The Best Mesh Wi-Fi on a Budget
Our verdict of the AmpliFi Instant:
At such a disruptive price point, the AmpliFi Instant is beautifully designed, and loaded with features. This makes it one of the best mesh Wi-Fi solutions on a budget.
With all the mesh Wi-Fi options available nowadays there should be no reason why you should be suffering from poor Wi-Fi. But even though you’re spoilt for choice good, reliable Wi-Fi comes at a price. Or maybe you’d like to have all the features of a flagship model but don’t really need the range it offers. The AmpliFi Instant may be able to address this.
- Dimensions: 3.92 x 3.85 x 1.30 inches (99.5 x 97.8 x 33.05 mm)
- Weight: 7.58 oz (215 g )
- MIMO: 2.4 GHz: 2×2, 5 GHz: 2×2
- 2.4Ghz Speed: 300 Mbps
- 5 GHz Speed: 867 Mbps
- Gigabit Ethernet (Router): 1 x LAN + 1 x WAN
- Gigabit Ethernet (MeshPoint): 1 x LAN
- Maximum Power Consumption: 9W
- Antennas: 1 x Dual-Band Antenna
- Display (Router): Capacitive Touch, Grayscale
- Wi-Fi Standards: 802.11ac
- Wireless Security: WPA2-PSK AES/TKIP
- RRP (Router Only): $99
- Price (Router + MeshPoint kit): $179
Packaging has always been a strong point for AmpliFi, and the Instant is no exception. They somehow manage to make you feel special opening up box. This may not be a big deal for some, but first impressions do count, and you get the feeling that this is a premium product from the get-go.
The router and mesh point are nearly identical. The differences being the lack of a screen and WAN port on the latter. Aesthetics is a big part of AmpliFi, and they’re designed to be put on display, not hidden away in a corner cabinet. These devices are made for the table top and should fit in with any modern decor.
There’s an LED light covering the base of the unit of which the brightness and schedule can be controlled from within the app. The LCD screen on the front shows a few things like displays the time, current upload and download speed, or your existing LAN and WAN IP Address.
AmpliFi HD vs. AmpliFi Instant
We reviewed the AmpliFi HD and were besotted with it. There are some marked differences aside from the price. In terms of footprint, there’s not much of a difference apart from the height. The screen on the HD capitalizes on the height and is significantly larger as well as having more colors as well as featuring three more ethernet ports.
In terms of technology, has a more powerful antenna allowing for more throughput as well as having more capacity for Multi Input Multi Output (MIMO). MIMO allows a device to communicate through multiple streams allowing you to transfer more data at the same time.
The mesh points are also different between the series. The AmpliFi HD’s mesh points plug straight into a wall socket compared to being a top a surface with the Instant. A mesh point plugged into an outlet might not be placed optimally in terms of clearance or interference from other devices.
Fortunately, you can use AmpliFi Instant along with AmpliFi HD, albeit with one caveat. You cannot extend an AmpliFi implementation with a kit, but you can extend it with standalone units. So if you already have an existing AmpliFi install, regardless if it’s a kit or not, and you need to add more coverage, be sure to purchase standalone units and not another kit.
The AmpliFi Teleport, which allows you to VPN into your home network, is also fully supported on AmpliFi Instant. So other than the antennas and size, both systems are pretty much identical and can be used to compliment each other.
Getting Set Up
AmpliFi have been touting a full set up in under two minutes. The skeptic in me wanted to validate this, so I timed it. After the unit powered on I plugged in an internet feed to the WAN port on the back. The unit told me to download the app, which I did, and I started the stopwatch. If I paid attention to my competitive side, I could have easily have set the system up within a minute.
The app guides you through everything you need to do, but the only thing you need to do is choose a Wi-Fi name and a password. If you have purchased AmpliFi as part of a kit the mesh point will even pair automatically.
From here it’s a good idea to do any firmware updates, speaking of which AmpliFi will notify you of on the display. If you have any other mesh points that you’d like to use, pair them now with the main router. Now all you have to do is place them around your house and do a few speed tests to make sure that you’ve got optimal placement.
One notable difference with the mesh points is that they now a LAN port on the back. So if you have some legacy devices that don’t have Wi-Fi, you can use this port to get them connected. The LAN port can also be used for connecting the router to the mesh point via a cable. This is called ethernet backhaul and can help if the signal between the points isn’t strong enough.
If AmpliFi had created separate apps for their different devices, it would have been catastrophic. Fortunately, all the features and functionality are identical regardless of which unit you purchase. Parental controls are a strong point in the app, as you can create a group and apply a schedule which restricts internet access between certain times.
Guest networks can be created in just a few clicks. You can also set limits for how many devices are allowed on the guest network as well as how long it will be active for. You can even share the Wi-Fi name and password through the app via a text message or WhatsApp making it easy for your guests to sign in. One feature that would perfect this would be the ability to join the guest network via a QR code similar to what some of the other vendors offer.
To make sure your network is running smoothly you can do speed tests from within the performance section. The app also keeps track of your previous speed tests in case you need to contest the speeds you’re paying for from your ISP and for checking signal quality. If one of your users are having a problem, the diagnosis tab will give you a quick rundown of your network in a matter of seconds letting you get to the problem as soon as possible.
If you wanted to keep track of your network remotely, you can pair your AmpliFi account with your Google account. You’ll have full control from anywhere in the world. The app also allows controlling multiple AmpliFi systems if you had more than one network to manage.
Some settings are hidden in the app for the sake of simplicity. AmpliFi should work out of the box with minimal configuration, but there may be some settings that need tweaking for you to get the best experience.
You can do this via the traditional method of configuring a router, that is entering its IP address into the web browser. Some of the settings here include how AmpliFi connects to the internet and are necessary if your ISP requires a username and password for internet access.
You may also have your own preference for which Domain Name System (DNS) server to use. This can be configured from within the AmpliFi web portal.
For companies to set themselves apart from the competition, they need to innovate. Here it seems AmpliFi has taken a book from their more elaborate UniFi product in terms of a Web Controller. The Web Controller is available in beta currently and does give a glimpse of what’s to come. So while it might seem sparse, it’s not the released version yet.
The Web Controller serves two functions. First, you can configure your network from a web browser. Then it allows you to plan your network for your premises with a visual designer. Just upload a layout of your house and use the tools to draw the walls and or partitions. You’re even able to select a material for the walls, to help the controller in determining the signal penetration.
Now simply drag your router and mesh points to where you’ve placed them (or plan to place them). The controller will give you a representation of how far the signal will reach. This isn’t an exact science as Wi-Fi is still susceptible to interference from other devices. However, it does give you a good estimation.
You’re able to see coverage from both 2.4 and 5Ghz networks and may help you understand how to get the most from your device placement. You can also see how devices are connected to your network as well as throughput for each of your mesh points. The controller is an exciting development from AmpliFi and will allow you to get the most of your AmpliFi deployment.
AmpliFi has put a lot of effort into the design of both the devices as well as the app. The units can be placed in plain sight and won’t spoil your home’s feng shui. The fully featured app gives you full control of your network. With the ever-increasing feature set coming to AmpliFi, it makes a compelling case.
At such a disruptive price point AmpliFi can be a perfect match if you have a small home or apartment. Finally, if you prefer a surface top solution compared to the wall socket mesh points the Instant is a fantastic solution. Hopefully, there will be an option to include DynamicDNS support as well as pairing kit mesh points to other systems.
Overall AmpliFi has added a fantastic product to their range. There’s no longer a reason to be plagued by miserable Wi-Fi.
Enter the Competition!