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Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Review: A Peculiarly Good Router

The AmpliFi Alien comes with a sleek touch screen and a bright ring of status light. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The Ubiquiti’s new AmpliFi Alien is a weird one. It’s unlike any other tri-band routers I’ve seen.

In many ways, this new Wi-Fi 6 router is similar to the Arris’s SURFboard mAX Pro, which is thin on network settings and customization. Yet, it also has some useful and unique features.

The deal is if you’re looking for a dead simple-to-use and reliable router that will deliver your Gigabit-class broadband connection in full, the Alien is your friend, totally worth its current $379 price tag. I dare say you may even love it.

But, if you’re expecting familiar settings, the ability to customize your home network, the Alien is just a bit, well, out of this world. You might get mad. Pick the Asus GT-AX1100 or the Netgear RAX200 instead.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien

8.3

Performance

8.0/10

Features

8.0/10

Design and Setup

9.0/10

Value

8.0/10

Pros

  • Fast, reliable Wi-Fi with excellent coverage
  • Sleek design, useful mobile app
  • Convenient Teleport VPN for mobile devices
  • Effective ad-blocking feature
  • Mesh-ready

Cons

  • Limited in conventional settings and features
  • Unconventional tri-band setup with no dedicated backhaul when used in a mesh setup
  • VPN doesn't support regular computers
  • No 160MHz channel support, multi-gig port, not wall-mountable

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien: An attention grabber

You either love the Alien’s design or find it annoying. One thing is for sure, Ubiquiti has tried hard to make this router scream.

A design to impress

If the name itself is not enough, everything else about the Alien’s look is about putting on a great first impression. The router comes in a packaging generally reserved for expensive gifts — like a nice bottle of cognac or something fancy of a similar shape.

On the front, there’s a beautiful bright color 4.7-inch vertical (274 by1268) touchscreen — similar to that of a high-end smartphone. You can swipe between this screen’s pages to view different sets of settings, including port status, the total amount of data transferred per period, number of connected clients, and the router’s IP addresses.

The only interactive thing you can do with the screen, for now, is an Intenet speed test. But going forward, more can be added via firmware, I assume.

The AmpliFi Alien has a Gigabit WAN port on its underside and four Gigabit LAN ports on the back. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

On the bottom, the Alien has a ring of greenish light that shows the router’s status. The light flashes (and the touch screen also responds) each time you apply a setting, or when you want to locate it via the mobile app — like you could misplace something that big.

By the way, this bottom ring of light is similar to the one on UniFi Dream Machine‘s top but much brighter. Also, like the UDM, the Alien has a built-in speaker that plays a tune each time it starts or when you apply a new setting. 

So out of the box, as soon as you plug it in, the Alien gets busy fast with flashing bright light and different chimes playing. The whole thing makes the setup process a bit too exciting — don’t do that at night when your family is asleep. After the initial set up, you can manage the router’s sight and sound via the mobile app.

Super quick setup, spartan settings

You might like the Alien’s frills, but if you don’t, you’ll be happy to know that you won’t need to make the router play sounds or flash its colorful light often. The setup process was short in my case, and there aren’t many settings to change.

Indeed, using the AmpliFi mobile app, I was able to get the router up and running in less than 5 minutes. There was nothing to note here, other than the fact you’ll need to get an account with Ubiquiti, which I had already created for the AmpliFi HD’s review.

After that, just follow the steps on the phone’s screen. The mobile app has the option to enable remote access, which allows you to manage the Alien even when you’re out and about.

The AmpliFi mobile app makes managing the Alien an easy job. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The app is easy to use and allows for an overview of your home network. You can monitor connected clients in real-time and manage its speaker and lighting. You can also schedule to turn off the touchscreen during certain hours.

As for your network, there aren’t a lot of settings or features to change. You can set up port forwarding and fixed IP addresses. But in both cases, you’ll have to enter a client’s information manually — quite a pain considering you work on a phone’s screen.

There’s a simple parental control feature where you can schedule Internet access for one or a group of clients. And finally, you can also use the app to manage the Guest network.

And that’s about all of the conventional settings and features you’ll find. There are no standard extras, such as Dynamic DNS, online protection, or game-related features.

No 160MHz channel width support

As for Wi-Fi settings, you can do some customization of the Alien’s Wi-Fi network, namely separating the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands, or create a new virtual network for each band.

You can also pick the channel you want a band to work on (or leave it as Auto), and the channel bandwidth. By the way, there’s no option for the 5GHz bands to work on the 160MHz bandwidth, which is required for Wi-Fi 6 to deliver its best performance.

That’s quite disappointing, and Ubiquiti is quite ambiguous on whether or not it will turn on the 160MHz channel support in the future, or if that’s possible at all. As compensation, though, the Alien includes a unique virtual private network (VPN) feature.

