It may not be the fastest or have the longest range, but the $200 Securifi Almond+ is the first router that combines Wi-Fi and smart home automation in one. With ZigBee and Z-Wave antennas, this router lets you connect to and control hundreds of smart home devices, from light bulbs to garage door openers, right from your smartphone. It's the router for those who want wireless data and feel the need to command a slew of household devices.
One of the most successful Kickstarter crowdsourcing projects to date, Securifi's Almond+ updates the household router with a sleek black rectangular device with no antennas sticking out. At 7.3 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches, it's about the size of a paperback book, but is 50 percent larger than Amped Wireless' TAP-R2, which also has a touch-screen display. It includes plastic brackets for wall mounting or sitting on a shelf.
The center of attention is the Almond+'s 3.5-inch touch screen. It has a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels (matching the TAP-R2's display), with vivid colors and sharp text. Unfortunately, like the TAP-R2, a recessed screen about 0.1 inches below the surface makes it hard for users to navigate and tap in the corners. Fortunately, it includes a stylus that fits into a slot on the device.
Instead of blinking LEDs, the Almond+'s home screen displays icons in a 4 x 2 grid, compared with the TAP-R2's 2 x 2 arrangement. If you get tired of looking at these icons, you can turn the screen off manually or automatically after a set idle period.
The current software has 15 icons spread across three screens, but rather than swiping to go between them, you need to tap an arrow icon. The icons represent everything from configuring your Internet connection and wireless details to setting up home automation devices. The latest software update adds weather and time screens, but there's no way yet to make the clock automatically appear when the screen is idle, as is the case with the TAP-R2; Securifi is working on a software update for this.
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In the back of the router are four Gigabit wired LAN ports as well as a pair of USB 3.0 ports that work with hard drives and printers. The Almond+ lacks an on/off switch; instead, you'll use the touch screen to power it on or off.
The beauty of having a touch screen is that you can configure the Almond+ by tapping it or by using a connected computer. Either way, the process takes about 5 minutes. That's a little longer than the claimed “3-minute touch-screen setup,” but it's still impressive. The Almond+ comes with an AC adapter, a flat Ethernet cable and mounting hardware, but no CD.
After plugging in the AC adapter and modem and tapping the on-screen Wizard icon, the Almond+ sniffs out your Internet connection and then sets itself up as your choice of a router, access point or range extender. Next, you can change the network names and passwords, which is a great idea because the system comes with insecure names and passwords.
Alternatively, you can set up the Almond+ manually by typing the router's home address (10.10.10.254) into a client and going through the choices. It can operate as an FTP, Samba or DLNA server or as a VPN.
The router's security is up to date with WEP, WPA, WPA2 and WPA2 mixed-mode coding and a variety of encryption techniques to choose from. The router has both stateful packet inspection and network address translation firewalls, but it lacks the ability to authenticate clients using a RADIUS server, so this is not a small business-friendly device.
You can connect clients manually or use the router's automated Wi-Fi Protected Setup. The Almond+ quickly became part of my home's IT landscape. I connected everything from an iPad and Android slate to desktops, notebooks, networked hard drives and printers.
In addition to Wi-Fi, the Almond+ can interact with ZigBee and Z-Wave home automation products, and has been tested with more than 90 different sensors for everything from door and window locks, garage door openers, light switches and thermostats. Among those are Belkin WeMo, GE and Philips Hue LED bulbs, Schlage and Kwikset door locks, and the PEQ thermostat.
Happily, the Almond+ includes Securifi's Peanut Plug for remotely controlling an AC outlet. The programming interface is easy enough for a second grader or 60-year old to use. In about a minute, I set it up to turn an office fan on at 7 a.m. and off at 6 p.m.
The Almond+ worked just as well directly interacting with a Belkin WeMo LED light bulb, adding the ability to dim the light. Securifi is working on adding the ability to turn items on or off at sunrise and sunset — something other home automation products have had for years.
However, there are some limitations. The Almond+ lacks geolocation as well as IFTTT compatibility, so it can't automatically turn on lights when it detects your smartphone is in a particular location. It also lacks macros, so it can't turn on the lights automatically if, say, a window is opened. However, you can group commands, so that it can unlock the door and turn on your lights at the same time.
