Bearifi Edge Mesh Review: Good Hardware Stunted by Shoddy Firmware

The Bearifi Edge Mesh systems include two cute looking compact hardware pieces.
The Bearifi Edge Mesh systems include two cute looking small hardware pieces.

The Bearifi Edge Mesh is an untamed animal. If you can handle it, chances are you’ll love it, considering its cute design and especially the low cost of just $129 for a set of two units.

But chances are average home users will have a hard time getting this Wi-Fi system up and running. I, too, got a bit frustrated with its unconventional approach and confusing documentation.

There’s a lot to talk about, but if you don’t have time, here’s the deal: Once you’ve gone past the initial setup, the Bearifi Edge Mesh is a reliable system that delivers good Wi-Fi to a large home. If you don’t expect more than that and know what you’re getting into, you’d be happy with your purchase.

Bearifi Edge Mesh Wi-Fi System

6.4

Performance

7.0/10

Features

6.0/10

Design and Setup

5.5/10

Value

7.0/10

Pros

  • Solid Wi-Fi performance and large coverage
  • Can wirelessly extend an exiting Wi-Fi network
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Shoddy firmware, confusing documentation
  • Needlessly difficult to set up
  • Limited Wi-Fi settings and features
  • Not available as a single unit

Bearifi Edge Mesh: Familiar concept, unconventional hardware design

At first glance, the Bearifi mesh system seems familiar. It includes two identical-looking hardware units. One works as the main unit, and the other, a satellite. And the familiarity ends there.

On top, the main unit has a label that reads Bearifi Edge Mesh AP (short for Access Point), but on its underside, you’ll find another label saying it’s a Router. So which is it? Well, that depends on how you’re going to use it. (More on this below).

The satellite unit, called Edge Satellite, on the other hand, will only work as an add-on satellite that extends the Wi-Fi network of the main unit. It will not work just by itself.

The main unit has one gigabit WAN (internet) port, one Gigabit LAN (1000Mbps) port, and one Fast Ethernet (10/100Mbps) LAN port. The satellite unit has two Gigabit LAN ports and one Fast Ethernet LAN port.

I was appalled with the presence of the 10/100 LAN port, which is slow and nowadays associated with cheap network hardware. Since Gigabit is backward compatible, you don’t need a dedicated port for a legacy device. So it seems a lousy way to cut costs.

Middling Wi-Fi specs, multiple roles

The Bearifi Edge Mesh is a dual-band dual-stream (2×2) Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) Wi-Fi system. In other words, each of its units includes two Wi-Fi bands, one of 2.4GHz and the other on 5GHz, which can deliver up to 300Mbps and 867Mbps, respectively.

The Bearifi is not a tri-band system, so there’s no dedicated backhaul band. Consequently, Wi-Fi clients connected to the satellite unit will have at best just half the wireless speed compared to when they hook to the primary unit directly. For more on this, check out this post.

Similar to most existing purpose-built Wi-Fi systems, the Bearifi Edge Mesh can work in two roles (or modes):

  • As a router: When you connect the main unit’s WAN port to a modem using a network cable. If you have an existing router, you’ll have to remove it first.
  • As an access point: That’s when you connect the primary unit’s WAN port to an existing router or gateway. In this case, you can keep your current router/gateway.

Furthermore, it also uniquely has a third role:

  • As an extender: When you wirelessly connect the primary unit to an existing Wi-Fi network — a convenient way to extend your Wi-Fi network significantly without running a long network cable.

By the way, these are what I found out by myself. They are not what Bearifi, the vendor, has intended for the system.

The unintended AP role that rocks

Considering the system’s primary unit is called Edge Mesh AP, one would assume that Access Point is its default role. Well, I did.

Indeed, when connected to my existing router via a network cable. The Bearifi system worked immediately as part of the same network. Consequently, devices of the existing network and those connected to the Bearifi share the same IP pools and, therefore, can talk to one another.

That was all good, but when I needed to change its default open Wi-Fi network into something more secure, that turned out to be harder than I thought.

Generally, to change the settings of a router or an AP, you need to log into the device’s web interface. That’s also the case of the Bearifi. The problem is when working as an AP, its IP address — given out by the existing router — is not predetermined, and you, therefore, don’t know what it is. Nonetheless, Bearifi’s Quick Start Guide only covers the scenario when the primary unit has 192.168.10.1 as its default IP address.

Long story short, in the end, I was able to access its web interface and configure the system to my liking. But it took longer than necessary, and I doubt that anyone, who’s not at least comfortable with networking, can figure that out.

What’s interesting, during the process, I also found out that the AP mode was not an intended role of the mesh system. Bearifi later confirmed that. Here’s the saddest part: In my testing, this was the role where the system worked best

For the other two roles — extender and router — the setup process was rather standard.

Bearifi Edge Mesh’s detail photos

Bearifi Edge Mesh 1
The Bearifi Edge Mesh comes in fancy box.

Bearifi Edge Mesh 2
Inside, you’ll find two cute little cube-shape pieces of hardware.

Bearifi Edge Mesh 12
One is a router (or is it an AP?) and the other is an satellite extender unit.

Bearifi Edge Mesh 5
The back of the hardware units. Note the slow 10/100Mbps LAN ports.