AmpliFi Teleport: Sleek VPN for travelers

The Alien features Ubiquiti’s new feature called Teleport, which has recently been made available via software update to most AmpliFi routers, including the AmpliFi HD. Teleport is a VPN server that initially required a separate hardware add-on unit of the same name.

Unlike all other standard VPN server features, Teleport works only for mobile devices. And it’s dead simple to use. First, you create a Teleport Code using the AmpliFi mobile app. Then, on a mobile device (or up to 10 of them), run the Teleport app, and enter that code.

And that’s it, now that device will connect to the Internet using a VPN that links to the Alien. In effect, that keeps the connection secure as though the remote device connected directly to the home Wi-Fi network.

Teleport is the AmpliFi Alien’s useful builtin VPN feature for mobile devices. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

A VPN like that is an excellent way to stay protected when you use public Wi-Fi, and it doesn’t incur costs or have data restrictions like one of those popular paid VPN services. Also, if you happen to have two AmpliFi routers at different locations, you can use Teleport to link them together.

In this case, all devices of one location will enjoy the VPN benefit by being part of the other place. But this setup doesn’t help when you travel, when you likely need a VPN the most. So, the lack of support for regular computers makes Teleport far from perfect.

By the way, the VPN code is valid only up to 24 hours (or 1 hour by default). If you don’t enter it on the intended mobile device within that window, you’ll have to create a new one.

Simple web user interface with ad-blocking

Other than the mobile app, the Alien also has a one-page web interface you can get to by pointing a browser to its IP address, which by default is 192.168.121.1, and use the same password for the mobile app to log in. Note that this default IP might change from one Alien router to another but you can easily find out what it is.

This webpage allows for toggling a few settings, among which the most significant is the DNS-based ad-blocker. Once turned on, this feature will stop online ads from coming into your home network.

I tried the ad-blocking out for a few days, and it worked quite well. It indeed blocked most ads of all kinds. Once in a while, though, some Youtube videos still managed to sneak in a few.

You can only turn this the ad-blocking feature on or off. There’s no way to customize or add an exception, so if you want to support a website by allowing ads on it (pretty please?), you can’t. Also, with ad-blocking turned on, certain websites might not work as intended.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien: Unconventional specs, no multi-gig port

The Alien has the five usual Gigabit network ports, the WAN port in on its underside, and the LANs are on its back. There’s no multi-gig port. That said, in a wired-to-wireless connection, its speed caps at 1Gbps. 

In reality, the lack of faster-than-Gigabit network ports doesn’t matter much since 1Gbps is significantly faster than the required speeds of any applications. But faster is always better if you ask me. 

As for raw power, the Alien sports a quad-core 2.2GHz CPU, one of the most powerful among high-end routers.

AmpliFi Alien’s specifications

Out of the box, the Alien is a black cylindrical box, with matte soft plastic skin, that’s 9.84-inch (250 mm) tall, 4.33-inch (110 mm) wide. The router feels solid, and at 2.65 lb (1.2 kg), it’s heavy enough not to topple easily. Overall, it’s slightly taller and a tad narrower in diameter than the SURFboard mAX Pro.

Unconventional tri-band setup, no 160MHz channel support

The Alien is a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router, but it’s different from all tri-band ones I’ve tested. Traditionally, a tri-band router includes one 2.4GHz band and two identical 5GHz bands. The Alien, however, has two different 5GHz bands.

One is a straightforward 4×4 Wi-Fi 5 band that caps at 1733 Mbps. The other is a 4800 Mbps Wi-Fi 6 band with a little controversy. Ubiquiti calls this an 8×8 band while I’d consider it a 4×4 one. The reason is the base 1×1 Wi-Fi 6 on a 160MHz channel has a speed of 1200 Mbps. You can read more about this here.

READ MORE:  Wi-Fi 6 in Layman's Terms: Speed, Range, and More

But the Alien only operates in 80MHz or lower channel widths, so Uniquibit cuts the base speed in half and jacks up the specs to 8×8. The problem is, for the same token, you can call the Alien a 16×16 router when you set it to work in 40MHz channel width.

The bottom line is when working with 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 clients (none exists yet), the Alien will cap at 2400 Mbps. Since there are only 2×2 clients right now, the Alien’s Wi-Fi 6 band will cap at 1200 Mbps. The lack of support for 160MHz is a shortcoming, not a strength of the router.

The Alien is not the first pseudo 8×8 Wi-Fi 6 router. Previously, Netgear also called the RAX120 the same. However, the RAX120 had the option to operate in 160MHz (80+80) channels in my testing; the Alien didn’t. And that translates into a big difference in the two’s performances — more on this below.

