Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Review: A Peculiarly Excellent Wi-Fi 6 Router

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.

AmpliFi Alien Front
The AmpliFi Alien’s retail box looks a bit out of this world, or at least like a nice bottom of something.

AmpliFi Alien Wifi 6 Router by Ubiquiti Labs

$688.00
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 x 1268) 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, the 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.

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 setup, you can manage the router’s sight and sound via the mobile app.

AmpliFi Alien’s detail photos


AmpliFi Alien
Inside the packaging, you’ll note the AmpliFi Alien looks like an expensive bottle of spirit.

Alien
And out of the box, it’s indeed a fancy hardware unit.

Alien Box Hand
The AmpliFi Alien feels solid and has a good heft. The touchscreen is sleek.

AmpliFi Alien Box LANs
The AmpliFi Alien no multi-gig port, just four regular Gigabit LAN port on its back.

AmpliFi Alien Box WAN
And Gigabit WAN port on its underside.

Alien Light
The amount of light the AmpliFi Alien puts out can be overwhelming.

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.

AmpliFi App
The AmpliFi mobile app makes managing the Alien an easy job.

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
Teleport is the AmpliFi Alien’s useful builtin VPN feature for mobile devices.

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: Hardware 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.

ModelAFi-ALN-R
Full NameAmpliFi Alien MeshRouter
Mesh-ReadyYes
Dimensions9.84-inch (250 mm) tall, 4.33-inch (110 mm) wide
Weight2.65 lb (1.2 kg)
5GHz-1 Wi-Fi Specs4 x 4 Wi-Fi 5 up to 1733 Mbps (low band)
5GHz-2 Wi-Fi Specs4 x 4 Wi-Fi 6 up to 4804 Mbps (high band)
2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs4 x 4 Wi-Fi 6 up to 1148 Mbps
Channel Width Supported20Mhz, 40MHz, 80MHz
Backward Compatibility 802.11ac/n/g/a/b
Touchscreen Specs4.7-inch (110.38 mm) Diagonal, 274 x 1268, 279 ppi, G+F Touch, Full Color
Mobile AppAmpliFi
Web User InterfaceYes (simple)
AP (Bridge) ModeYes
USB PortNone
Network Ports4 x Gigabit LAN ports, 1 x Gigabit WAN port
Link AggregationNo
Multi-Gig PortNone
CPU2.2 GHz 64-Bit Quad-Core CPU
AmpliFi Alien’s hardware specifications.

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  Wi-Fi 6 Explained in Layman's Terms: The Real 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.

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

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.

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  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.

AmpliFi Alien 5GHz Performance

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  Internet or Wi-Fi Speed Test: How You Can Figure Out the Correct Numbers

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.

AmpliFi Alien 2.4GHz Performance

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  Best Wi-Fi 6 Routers of 2021: Pick One for Your Home Today!

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.

48 thoughts on “Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Review: A Peculiarly Excellent Wi-Fi 6 Router”

  1. Thank you for the review. Do I need it this router or will be buying it anytime soon? No, but I was lusting over it’s spec sheet and design so I wanted to read more about it. Can’t believe it’s so simplified though with the software.

    Reply
    • I cannot recommend this router. I used it for less than a week and it is dead. It is stuck at initializing 99%. Search for it. A lot of people have this issue. Now waiting for RMA.

      Bought a Wifi 6 Asus router. May not look as futuristic. But was 5 mins. setup and is up and running.

      Reply
  2. I am hoping for your take on privacy with the Alien. I think I understand from your reviews that with Net Gear Orbi if one wants to use the app then you need to register and data gets scooped up at some level, but if you forgo using the app then one can escape that monitoring. And with the Asus Zen Wifi 6, if one wants to use the app it then invokes the Quality of Service engine and again more data harvesting in this case by Trend Micro. Do you have a clear understanding of how this works with Amplifi and the Alien?

    Reply
    • Using any AmpliFi device will tie your network to Ubiquiti, K, and all that implies. But at least, Ubiquiti, so far, is not a known data-mining company, like Amazon’s eero. Generally, it’s a balance between convenience and privacy.

      Reply
  3. Hey man. Great article. I had a question. I have the alien router but didn’t buy the mesh because I thought it would be fine in my house. My walls are plaster so my primary bedroom has spotty signal. I wanted to know the best plug in extender you think I should use. Ideally I’d want one that could have the same network name so my phone would automatically connect to it, is that not possible when using two different brands?

    I have a NETGEAR Nighthawk WiFi 6 Mesh Range Extender already, would this work with the alien?

