Routers are boring, right? They’re little ugly boxes that we try to hide out of sight (but not too far out of sight in case we need to reset them). But actually, routers really make our world’s turn. Without them it would be a lot harder to watch Netflix or Hulu, our smart thermostats wouldn’t be able to function and we could forget about wireless online gaming from our phones or consoles.
Now if you’re thinking about getting a new router, you’re probably going to end up searching for “the best” new routers you can find. Okay, well that could mean a couple different things. If you’re looking for a router that works the best that’s one thing (and very important). Alternatively, you might be interested in a router with the best truly new features (rather than one that makes incremental improvements). While I plan on writing a roundup of the best routers (in terms of speed, reliability and traditional features) in the next several days (stay tuned), today’s post is going to feature new routers that are actually pushing the envelope forward in terms of functionality.
I think this is a really interesting time to be buying a router. It wasn’t long ago that dual band routers were touted as all the rage. The reasoning made perfect sense: an extra lane for internet traffic would prevent network congestion. Today, top outlets like CNET say that tri-band routers are likely overkill for most people. But that is where I must disagree.
I have a new tri-band router en route to my house today (as it turns out). It’s replacing an older router that my family used for more than five years! If that’s any indication of how long this new router will be in service, I wanted to future proof my digital lifestyle as much as possible. Whereas today a tri-band router might seem like overkill for many households, I doubt it will for long. In the last few years my house (and probably yours) has added MANY new internet-connected (i.e. smart) devices. Phones, tablets, TVs, security systems, watches, baby monitors… the list goes on. And I plan on adding many more. As my neighbors do the same, it’s going to get awfully congested on all bands once again: hence my purchase of a tri-band router.
If you’ve got questions like, “What’s the best new router?” or “What’s the fastest new router” or “What’s the easiest router to setup and manage?” then I think you’ll find this post very helpful.
So with that intro out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the coolest new routers sporting the best new features you can buy today.
The Starry Station is a brand new router that’s all about super-fast speeds and peace of mind (okay, and great looks). Like many (if not most) really expensive (ya, this thing is pretty pricey) routers the Starry Station comes with features like MU-MIMO support (for multiple users connected at once) and beamforming (for aiming signals directly at devices). But that’s just the start. The Starry Station makes heavy use of an attractive 3.8” touch screen designed to make setting up and managing your home network as easy as humanly possible. At any given time, you’ll be able to see a number that tells you the health of your network (from 0-100%), as well as the number of connected devices and how well they’re performing. If you have an issue, the router can help you solve it: Station can diagnose itself and suggest immediate fixes, or you can request a call with a Starry support expert who will call you back within a matter of minutes. Finally, this router looks like no other router you’ve ever seen. It’s got a really unique white triangle look that looks so much better than “traditional” routers with half a dozen antennas jutting out. Am I looking at a router or a piece of art?
If all you care about is simplicity (in terms of setup) and day-to-day reliability, then Google’s OnHub routers might be for you. Google is continuing the “routers that aren’t ugly” trend with it’s OnHub project (and that’s a good thing). These routers (there are currently two: one from Asus and one from TP-Link) are tall cylinders that hide the internal antennas (and you can even change the shell to fit your preferred aesthetic depending on the model you purchase). The best model has 13 antennas including 1 dedicated to scanning the other antennas to make sure everything is working properly. Yes, it’s only a dual band router — and tinkerers are definitely going to be bummed by the lack of management options — but the simplicity is going to appeal to a lot of users. I really like that this router auto-updates itself and some decent security features you won’t find on most “traditional” routers.
eero is designed to provide even large houses with the best possible WiFi coverage (i.e. no dead spaces). Whereas a “normal” router loses transfer speed the further away connected devices are (because signals drop when going through walls and floors, for one), eero is a mesh network. That means eero wants to sell you 3 devices that you can place around your home to boost the signal and keep your games, movies and browsing running buttery smooth. eero has a beautifully simple app that will walk you through setup (including where to place each device) and will make management a breeze. Creating a guest network with eero couldn’t be easier and you’ll never have to reset your router again (ohhhh yaaaaa) thanks to the system running regular self-checkups. I like the look of the eero devices — they out-Appled Apple. Even so, this system doesn’t come cheap (but the convenience and quality might make it worth it for you — especially if you live in a bigger house).
Portal is a sleek-looking modern router that’s currently raising money on Kickstarter (so get in early for a nice discount). Portal was specifically designed to provide excellent WiFi coverage and speeds in crowded urban areas (think apartment buildings or dense neighborhoods). So far from what I’ve seen, the tests look quite promising (and impressive). What’s the magic making this happen? Well (and this is all according to Portal), FastLanes Technology is utilized to provide a 3X the spectrum one might normally be able to take advantage of. The big claim? A 300X speed increase in crowded areas (if true, that’s spectacular and worth waiting for). On top of that, Portal uses smart traffic steering to dynamically avoid network traffic congestion and supports multiple users (for secure guest networks). Setup should be an absolute breeze with portal’s one-touch setup process (and the app will give you access to remote management and monitoring functions as well). Finally, I really like the idea of a “smart learning router” which Portal claims to be: it will learn how people in your home use the internet and get better at making sure your connection(s) are speedy.