spiffy new routers that support Wi-Fi 6 — the...

The AmpliFi Alien is one of several spiffy new routers that support Wi-Fi 6 — the most recent, swiftest model of Wi-Fi. Obtainable as a standalone router for $379, or bundled with a large-run array extender in a two-piece mesh setup for $700, it can be one of several expensive tri-band Wi-Fi 6 routers that exist in a high quality tier previously mentioned most everything else on the market place. Even so, the large-run specs could possibly have you really tempted to make the splurge (at the very least, it could possibly at the time it can be out there — Ubiquiti at present lists the Alien as out of stock, but tells CNET it expects to have far more out there for order before long).

Like

  • Quickly leading speeds by mesh requirements
  • One of a kind, futuristic style
  • Simple, app-dependent setup and controls
  • Teleport function allows you route your world wide web targeted traffic by your residence community even though touring

Never Like

  • No multigig WAN port
  • Second 5GHz band only supports Wi-Fi 5
  • Touchscreen on the router is overkill

Guaranteed, the Netgear Orbi 6 and the Linksys Velop MX10 — two other $700 tri-band mesh routers that aid Wi-Fi 6 — were being each a bit speedier when I analyzed them out at my residence, but the Alien was not much guiding. In fact, it basically completed initial in our lab-dependent leading pace assessments. On leading of that, it has a few of additional tips up its sleeve that that could possibly help you feel like you happen to be having your money’s worth.

Alongside with a spacey style that features a cylindrical build, a touchscreen interface and a ring of LED indicator lights close to the base, the Alien router attributes a exceptional trick referred to as AmpliFi Teleport that allows you route your world wide web targeted traffic by your residence community from anyplace in the earth. And, contrary to a large amount of VPN providers, it can be each a cinch to use and totally free of charge. That is a useful layer of safety if you happen to be connecting to a public Wi-Fi community, and helpful if you want to stream your nearby channels from a electronic Television set service even though you happen to be touring. Other routers competing with the Alien never offer nearly anything quite like it.

But the Alien’s missing a several issues, much too. For starters, it does not include things like a multigig Ethernet jack capable of accepting incoming wired speeds any speedier than 1Gbps. On leading of that, one of its two 5GHz bands only supports Wi-Fi 5, which undercuts some of the tri-band attraction. All those are each large-conclude quibbles, but genuine kinds at this price tag.

Still, the Alien will get sufficient suitable that breaking the lender on it does not seem like such an out-of-this-earth notion. I like it ideal as a standalone router, and would rather go with Netgear Orbi 6 if I were being seeking to spend huge on a genuinely leading-of-the-line mesh setup. And continue to keep in thoughts that a amount of new, fewer expensive mesh systems that aid Wi-Fi 6 are established to hit merchants in the coming months. But if you want a extravagant, function-loaded router with a lot of horsepower and aid for Wi-Fi 6, the Alien suits the bill.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Exclusive style, straightforward setup

The AmpliFi Alien and its accompanying mesh stage are each stout black cylinders with rings of yellowy eco-friendly gentle close to the base. You’d be forgiven for mistaking both of them for a good speaker, but contrary to the Nest Wifi and Netgear Orbi Voice, which each function crafted-in voice assistants, the Alien is just a router.

Still, the components appears to be very good, and I respect that the vertical style sits the array of antennas at the leading of each machine, exactly where they are going to conduct their ideal (higher is generally greater when it will come to antenna placement). You can expect to rarely use the router’s Lcd touchscreen, but it can be continue to pleasant to be able to see the time at a look, as very well as the occasional reminder to obtain the newest firmware update any time one is prepared to go. 

Alongside with the WAN port on the bottom of the router, you will discover 4 spare gigabit Ethernet ports on the again.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

And never fear —  if you’d favor far more subtlety from your router, you can dim the LEDs and the touchscreen or transform them off entirely. A Night Method function can also mechanically dim them down to your preferred location in the course of night hours.

I’m also pleased to see a developing amount of routers offering a simplified setup working experience, and the Alien is no exception. Just plug it in, join it to your modem with an Ethernet cable, join to its community, and open up the AmpliFi app on your Android or iOS machine (and if you’d favor it, you can find a world wide web interface, much too). You can expect to give your community a identify and a password and be up and functioning in just minutes. Including the mesh stage is just as uncomplicated, finish with a sign strength indicator in the app (and on the machine itself) to help make sure you have picked a very good place for it.

