The Zyxel Multy U could make a much better Wi-Fi mesh system if its maker didn’t try so hard to turn it into a fashion statement. While aesthetically pleasing, the system proved to be a bit of a pain to set up and use in my testing.
On the bright side, it has good Wi-Fi coverage, and at a current cost of just $270 for a set of 3 units, called Multy U Triple, it’s a better deal than the Netgear Orbi or Linksys Velop. (There’s also a 2-pack, or Multy U Pair, option for $200). If you have an average broadband connection, and some patience, this mesh system is worth the effort.
Zyxel Multy U AC2100 Home Wi-Fi Mesh System
- Good Wi-Fi performance and coverage
- Tri-band with dedicated backhaul
- Can work in access point (bridge) mode
- Wired backhaul support
- Impractical design
- Buggy mobile app
- Limited networking settings and features
- No web user interface
Zyxel Multy U: A cool design that’s impractical
Like most typical canned Wi-Fi mesh systems, the Multy U includes identical hardware units, called hubs. One is used as the main unit to connect to your internet source, like a modem, and the rest work as satellites to extend the Wi-Fi coverage.
Each hub is a thin square box with rounded corners, designed to be hung up. There’s even an included a leather strap for each unit. From the marketing point of view, this seems like a nice idea, a novelty.
In reality, though, this is the worst design for a router. For one, the Multy U is not a wire-free device; it needs to be plugged in at all times. Also, the power and network ports are not on the opposite side of the straps holes, meaning when you hang it, the cables — at least the power one — will go into the box horizontally, and not vertically. Not only that looks messy, but it’s also a tripping hazard.
What’s more, to put a Multy U on a surface, you can (and have to) turn its port cover around to work as the base. While this part of the design is smart, unfortunately, the plastic cover is not sturdy or heavy enough. As a result, the unit is now top-heavy; it can’t stay put and topples too easily.
In my case, I couldn’t figure out a way to properly place the Multy U units and ended up leaving them loose on the ground during the testing.
Tri-band dual-stream Wi-Fi 5
As mention above, the Multy U is a tri-band system. Each hardware unit is a tri-band router with two 5GHz bands plus one 2.4GHz band. In a wireless setup, one of the 5GHz bands works as the dedicated backhaul. As a result, the system will deliver faster performance, compared to the dual-band system, like the Google Wifi or Bearifi Edge Mesh.
Specs-wise, the Multy U is middling. It features 2×2 Wi-Fi 5 which delivers the top speed of 867MBps on the 5GHz band and 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Each router sports a 1 GHz Dual-Core CPU, 256 MB RAM, and 512 MB of flash storage.
You’ll find two Gigabit network ports on each Multy U unit. One is a WAN (Internet), and the other is a regular LAN port to host a wired device. You can also use these ports to link the hardware units together in a wired setup; in this case, both ports on a satellite unit will work as LAN ports.
Zyxel Multy U’s hardware specifications
No web interface
The Zyxel Multy U doesn’t have a web user interface which is quite normal for this type of mesh. However, as usual, I tried calling up the interface anyway, and interestingly, I got a “your Internet is blocked” message. So it seems there might be a place for a web UI. But Zyxel did confirm with me that the Multy mobile app is the only option for you to set up and manage the system.
A flashy app that’s a pain to use
The Multy is one flashy mobile app. When you launch it, you will see a fancy-looking circle spinning around the word “MULTY” — which, by the way, sometimes spins for a bit too long — before the app fully loads. During the setup, you’ll also see a lot of animations when you move between different sections. And I’m talking about high-quality, colorful, well-rendered graphics here.
I have to admit; I was initially impressed by the app’s cool sleekness. It set a certain level of positive expectation. But the animations got old quite fast when the outcome didn’t match the anticipation.
Buggy setup process
It took me quite a long time to set up the Multy U, using my Pixel 3 XL phone. Collectively, things just didn’t work as expected, or the app would crash, or I got the message that I need to reset the hardware and try again.