Inside the Almond+, a 750-MHz ARM Cortex dual-core processor with 512MB of RAM and 512MB of flash storage runs the show. There are three Wi-Fi antennas inside the case as well as separate ones for ZigBee and Z-Wave home automation connections; none are removable. The router can shape its transmitted signal to suit its clients, but lacks Mu-MIMO capabilities.
The dual-band router can move up to a theoretical limit of 450 Mbps in 2.4-GHz mode and 1.3 Gbps in 5-GHz mode for a total peak output of 1.75 Gbps.
Using IxChariot software in our test lab, the dual-band router's combined throughput was 363.5 Mbps at 5 feet, or slightly off the group average of 388.8 Mbps and disappointingly lower than the 438.7 Mbps combined output of Trendnet's TEW-812DRU router. Still, it's better than the 93.8 Mbps that Amped Wireless' TAP-R2 delivers.
At 65.6 Mbps, the Almond+ was 30 percent off the Netgear R8000's 100.5 Mbps at 15 feet in 2.4-GHz mode, but only marginally below the group's average of 73.7 Mbps.
In 5-GHz testing, the Almond+ did a little better with the ability to move 291.5 Mbps 5 feet from the client, just below the group average of 315.2 Mbps. Still, it was 25 percent slower than the Asus RT-AC68U's best-in-breed 361.3 Mbps. Here, Netgear's R6300 lagged behind the Almond+.
In a home test environment, the router redeemed itself in the 2.4-GHz range with the ability to stay in contact with a Toshiba Portégé Z20t client at 160 feet. While that's short of the current distance champ (Amped Wireless' RTA1750 at 175 feet), the Almond+ stayed online 20 feet farther than the Netgear R7000.
Over a week of daily use, I watched movies, played games and — every so often — did a little work. The Almond+ easily passed the saturation test, where I move data into and out of a networked hard drive while listening to an Internet radio station, working with online software on an iPad, watching a TV show on an Android device and viewing a movie on Netflix with a Windows tablet. I experienced no freezing, stuttering or dropouts.
The Almond+ runs WRT open-source firmware. In addition to adjusting or tweaking the router's parameters with a connected client, you can tap icons that lead to the detailed configuration areas. On the downside, its options are limited to the ability to restrict the number of clients and change the Request to Send/Clear to Send (RTS/CTS) details. But, that's about it. You can't change important things like the beacon interval or its output level.
The router also lacks Quality of Service (QOS) software for prioritizing traffic. While it has a nice traffic graph that shows incoming and outgoing data, the graph is meant to show 6 minutes at a time, of which only 1.5 minutes is ever filled; Securifi is working on a fix.
Finally, iOS and Android apps let you check and change basic settings as well as remotely restart the Almond+. The app shows how many clients are connected, but unlike the Netgear Genie software, you can't tell who's connected. It also lacks the ability of the Amped Wireless' Wi-Fi Analytic Tool's ability to monitor traffic from a tablet or phone.
While it is a unique undertaking, the Almond+ has a run-of-the-mill 1-year warranty. That is second best compared with Trendnet's three-year coverage for the TEW-812DRU router.
At $200, the Almond+ is a bargain for those who want an acceptable Wi-Fi router with a touch-screen interface, but also have a hankering to control their castle. However, it comes up a little short both as a router and as a smart home hub. Its Wi-Fi throughput is just above average, and compared with dedicated hubs like the Quirky Wink or the Staples Connect, its smart home controls are limited. Still, the ability to turn electrical items on and off on the spur of the moment from your phone makes the Almond+ the future of Wi-Fi routers.
Size: 1.6 x 7.3 x 5.4 inches
Number of Wi-Fi Antennas: 3 / Not removable
Wi-Fi Spec: Dual-band 802.11ac / 1.75Gbps
Ports: 4 Gbps LAN, 2 USB 3.0
Peak 802.11ac Performance: 363.5 Mbps
Range in 2.4-GHz Mode: 160 ft.
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