You can expect to discover a lot of management in excess of how your community operates in the AmpliFi app, as very well as the alternative of creating a code that allows you route your world wide web targeted traffic again to your residence community any time you happen to be touring.


Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Adaptable connections

Prior to I get to the pace exam facts, a several phrases about Ubiquiti’s technique listed here. By default, the AmpliFi Alien combines its 3 bands — a two.four and 5GHz band that each aid Wi-Fi 6, and a next 5GHz band that supports Wi-Fi 5 — into a solitary community, but you can split any of these bands off as a different community with its possess SSID as you so opt for. That gives you some pleasant management in excess of how you use the Alien in your residence, but the absence of two distinctive Wi-Fi 6 bands indicates that your alternatives all appear with compromises. 

For occasion, the program is built to ship its backhaul transmissions between the router and satellite on the speedier, Wi-Fi 6 5GHz band. If you give that band its possess exceptional SSID, then join your community products to the SSID encompassing the other two bands, you will have a devoted Wi-Fi 6 backhaul that keeps the system’s relay transmissions different from your usual community targeted traffic. The rub is that you is not going to have entry to Wi-Fi 6 on the 5GHz band.

One more alternative would be to different out the 5GHz band that supports Wi-Fi 5 and use it as a devoted community for gaming, or for good residence devices. Of program, then your products will have to share the 5GHz band that supports Wi-Fi 6 with the backhaul, which will continue to keep you from hitting the router’s leading speeds.

Compromises apart, that amount of overall flexibility is pleasant to have, and the app helps make it uncomplicated to personalize issues as you see healthy. I also respect that the app features a prioritization engine that allows you mark certain community products for gaming or streaming.

The high-quality print on AmpliFi’s Teleport VPN helps make it obvious that some utilization facts is gathered.


Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

The other function of be aware is the aforementioned AmpliFi Teleport VPN service. To use it, you will need to have to log into the AmpliFi app with an Ubiquiti account, or with your Fb or Google account. You can expect to request a 5-digit code and specify how lengthy you want entry to your residence community, then you will open up the different Teleport app on the iOS, Android, or Android Television set machine that youre making an attempt to join. Enter the code, and AmpliFi will use Wireguard to encrypt that device’s targeted traffic and route it by the cloud again residence to your Alien. All of that is thoroughly free of charge.

I ran that pitch by Rae Hodge, an authority on VPNs listed here at CNET. She failed to like the notion of connecting by way of your Fb or Google account provided that Teleport tracks specified bits of utilization facts, which is a good stage of consideration. AmpliFi states that it does not collect the material of any communications despatched by way of Teleport, which gives me some reassurance, but I agree with Rae that other devoted VPNs like Nord and Express that never collect utilization facts at all are in all probability the greater preference for any individual who plans to make standard use of the function.

The other obvious limitation with Teleport is that there is just not a world wide web interface for it that’ll let you teleport your laptop. I would not be amazed if AmpliFi adjustments that at some stage, but for now, the function is reserved for phones, tablets, and Android Television set products.

Amongst mesh routers, the AmpliFi Alien hit the swiftest speeds our lab has ever observed.


Ry Crist/CNET

Let’s chat pace assessments

AmpliFi pegs the leading theoretical speeds of the Alien’s 3 bands at one,148Mbps on the Wi-Fi 6 two.4GHz band, four,800Mbps on the Wi-Fi 6 5GHz band, and one,733Mbps on the 5GHz band that only supports Wi-Fi 5. The program takes advantage of machine steering to mechanically route the targeted traffic from older, Wi-Fi 5 products to the Wi-Fi 5 band, and more recent, Wi-Fi 6 products like the Apple iphone 11 or Samsung Galaxy S10 to the bands that aid these speedier speeds.

Theoretical, manufacturer-mentioned speeds like these use managed, lab-dependent assessments to paint the product in the most flattering gentle possible. In our possess lab, exactly where we wire each router we exam to a nearby server, then join a Wi-Fi 6-geared up laptop to its community and evaluate the obtain speeds, the numbers are a large amount reduced.

In the Alien’s situation, we observed an normal obtain pace of 890Mbps when connecting from a distance of 5 feet. That amount only fell to 722Mbps when we analyzed once more from a distance of seventy five feet. Each of these are higher than any other mesh router we’ve analyzed, but be aware that we’ve observed standalone Wi-Fi 6 routers like the TP-Link Archer AX6000 go as quickly as one,500Mbps in that exam. The Alien is just not running at that amount — and with no multigig WAN port on the router, your speeds from an incoming wired connection will generally be capped at 1Gbps (one,000Mbps).

