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AmpliFi HD Wi-Fi System Review: Still a Mesh Novelty

The AmpliFi HD Wi-Fi system includes a router and two mesh points. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

I was first introduced to the AmpliFi HD Wi-Fi system a few years back, at its launch, and somehow never got around to reviewing it. Ubiquiti got in touch with me again recently, and here we are — better late than never. Indeed, after all those years, this mesh Wi-Fi solution still manages to be quite a novelty now. It deserves your attention.

Though not perfect, the AmpliFi HD is one of the most easy-to-use Wi-Fi solutions on the market. Thanks to the 3×3 Wi-Fi 5 specs — quite rare considering most existing canned mesh systems use the 2×2 specs –, it also delivered excellent performance. To top it off, its well-thought-out AmpliFI mobile app is a pleasure to use.

If you’re in the market for a purpose-built plug-n-play mesh that quickly covers your entire home with reliable Wi-Fi, the AmpliFi HD is a safe choice at a current cost of $140 as a single router or $340 as a mesh of three hardware pieces. Just make sure you have plenty of power sockets around the house and, most importantly, don’t need a lot of networking features and settings.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD WiFi System

8

Performance

8.5/10

Features

6.0/10

Design and Setup

9.0/10

Value

8.5/10

Pros

  • Rediculously easy to set up
  • Fast and reliable performance
  • Well-designed mobile app

Cons

  • Limited feature
  • No wired backhaul
  • Vendor login required for remote administration
  • Bulky mesh points

AmpliFi HD: Cool, unique design

The AmpliFi HD is quite different from other Wi-Fi systems. Instead of three identical hardware pieces, it includes a router and two identical mesh points. Both are unique in their own way. 

A cute router with a touchscreen

The router is a medium-size cubic box — measuring almost 4 inches each side — that has a large touchscreen that you can use to do a quick setup. The screen also has multiple pages that display useful information about your network. On the underside, the router has a glowing white light to show its status. The whole thing looks quite eye-catching.

And if you’re concerned about too much distraction, don’t worry! You can dim the screen, as well as the undercarriage light, or turn them off completely. Or you can set the “night mode” to make sure they stay off at certain hours.

The router’s screen gives you useful information at a glance. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

On the back, the router has a USB port, which is “reserved for future use” per Ubiquiti. Considering the system is now a few years old, it’s safe to say the port is useless. Other than that, there are the usual four Gigabit LAN ports (for wired clients) and one Gigabit WAN to connect to an Internet source. And hooking the router to the Internet and turning it on is about all you have to do concerning setting it up.

Bulky but flexible plug-in mesh points

That’s because out of the box, the mesh points are pre-programmed to work with the router. So plug them in, and your system is ready. There’s no need to sync or manually add them, even though there’s an option for that, via the Amplifi mobile app, in case you purchase additional hardware.

Ubiquiti told me that you could use an unlimited amount of mesh points together, but generally, you shouldn’t use more than a few, considering there was no wired backhaul option — more on this below. (The AmpliFI HD router also works with the AmpliFI Instant mesh points, which support wired backhaul, but I haven’t tried that out.)

Design-wise, the mesh point is quite impressive. It consists of two separate parts that join via magnetism. One part is the power adapter that goes into a wall socket. The other is the Wi-Fi hardware, which you can swivel around at the joint. Not only this design is neat, but it also helpful since the mesh point is bulky. Being able to move its top around means you can fit in certain tight places.

Keep in mind that, due to the plug-in design, you might have a problem finding the right spot in your house to place the mesh point. Like in all mesh systems, you don’t want to put the AmpliFI HD mesh points too far, or too close, from the router. And it’s a matter of luck to have an available wall socket at the sweet spot.

AmpliFi HD’s specifications

Both the AmpliFI HD router and the mesh point features 3×3 Wi-Fi 5. It’s the second mesh system I’ve worked with that use the higher-end specs, the first being the Asus Lyra Trio. The rest of the canned mesh systems uses mid-tier 2×2 specs.

Like the Asus counterpart, the AmpliFI HD is a dual-band system, with the top ceiling speed of 1300 Mbps on the 5GHz band and the 2.4GHz, 450 Mbps. Unlike the Asus, though, the AmpliFI HD mesh point doesn’t have any network ports. As a result, you can’t connect a wired device to it, nor do you have the option to use network cables to connect the hardware to have a wired backhaul setup. And that will translate into the signal loss.

AmpliFi HD: Great for home users, lacking for enthusiasts

I tried the AmpliFi HD as my main Wi-Fi system for a few weeks I can say this for sure: If you’re a home user — who only needs something that works and not much else — you’ll love this system.

