UNBOXED: Reviewing the Engenius Mesh WiFi System
Going into the review of the Engenius ESR530 smart mesh router, I knew that my 1930s, stone-walled home was going to be about as tough of a test as the system was going to face. The home itself isn’t a large space by normal standards, taking up a little more than 2,000 square feet. But this early 1930s-built Cape Cod styled structure that I call home presents just about every sort of obstacle that makes getting solid, consistent WiFi coverage nearly impossible—stone walls, lots of heavy support beams, old wooden doors, and a networking setup that’s stationed in the basement.
And, to be pretty clear up front, the two-pack of ESR-539s that I got to review are not enough to give us full-blown coverage throughout the entire home. Ideally, I’d have another one of these located somewhere up on our second floor, or one or two of the company’s EMD1 plug-in access points to help extend our WiFi coverage. But in setting the system up and seeing how it did perform in areas of the home it was able to reach, I was pretty impressed with how the Engenius system did work.
Another thing to consider with this style of router, which Is a point very much in its favor, is design. Whereas most routers are nothing more than ugly, techie-looking black boxes, the Engenius routers are somewhat stylish. Though the main access point is hidden in the basement out of necessity, I have no qualms about leaving the living room-based router on the TV stand. It’s out in the open but doesn’t look really that out of place—and it helps with ensuring an uninterrupted dispersion of the signal.
For our in-home setup, I used the Engenius mesh WiFi routers as an overlay network that piggybacked off of the Verizon Fios system we subscribe to. To set up the routers, I simply used the included ethernet cable to attach one ESR530 to the Fios router in the basement, opened the Engenius EnMesh app, and followed the step-by-step process to get it all up and running. That whole process took about five minutes. From there, I moved up a floor out of the basement and placed the second ESR530 in the living room near a window that looks out to our pool area—a space the Fios WiFi has never been able to reach—and again followed the step-by-step in-app instructions to get the second hub hooked into the system, which took another three to five minutes.
I had tried to place the second hub in our office upstairs, but the app informed me that it was too far away from the main hub in the basement, which resulted in a poor mesh WiFi experience. With the second hub on the main floor, we are able to get solid coverage throughout most of the first floor, though the WiFi can’t reach the far side of the house, which is maybe three rooms over—roughly 30 paces—and has to work its way around several walls and appliances along the way. I can also remain connected out by our pool area as well as upstairs in the guest bedroom that’s immediately above the router. However, the signal cuts out when I get to the office which is just a few steps away. That’s where I think a third hub would come in handy, or at least one of the other plug in hubs. (The system is expandable up to eight hubs.) Another trouble area for the network is “my room,” which is on the main floor and used to be a part of the garage prior to a before-our-time remodel. The area is separated from the rest of the home by a pocket door and has thick concrete walls behind the drywall, which makes it tough for the mesh signal to break through. If I’m near the doorway and in direct eyesight of the living room-based hub it works great, but take a few steps into the room and I found that the signal would drop.
In a more modernly constructed home, I could see fewer instances of signal issues for sure, and when you boil it down, the experience of having a mesh router is much more seamless than other two- or three-band networks that you find yourself bouncing between on a regular basis. And Engenius provides a number of added features—like parental control, personal cloud storage, and more—that make their system a joy to have in the home. Additionally, their app provides limitless detail on the health of the WiFi network and lets the advanced user get into some of the nitty gritty details when setting up and maintaining their WiFi.
At $130 for the dual-pack, there’s not a lot you can really find wrong with this system, which makes it an easy recommendation for consumers looking to upgrade their in-home WiFi experience.