If we were giving out prizes for coolest-looking wireless mesh system, Ubiquiti’s Amplifi HD would win hands down, which can be found for around £360. Rather than using identical-looking components for the entire system, Amplifi HD consists of two main parts.
First, there’s the cuboid router, which looks great and has a funky LCD touchscreen on the front. As well as giving you a quick way to install updates (just tap when there’s a new one to install), tapping the display cycles through the date and time, data usage, and router’s IP address.
The router is configured using the Amplifi smartphone app for Android and iOS. You can set up the system to connect to your existing router, or you can use the PPoE option to connect directly to a modem, such as for BT internet.
Ubiquiti hasn’t got an IGMP proxy option in the settings, so the router wouldn’t work with streamed YouView channels, such as BT Sport. It’s a common issue with third-party routers, so if you’re with BT you’ll either need an alternative router, or you’ll need to connect the Amplifi to your existing BT router.
It’s good to see that there are four Gigabit Ethernet ports for hooking up wired devices. There’s also a USB port, although it currently isn’t configured to do anything.
Once the router is working and has an internet connection, it’s time to configure the mesh network.
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Ubiquiti Amplifi HD review: Setup
In many cases, the best place to put a mesh access point is in a hallway, but locating one can be an issue. With the Ubiquiti system, the access points use a ball joint connected to plug, so can just pick a wall socket, angle the antenna and you’re good to go. Smartly, the ball joint uses a magnetic connector, so if someone knocks into the access point, they may detach it, but they won’t break it.
Each access point has a row of blue status LEDs to show the current network strength. These can be scheduled to turn off, along with the router’s LCD screen, so you won’t have a night’s sleep interrupted.
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Ubiquiti Amplifi HD review: Wi-Fi
By default, the Amplifi HD merges both its 5GHz network and 2.4GHz network under one SSID. The setup process gets you to create a new network and secure password; we recommend using the same details as for your old router so that all wireless devices will just reconnect to your new network.
Using a single SSID, the Amplifi HD uses band steering to push devices to the most appropriate network, based on features and signal strength. It’s worth turning on router steering, too, which will push devices towards the strongest access point; without this, some devices cling onto an access point until you move out of range, which can affect performance.
Should you want, you can disband the networks and expose the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks individually. We don’t recommend doing this with a mesh system, as you get more benefit and greater reliability using the default settings.
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Ubiquiti Amplifi HD review: Features
By default, the Amplifi HD uses Network Address Translation (NAT). This is fine if you’re connected directly to the internet via a modem, but if you’re connected to an existing router, this setup can make port forwarding harder. However, you can switch the Amplifi system to Bridge mode, which makes it integrate neatly with your existing network, much in the same way as the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi does.
There’s a good reason not do this, though: you lose out on the profiles option. With profiles, you can group connected devices under one person, say having one child’s laptop and phone under a single profile. Then, you can pause one person’s internet access on all device, and schedule exactly when the devices can and can’t be used. Access control is simple to manage, but TP-Link’s Deco M5 has more granular controls, plus web filtering and anti-virus.
Ubiquiti Amplifi HD review: Performance
The Amplifi HD has headline speeds of 1,300Mbit/s on the 5GHz channel and 450Mbit/s on the 2.4GHz channel. The 5GHz band is used to build the mesh network, so the bandwidth has to be shared between this job and any connecting clients.
Performance inside was similar to most of the other mesh systems that we’ve tested: 210.95Mbit/s at close range was a little slow, but 286.05Mbit/s on the first floor and 214.54Mbit/s on the second floor were good. Moving outside, where we traditionally have a dead spot, we found that performance wasn’t as good as with some of the other mesh systems that we’ve tested. Outside of the kitchen window, the throughput of 54.2Mbit/s was a touch slower than we wanted, while a speed of 19.92Mbit/s at the bottom of the garden was considerably slower than we were expecting: we’d expect at least double that.
Ubiquiti Amplifi HD review: Verdict
The Amplifi HD’s smart access points make this system a lot more flexible for positioning. We really like the smart-looking router and its clever touchscreen. That said, the system is incredibly expensive, doesn’t quite have the performance of its rivals in our tests. For upgrading your existing home network, the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi is better value; the Netgear Orbi is a faster system for replacing an older router.