The AmpliFI HD’s well-designed mobile app is a pleasure to use. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Easy setup, well-thought-out mobile app

For one, the mesh is dead-easy to set up. As mentioned above, you can do that via the touch screen and use its default setting. But even when you want to customize further, it’s easy, too. Just install the AmpliFI mobile app on your phone.

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The app will recognize the system automatically and allows you to manage your network via a well-thought-out interface. It also provides tons of useful metrics about your network, from connection speed to connected clients.

And it gives you in-depth information. For example, for the connection between the router and the mesh points alone, you can find out:

  • In which topology, star, or daisy-chain, they connect to the router.
  • Which band is working as the backhaul — 2.4GHz or 5GHz, and you can manually pick one.
  • How strong the backhaul signal is with a clear indicator.
  • Pause a mesh point.
  • Turn on or off the LED lights.
  • Name as the mesh point to reflect its location.

And even more. Similarly, for connected clients, you can find out which hardware unit they connect to in real-time and other related information. There’s also a simple access control that you can use to block or pause the Internet connection of one or a group of clients. For example, you can group your kids’ devices into a profile and disconnect that profile from the Internet during night time.

Overall, it seems Ubiquiti has put a lot of work in the mobile app to provide an exceptional level of depth and intuitiveness.

Limited features and settings

In return, though, the AmpliFI HD doesn’t have the same amount of network settings as standalone routers. Here are what you can do with it:

  • Customize the Wi-Fi network’s name and password. Note: you can’t name the two bands as two separate networks.
  • Guest networking.
  • Customize the Internet connection type and the router’s local IP address
  • Switch between the router (default) and access point (bridge) mode. The latter is useful when you need to use the system with an existing router or gateway.
  • Perform IP address reservations and port forwarding.

And that’s it. There are a lot of what I’d like to have from a router that the system doesn’t provide, such as:

  • There’s support for Dynamic DNS support.
  • You can’t program the system to filter certain websites based on their URLs or categories.
  • No QoS setting, or the ability to show Internet bandwidth per client.
  • Thre’s no built-in online protection.
  • No activity logs.

So, if you want to have an advanced home network, you’ll find the AmpliFI HD sorely lacking, the way you’d find most canned mesh systems.

No web interface, login required

Another thing that might shun savvy users is the fac the AmpliFI HD doesn’t have a web user interface. Technically there’s a one web setup page that you can use to change a few settings, but you can’t use it to customize any other aspects of your network.

Also, to fully take advantage of the mobile app, you need to log in with Ubiquiti, which might lead to privacy risks. In addressing my concerns on this matter, Ubiquiti vaguely said that its”goal is to create the best customer experience, and any information collected is simply used to elevate network performance.

In return, you can use the mobile app to manage your network even when you’re out and about. This type of vendor-assisted network administration is prevalent among Wi-Fi systems, including those from Google, Linksys, TP-Link, and others.

AmpliFi HD: Fast, reliable performance with an excellent range

I tested the AmpliFI HD for more than three weeks and was quite happy with it. During this time, there was no unexpected disconnection or any problem.

The coverage was excellent, too. By itself, the router unit had an outstanding range, which helped find the right spots to position the mesh points. Still, I did have to run some extension cords to place them where I wanted. Overall, with all three hardware units, I was able to cover some 5000 ft² (465 m²) with excellent Wi-Fi signals. You can get even more if you’re willing to sacrifice the speed.

The AmpliFI HD had about the same sustained speeds as those of the Asus Lyra Trio. As a single router, in my testing method, it averaged some 525 Mbps at close range and about 430 Mbps at a long distance.

Without a backhaul band, the AmpliFI HD indeed had a signal loss as a mesh. Devices hooked to the mesh points got less than half the performance as when they connected to the router. But the net speeds were still quite impressive. At less than 10 feet (3.05 m) away, I got the sustained rate of round, 241 Mbps. At 40 feet (12 m), it now averaged about 210 Mbps.

The AmpliFI HD had proper signal hand-off as well as band steering, both of which have a toggle switch within the mobile app. When turned on, a connected client indeed automatically switched between the hardware units and bands to get the best performance as I walked around.

Keep in mind that the Wi-Fi range and speed depend a lot on the environment as well as hardware, so your experience might be quite different. However, comparatively, I was quite happy with AmpliFI HD’s performance.

Conclusion

The AmpliFi HD is proof that Wi-Fi 5 solutions are here to stay for a foreseeable future. Yes, Wi-Fi 6 is here, but it will take a few years before it becomes mainstream. In the meantime, mature Wi-Fi 5 solutions, like this mesh system, are safer choices, not to mention less expensive.

So, again, if you’re looking to cover your large home quickly, the AmpliFI HD is an easy plug-n-play recommendation. But if you think of yourself a savvy user, or are concerned about your privacy, consider Asus’s AiMesh or Synology’s Mesh solution, instead. 

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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!

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