I’ve hated routers for most of my life (which might seem odd coming from a guy who started a popular tech blog). In my experience they have been ugly, frustrating to setup and troubleshoot and, more importantly, unreliable. But that all changed when I plugged in the Starry Station which I have no problem calling the best router I’ve ever used.
The Starry Station is the router you’ve always wanted in your life. Instead of being an eyesore, being hard to figure out and needing to be reset far too often, the Starry Station was designed from the beginning to be beautiful, reliable router that’s a cinch to use.
This router isn’t perfect — there are some annoyances I’ve run into which I’ll discuss near the end of this review — but it’s a major breath of fresh air that I’m genuinely excited about.
A Router with Killer Looks
While performance and the main features are certainly more important than the design of a router, I can’t help but start by talking about the novel looks of this awesome device.
Until the Starry Station came along, nearly every router I’ve encountered in my life suffered from a serious lack of design consideration. I know you know what I’m talking about: unruly antennae, dull colors, hidden buttons, no screen, small indicator lights that can be hard to decipher and finally inconvenient shapes that take up way too much room.
The Starry Station is a shiny white triangle with a black touchscreen on it’s front. That sentence alone is enough to get excited about. In terms of this product’s industrial design, I feel like this is how Apple’s router should have looked. The way in which is breaks the established router mold is brilliant.
Importantly (and yes, it is important — especially to younger generations) it looks good sitting in my home office. It looks right at home sitting next to my white Motorola Surfboard modem, the white CUJO Internet of Things security device. Scratch that; it actually looks like it’s in command of my Internet setup.
The screen shows the health of your Internet connection (more on that later) along with several floating bubbles which represent all of the connected devices on your network. The bigger the bubble the more data it’s consuming. This, in combination with the white triangular shape, looks awesome.
The Starry Station is like a super-modern shark fin of a router (which is apt since it seems like the top predator on the market ready to chomp down hard on any competition dumb enough to swim into it’s path).
A Router That’s Ultra-Reliable (Great for Streaming and Gaming)
At my home I currently pay for download and upload speeds of 50Mbps and 5Mpbs. Since installing the Starry Station I’ve had 99.9% uptime with no major (or even minor) connectivity issues. This is the way it’s supposed to be!
Actually, I can see exactly how fast my network connection is at any given time as the Starry Station monitors this and charts the history overtime. That means I can easily spot trends in my connection speed (like when everyone gets home from work and starts streaming Netflix).
Not only is this feature useful at face value, but it tells me something about the confidence the Starry team has in this product. They’re not afraid of showing customers how well this product is performing at any given time and that is a refreshingly good sign.
So my Starry Station test unit has run great without any hiccups, but still it’s limited by it’s hardware and hampered by the same issues that affect every router. Chiefly, the further away devices are from the router the weaker the WiFi signal is going to be. That’s just the way things work in router world.
If you live in a larger house, though, Starry does make a range extender called the Starry Wing which can help you create a mesh network effect for better, stronger coverage everywhere in your house.
Still, the Starry Station passes the competition here too as it will show you which devices on your network have weak signals (these devices bubbles will turn red on the main screen of the router). Not only that but it will help you troubleshoot bad connections by offering suggestions for better coverage.
One thing I really love about the Starry Station router is that it is capable of telling me if my Internet service has been disrupted (in other words it can tell me at a glance whether my ISP is having issues). This is really useful on a couple levels.
First it saves me a very long call to my ISP’s customer service line trying to figure out if they are having issues (woohoo!). Second, because I have so few problems with this router, when there is actually an Internet connectivity issue I can all but assume that downtime is in-fact the fault of my ISP (rather than my router).
This is a major 180 in my life. I’ve had a lot of trouble with routers in the past — even those that were highly rated on Amazon. Just before I got the Starry Station I was using a TP-Link router which was itself somewhat better than the abysmal Asus router I had before it (both of which were plenty expensive, by the way). I made a video about my experience trying to pick the best router awhile back which you should watch if you’re interested in seeing what went wrong.
Long story short, my previous routers had lots of issues. I had to reset them constantly just to keep the Internet working at home. A few resets per week was not uncommon and frequently the number was much higher. So far with the Starry Station, resetting my router has become a thing of the past.
A Router That’s Really Easy to Use
This router is highly usable. What I primarily mean by that is that it is actually easy to manage thanks to the touchscreen on the device itself and also because of the excellent app that lets you manage things remotely.
I’ve talked about the touchscreen a bit already, but let’s dive in a bit deeper. Shown by default is a network health score which appears as a percentage (along with the previously mentioned floating bubbles representing connected devices). The health score is a great way to see if your devices should be working properly (connecting to the Internet at the appropriate speed) at a glance.
It’s a feature that I’ve come to like because it can help me quickly diagnose whether or not it’s “just me” or if the entire household is potentially having connectivity issues. And it seems to work well. For instance, when I begin a YouTube upload the health score drops into the seventies as speeds slow down. And if my ISP is having issues the score will drop dramatically to reflect that.