The Alien was not as quickly or as outstanding as the Netgear Orbi 6 when I analyzed it in my residence, exactly where speeds are capped at 300Mbps.


Ry Crist/CNET

Authentic-earth speeds, much too

Lab-dependent leading-pace assessments are all very well and very good, but we make sure to consider a very good appear at how these issues conduct in a normal residence ecosystem, much too. So, I lugged the Alien residence with me for a weekend and ran an abundance of pace assessments at different distances throughout my smallish, one,three hundred-sq.-foot property in Louisville, Kentucky, exactly where I have an incoming fiber internet connection of 300Mbps. I run a are living video clip stream in the course of these assessments to simulate normal utilization — don’t forget, the notion listed here is just not to see how quickly these routers can probably go, but rather, how very well they conduct in a real looking utilization circumstance.

In the conclude, I observed normal speeds of 228Mbps throughout the location, which is greater than Nest Wifi, Eero and most of the other Wi-Fi 5 routers I’ve analyzed, mesh or if not. It was not as quickly as the other Wi-Fi 6 mesh setups, I’ve analyzed, nevertheless — the Linksys Velop MX10, the Arris Surfboard Max Professional and the Asus RT-AX92U were being each able to inch it out, even though the Netgear Orbi 6 remaining it in the dust with an over-all normal throughout my residence of 289Mbps.

Even though it carried out very well at array, the AmpliFi Alien’s sign strength was not as outstanding as Netgear Orbi 6. That program would be a greater preference for specially big households that demand tons of coverage.


Steve Conaway/CNET

On the furthermore facet, the system’s mesh stage did a excellent position of extending the network’s array. Speeds in my again toilet, the farthest stage from the router, were being only about 17% slower than my speeds in the very same space as the router. That is substantially greater than you will get with a Wi-Fi 5 setup, exactly where speeds are likely to drop by at the very least 40% in the very same exam. 

That mentioned, be aware that my speeds only fell by four% with Netgear Orbi 6, which dedicates an total Wi-Fi 6 band to the sole function of transmitting facts between the router and its satellite. If you preferred, you could different out the Alien’s Wi-Fi 6 5GHz band as a devoted backhaul, much too, which would likely internet you similarly potent final results — but once more, you’d be remaining with a 5GHz band for your community products that only supports Wi-Fi 5 speeds. No such limitation with Orbi 6, as each of the 5GHz bands aid Wi-Fi 6.

Our final overall performance exam steps sign strength in the 5,800-sq.-foot CNET Clever Residence. With the router and its extender functioning on the key ground, we use NetSpot software package to evaluate how potent the sign is throughout the total house — each the key ground and the basement beneath. The more powerful the sign strength, the speedier you will be able to join.

We use that facts to generate sign strength heat maps, exactly where blue is terrible, eco-friendly is very good, yellow is excellent and orange is stupendous. As you can see, the Alien did an sufficient position of blanketing the house in Wi-Fi, but it was a small underwhelming when in comparison with the Netgear Orbi 6. That continues to be our leading-analyzed mesh program over-all.


Chris Monroe/CNET

The verdict

You definitely never need to have to spend $700 in purchase to enhance to a mesh router that supports Wi-Fi 6, but you have bought a few of alternatives in that high quality, tri-band tier that are very compelling. Strongest among the them is the Netgear Orbi 6 — but the AmpliFi Alien is just not much too much guiding it. It is quickly, it can be uncomplicated to established up and use, and it gives a very good blend of attributes that give you tons of overall flexibility from your community.

I just would like the program was far more foreseeable future-proofed. We observed the change a devoted Wi-Fi 6 backhaul can make when we analyzed Orbi 6, but you won’t be able to go that route with the Alien with no getting the Wi-Fi 6 5GHz band away from the products on your community. On leading of that, the Alien caps your incoming speeds at a solitary gig, even though the Orbi 6 adds in a multigig Ethernet jack that supports incoming speeds of up to two.5Gbps (two,500Mbps). It is the greater large-conclude splurge listed here — but the ideal engage in is to hold out and see how the fewer expensive Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems coming out this year stack up ahead of getting nearly anything.