Bearifi Edge Mesh 9
On top of the main unit bears the Edge Mesh AP name.

Bearifi Edge Mesh 8
But on the underside, you’ll note it’s now a “router”.

Bearifi Edge Mesh 10
The extender is called a satellite on top.

Bearifi Edge Mesh 7
As well as on its underside.

Simple interface, limited features, and settings

Putting the AP role out of the picture, the setup process of the Bearifi is rather standard. Here are the steps:

  1. Turn on your system. Do not connect it to an Internet source yet.
  2. Connect a computer to one of the primary unit’s LAN ports, or the Bearifi default (and open) Wi-Fi network.
  3. From a connected computer, fire up a browser and navigate to the default IP (192.168.10.1) or http://ap.setup
  4. Login using the default password, and the system will ask you to create a new one. Now you’ll access the router’s interface.
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Alternatively, you can use the MeshGo app for the setup process. The app only works locally — when your phone is connected to the Bearifi’s Wi-Fi — and has the same level of access as the interface. The reason is the interface is quite simple, and there’s not much you can do with the system.

Indeed, the system has a limited number of Wi-Fi and network settings, which themselves are limited in options. Take the Dynamic DNS (only available in router role), for example, it doesn’t support all popular DDNS services.

The two main roles of the Bearifi Edge Mesh. If you want to use it in the AP role, you'll need to reset the system to factory default.
The two main roles of the Bearifi Edge Mesh. If you want to use it in the AP role, you’ll need to reset the system to factory default.

The most important setting of the interface is the Setup tab, where you can make the router work in extender or router roles. Another handy tab is Wi-Fi, where you can change the system’s Wi-Fi network.

I tried out Bearifi’s intended extender role, and it didn’t work out well.

In this role, the Bearifi Edge Mesh system is like a super extender. The main unit works as the extender by wirelessly connecting itself to an existing Wi-Fi network and then broadcast its own Wi-Fi signals. The satellite unit then connects to the signals of the main unit and then re-broadcasting that even further.

As you can imagine, wirelessly extending a Wi-Fi network with multiple hops like that results in significant data loss. That was the case of the Bearifi in my testings. But there were also other issues:

  1. The system only works with a Wi-Fi network that uses a password and cannot connect to an existing Wi-Fi network with a captive portal. As a result, you can’t use Bearifi with a public hotspot.
  2. During the setup process, the interface does not verify the password of the existing Wi-Fi network before apply changes. Consequently, even when you have typed in the wrong password, the system would take it anyway.
  3. The system doesn’t replicate the Wi-Fi setting of the existing network. Instead, it creates a new Wi-Fi network but reuses the same password of the existing network. Now, unless you want to use a public hotspot (see #1 again), there’s no reason why you don’t want to extend a Wi-Fi network seamlessly.
  4. This shortcoming is a deal-breaker for home users: Unlike the App mode above, in extender mode, the system works as an independent router (just like the router mode). So, devices connected to the Bearifi system and those of the existing network can’t talk to each other. It’s similar to when you use a router on top of another router.

In all, the extender mode is where the Bearifi Edge Mesh performs at its worst. I also tried out the system in the router role, and it worked as intended. Generally, you should use it as the only router of your home, or in the AP mode if you want to keep the existing router. Avoid the extender mode.

Confusing wording and documentation

The Bearifi Edge Mesh has terrible copy-editing. There are glaring inconsistencies between its web interface, hardware labels, and Quick Start Guide. English is not my first language, so it’s not my place to criticize anyone’s writing, but I feel the need to call this out.

For one, the interface lacks context-based instructions. There are just settings and options to change their values but no explanation in terms of what a setting or value means.

Good luck finding that Device ID.
Good luck finding that Device ID.

Often, the wording is just wrong. Take adding a satellite unit to the mesh system, for example. The interface asks you to enter the Device ID located at the bottom of the unit, but what it wants is the MAC address.

This kind of inconsistency and the unconventional approach to mesh make setting up and using the Bearifi potentially unbearable for novice users.

Bearifi Edge Mesh’s performance: Slow but reliable

But there’s a silver lining. Regardless of what role you use it in, the Bearifi Edge Mesh proved to deliver reliable performance.

I used it for more than a week and didn’t have much to complain about, other than the expected relatively slow Wi-Fi speeds.

The system could easily cover some 3500 ft² (325 m²) of residential living space with decent Wi-Fi signals. The system also proved to be reliable, passing my three-days stress test without disconnection once.

In terms of speeds, I tested the system in the router mode, and it did well for an entry-level mesh. The system is among the slowest I’ve reviewed but still fast enough to deliver most residential broadband connection in full.

Considering the Bearifi Edge Mesh’s cost, I was pleased with its performance.

Conclusion

The Bearifi Edge Mesh is a weird Wi-Fi system. On the one hand, it has nice-looking hardware; on the other, it seems like an afterthought rather than a system developed from the ground up.

Indeed, there are so many little things that can improve to make the mesh system a better experience. Hopefully, that will come with a few rounds of firmware updates.

For now, if you’re in the market for a reliable yet cheap Wi-Fi solution, the Bearifi Edge Mesh can be a great deal. Just make sure you’re prepared to spend some time to figure it out. Or save yourself some trouble and go with one of these alternatives.

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