My network health score normally hovers between 96-98%. Starry calculates this based on three main things: the status of my Internet connection from my ISP, WiFi conditions (mainly crowding) and signal strength for all connected devices.
I seem to always have a device or two with weak signal strength and I believe that’s why my score never reaches a full 100%. For some reason my 4th generation Apple TV always has a weaker signal than other connected entertainment devices in my living room even though they are all the same distance from my router (including my Samsung smart TV and an Xbox One S). If it weren’t for the Starry Station I wouldn’t have known that the signal was “weak” as my Apple TV seems to work great and has no streaming or speed issues.
For complete networking novices (including, but not limited to “older people”) the Starry Station tries to make things as easy as possible. It will display the network name and password on the screen in just a couple taps if one were to forget. And you can always see the current Internet speed which is nice (in fact you can easily perform a speed check via the Starry Station which means no more visiting the ugly — and often slow — speedtest.net).
Without a doubt this is the best router app I’ve ever seen. It’s not an afterthought (which is the first thing I think when I see router apps from other companies). It’s actually quite polished and pleasant to use (two things I never, ever thought I’d be saying about a router app).
Whether accessing settings from the touchscreen or the app, it’s a sleek and intuitive experience that sets the bar incredibly high.
A Router That’s Quick and Easy to Install
Setup took me about 3 minutes to complete. Seriously. It was a breeze going from unboxing to fully-online. Everything can be handled right on the touchscreen. If you want, the Starry Station can even suggest a new, creative network name for you. Same thing goes for a secure password. These two things go a long way toward putting network setup on autopilot for non-advanced users.
On the other hand, more advanced users (the really geeky ones that like to tinker with every little settings) might be less happy with what is and isn’t tweakable. And you know what? That’s a good thing — those kind of people can enjoy all of the existing routers from Netgear, Linksys, Asus, TP-Link, etc. For normal people (wink) there’s the Starry Station.
The one setting I personally wish I had a bit more control over during the setup process was the name of the 5Ghz band. This is a dual-band router but it only lets you give one network name and then automatically ads an _5 to that name for the 5Ghz network. Not a big deal, just a little gripe.
The app setup is equally easy. When you setup your router you’ll create a 4-digit pin code which makes syncing really easy.
A Router with Family Features Baked In
Aside from a great design and providing a reliable, speedy network connection, the Starry Station has some additional family-focused features which are worth mentioning.
If you have kids you know it can be tricky to peel them away from their devices to interact with the real world and to keep them safe online by protecting them from inappropriate content. The Starry Station makes this a bit easier by allowing parents to set screen time rules by device and also offers easy content filtering (no extra device or service required).
There are some really helpful starter rules which mean you don’t have to rack your brain figuring out settings from scratch. For instance you can just add the Bedtime, Block Bad Content, Help Kids Focus or The Great Outdoors rules and set which devices they should apply to and be done!
A Router That’s Not Without Some Flaws
The Starry Station is the best router I’ve ever seen and experienced, but it’s not perfect. There are a few flaws which might be deal breakers for some people.
The biggest flaw, for me, is the fact that there are only two ethernet ports on the back, one of which is taken up by a line from your modem (effectively leaving one extra port). This is a big deal for me because I have several additional devices I need to plug into my router: a Philips Hue hub to run my smart lights and a CUJO Internet of Things security device for starters. That meant that I had to purchase a switch before I could get fully setup (a switch is a device with extra ethernet ports that plugs into your router).
The switch I bought was kind of expensive at $50 which just adds to the price of the Starry Station which itself originally listed for $299 (though it’s currently quite a bit cheaper on Amazon). I know a lot of people choose a router based solely on which is the cheapest (and that’s a bad idea, by the way) and those people will unfortunately be turned off to this amazing router. So I guess the price can be considered a downside (but you know what they say, you get what you pay for).
One thing I found out is that the Starry Station is a toddler magnet. It just so happens that the way my Internet equipment is positioned on a shelf on a bookcase in my office puts everything right at toddler level. This is no fault of the router (my ethernet port and nearest power outlet on the wall is behind a couch and the power cords won’t stretch long enough to place the modem and router any higher). But, the router makes an easy target for a bored and/or curious kid. Unfortunately, there’s no way that I’ve found to lock the screen with a passcode and already my kid has figured out how to contact support and pause the Internet for devices.
Finally, the back of the Starry Station runs hot — really hot. If you place your hand on the back it will come close to getting burned (if it doesn’t actually get burned). This is one device you won’t want to crowd — give it plenty of breathing room.
A Router You Should Buy
A router should be reliable and many just aren’t. A router should be easy to use and again many simply aren’t. A router might as well look nice because, why not? So while many routers aren’t reliable, easy to use or pretty, the Starry Station is all of those things.
This is one of those products you don’t know you can’t live without until you own. If you are looking for the best router on the market, I’d say buy the Starry Station right now if you can afford it. I love mine.