No dedicated backhaul

You can use two or more Alien routers to form a mesh right now. However, that’s quite expensive. It’d make more sense if there’s a more affordable Alien satellite unit that doesn’t have all the functionality of the router.

I pressed Ubiquiti about the prospect of a future Alien mesh point add-on unit, and the company told me: “We are always looking for ways to provide the best Wi-Fi 6 experience. Please stay tuned for official updates“. So we’ll need to wait and see.

Update: The Alien mesh kit’s full review is now available here.

One thing is for sure: The Alien’s unusual tri-band specs mean when you get multiple units to create a mesh, the system has no dedicated backhaul. In this case, the routers would create a separate virtual network on its Wi-Fi 6 band that works as the link between the hardware units.

This virtual network shares the bandwidth with the main network, so this band will still have to do two jobs at the same time, linking the routers and serving clients. As a result, it will suffer from the standard signal loss found in dual-band mesh routers.

In short, the Alien is more of a standalone router than part of a mesh, compared to the Arris SURFboard mAX Pro, which has a dedicated backhaul band.

Amplifi Alien’s additional photos

The AmpliFi Alien comes in a fancy box. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech
Inside the packaging, you’ll note the AmpliFi Alien looks like an expensive bottle of spirit. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech
The AmpliFi Alien feels solid and has a good heft. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech
The amount of light the AmpliFi Alien puts out can be overwhelming. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien: Reliable performance

After more than a week, I only had enough time to test the Alien as a single router. That plus some other reasons, I’ll take on the mesh notion at a later time.

READ MORE:  Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Mesh Kit Review: An Odd Pair of Wi-Fi Tango

Overall, I was quite impressed, though I wished it had a multi-gig port and the support for 160MHz channels. The Alien performed well and was reliable. It also had excellent Wi-Fi coverage, on par, if not better than other high-end Wi-Fi 6 I’ve tested. Put it in the middle, and chances are it’ll cover a house of some 2000 ft² (186 m²) with no problems.

As for Wi-Fi throughput, the Alien wasn’t the fastest among Wi-Fi 6 router I’ve tested, mostly because it didn’t support 160MHz channels.

As a result, my 2×2 clients had the top negotiated speed of 1.2Gbps (and not 2.4Gbps). So, in a close range, it had a sustained rate of more than 830 Mbps. When I moved the client to some 40 feet (12 m) away, the speed didn’t change much, averaging some 810 Mbps.

READ MORE:  The Right Way To Do an Internet or Wi-Fi Speed Test

The Alien also worked well with Wi-Fi 5 clients. My 4×4 Wi-Fi client was able to get faster speed at a close distance thanks to a 4×4 negotiated rate of 1.7Gbps. At 40 feet away, my 3×3 Wi-Fi client didn’t do as well, registering some 400 Mbps.

On the 2.4GHz, the routers, like all others I’ve tested, performed the same with both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 clients. There wasn’t anything of note here, except the fact this band’s performance tends to vary a great deal and is for reference only.  

In all, the Alien had excellent performance for its specs. It also passed my three-day stress test with no disconnection at all.

Conclusion

As the name suggests, the AmpliFi Alien is an unconventional Wi-Fi 6 router. On the one hand, it has some unique and useful features. On the other, it lacks settings and features one might assume from a networking device of its caliber.

READ MORE:  Best Wi-Fi 6 Routers and Mesh Systems of 2020

That said, if Wi-Fi speeds and coverage are what you care about, this router has enough to justify its cost. And the unique and useful Teleport VPN is an awesome bonus — it’s so easy, I’m sure you will use it.

If you’re wondering if you should get a second unit form a mesh, that’s a different question entirely, and I will answer that later. Hold tight, it’ll be worth the wait.

Update: The wait is over, the review of the Alien mesh is now available here.

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About the Author: Dong Ngo

Before Dong Knows Tech, I spent some 18 years testing and reviewing gadgets at CNET.com. Technology is my passion and I do know it. | Follow me on Twitter, or Facebook!

23 Comments

  1. Trying to decide between the Amplifi Alien vs Synology Mesh. Which would provide better range, a single Alien or two MR2200ac in mesh configuration? Home is two floors with 2600sf.

    1. A single Alien won’t beat a Synology Mesh in coverage, Darren. But an Alien-based mesh will for sure. But, in that case, you might want to wait until my review on its mesh portion first. Or you can get a single Alien router now and see how it works out.

  2. I’m familiar with their system cause I have uap ac pro connected to my asus router
    I just don’t know if I should stay on wifi 5 or upgrade to wifi 6 without having wifi 6 client

  3. Really surprised with the lack of a dedicated backhaul. As such, your review in mesh configuration is what I am waiting for before I make a buying decision. Without one, how is their mesh solution really any better than a typical ‘router/repeater topology? Thanks again, and will your mesh config review come soon?

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