Long story short, if you want to set up the system without any issues, make sure you follow these steps:
- Install the Zyxel Multy app on your phone. Don’t run it yet. Make sure your phone’s Bluetooth is turned on.
- Take one Multy U unit that you’re going to use as the main hub, plug it into power. Leave the rest of the hubs unplugged. If you plug more than one hub in right away, the set up might fail.
- Make sure your broadband Internet is working. If there’s no Internet, the set up will fail.
- Connect the main hub’s WAN port to your (working) internet source, like your modem or your gateway.
- Now run the app, give it the location access (GPS) it asks for. It seems to me that if you deny this, the setup won’t work, either.
- Follow the onscreen instructions to set up the main hub, then add the other hubs, one at a time, wirelessly. If you want to use network cables to connect the units, make sure you do that after the setup process.
In all, the Multy U isn’t hard to set up. It’s just that, from my perspective, the developers put too much effort into the app’s look and feel and too little on quality testing. Hopefully, that will change in the next release.
The annoying MyZyxelCloud nag
What I find most annoying about the Multy app is the screen that asks you to create a myZyxelCloud account. After the initial setup, this nag pops up every time you run the app — right after the spinning circle –, and there’s no way to make it not appear again.
It’s important to note that you don’t need to have an account with Zyxel to use the app, even when you’re out and about, to manage your home network. Having an account will bring in a few more functions, including Alexa integration, cloud backup for settings, the ability to manage multiple Multy U sets, and notifications. None is worth surrendering your privacy over.
Limited customization, thin feature set
Considering the app is so unpleasant to use, here’s the good news: There are not many reasons to use it after the setup process. The Zyxel Multy U has little customization and almost no features. Also, there’s no level of depth in its settings.
For example, you can view a list of connected devices, but you can’t find out which hardware unit a device connects to. You can name the 2.4GHz band and 5GHz band as two separate Wi-Fi networks, but you can’t use two different passwords for them. The Parental Control feature is basically an Internet block based on MAC address. You can’t block a particular website via a domain name, or websites based on a category, but only Internet access. So it’s not really a Parental Control feature.
Here are the rest of what you can do with the Multy U:
- IP reservation.
- Port forwarding.
- Put the mesh in regular (router) or Bridge (Access Point) mode. The latter is useful when you want to use the mesh with an existing router or gateway.
- Customize the Guest network (only available on 2.4GHz band).
- Perform Internet and local Wi-Fi speed tests. By the way, I found these tests somewhat inconsistent and inaccurate.
To be fair, though, the Multy U still has more customization and features than other similarly priced canned mesh systems.
Zyxel Multy U’s detail photos
Zyxel Multy U: Good performance
I tested a 3-pack of the Multy U, and while its performance didn’t blow me away, the system proved to be fast and reliable enough for most home users.
In the router tests, where I used only one unit of the Multy U, I got an average speed of almost 510 Mbps at a close range of fewer than 10 feet (3m). When I increased the distance to 40 feet (12 m), the unit now registered more than 240 Mbps.
For the mesh tests, I used two additional Multy U units and placed them around the main router unit in the star topology at 40 feet away. Thanks to the dedicated 5GHz backhaul band, the Multy U satellites were faster than most other dual-band systems. They averaged close to 300 Mbps and almost 130 Mbps at close and long range, respectively.
As for coverage, three well-placed units can easily cover more than 5000 ft² (465m²) easily with strong Wi-Fi signals in my tests. Keep in mind, though, that the Wi-Fi range varies a great deal depending on the environment. By the way, the system’s seamless handoff worked well, too, I was able to move seamlessly around without getting disconnected.
As for reliability, I used the Multy U for a week as my primary Wi-Fi system and had no connection issues during this time at all.
Zyxel didn’t get its priorities straight with the Multy U. It’s a mistake to invest so much into making it a fashion piece. The result is a good mesh system that’s stunted by the impractical design and a somewhat shoddy mobile app.
Nonetheless, thanks to its good performance, and the relatively reasonable price, the Zyxel Multy U AC2100 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System is still a good investment for those living in a large home with an average broadband connection.