    Reply
    • The Netgear will work, Matt. It’s not ideal but definitely cheaper than getting another Alien. Just take your time and set it up properly. I can’t tell you the specifics but if you how Wi-Fi works in general (read my Networking Explained section), you’ll be able to get the best out of it. It will give you the option to use the same SSID, good luck!

      Reply
  4. Thank you for the very informative review! A quick question about methodology. For your tests with Wifi 5 clients, did you use the 5ghz Wifi 6 radio (high band) or the separate Wifi 5 radio (low band), or both? I’m curious if the throughput for Wifi 5 clients at 40ft improves on the “low band”.

    Reply
    • Using a lower- or higher-band channel makes no difference in speed, B. It’s the environment and channel width that affect those bands’ actual throughput. And yes, I use them all for testing. More here.

      Reply
      • Thank you for the quick reply! Sorry, I think my question wasn’t very clear and we might be talking about two different things. I’m referring to the discrete Wifi 5 chip inside the Alien (which they refer to as the “low-band” chip) rather than low vs high channels. My understanding is that the Wifi 5 chip is turned off by default and needs to be enabled in settings. It can then be set to a separate SSID. Based on what we’ve seen with other Wifi 6 vs Wifi 5 routers, I have a hunch that Wifi 5 devices might perform better on the Wifi 5 specific chip. Just curious if you included this particular variable in your testing.

        Thanks!

        Reply
  5. Thank you Dong for the great review of this masterpiece, I am very impressed of the quality, look and display screen of this unit.
    I have a 5000s/f 2 story house, all walls are concrete and bricks.
    I have wired the house to be ready for networking as I am planing to hardwire all my 20 devices to a switch and router.

    1- If I want to make the Amplifi Alien as a main router, and one more as a mesh will it be as good as RT-AX86U or Asus GT-AX11000 in terms of speed to my hardwired DS920+ NAS?
    2- If ASUS is better in that regard, and would like to have the Amplifi Alien’s to work as a mesh, which one of these ASUS will be a good candidate to take the lead?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Since you have the Synology, Sam, I’d go with Asus. You can then take advantage of the Link Aggregation and other features. The Alien is fun and easy to use, but it doesn’t have much to offer unless you want the cool mobile-only VPN feature. (Asus has VPN, too, better one in fact, but it’s harder to set up and use.)

      Reply
        • No, Sam! There’s no point in using the Alien at all if you use the Asus as the main router (though that’s technically possible). So, go with an AiMesh of your choice, more here. Or go full Alien.

          Reply
          • Thank you Dong for your guidance, i couldn’t figure out why is it pointless to have Asus as main and aliens as mesh points, can you explain?

            NAS and all other devices will be hard wired to Asus and the switch connected to it, aliens will also be backhaul connected to it as well.

          • Forgive my lack of knowledge, I thought the aliens would work as access points, as if I used two ASUS ZenWiFi XT8 with GT-AX11000 as a main. isn’t that the same?

          • Yes, it would, Sam. But in the AP mode, it’s no longer a router so all the features that make it worth the money are no longer there. It’s now just a simple Wi-Fi broadcaster. You can get an AP that’s half the cost (or even much less) that works the same. But yes, it will work as an AP. That’s the same case for ALL routers that work in AP mode.

          • Great, that’s was a relief, what made like the aliens more than any other is their look with that fancy screen as they show all traffics in a sleek way, and that’s will go in harmony with my decoration and smart home gadgets.

            Thank you Dong for your valuable time and great effort, I’ve learned a lot by reading your posts, you are the best.

  6. Dong I really love the work you do and how you explain things. I am looking at purchasing the Alien A. to replace my old apple router. I don’t know enough about home networking to understand some of the technical limitations. Will my synology NAS work well with the Alien?

    Reply
    • Yes, Paul, it’ll work well with any router in terms of network connectivity. That’s the same with any router in fact. In case you have set manual IP for the server, you might want to set the new router’s default IP to be the same as that of the old router.

      Reply
    • There’s no 8×8, Mugen. At least for now. I actually addressed that in the review. But you’re right, the Alien only works with the 80 MHz channel width.

      Reply
  7. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  8. 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

    Reply
    • It’s hard because they are very different, Ivan. But if you’re a home user, the Alien is much easier to use. It also has Wi-Fi 6.

      Reply
  9. 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?

    Reply
  10. I’m glad I decided not to open this product and go with the UDM. I am quite impressed ! I’m a home-user but I do enjoy the additional control.

    Reply

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