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Almond 3 Smart Home Wi-Fi system review:

Master of none

When I changed certain settings using the Almond app, especially the Wi-Fi networks' names, one or more of these would likely happen:

  • A message would appear reading "unable to change setting" even though the setting had changed anyway.
  • One or both satellite units was disconnected from the primary router.
  • The old network names were still available, along with the new ones, resulting in four networks instead of two. (By default, the Almond 3 has two Wi-Fi networks, one for the 2.4GHz band and another for the 5GHz band.)
  • One of the new secured networks would suddenly become unsecured.

    All that considered, when I just used the default settings, everything seemed to work fine. So if you just want to use the system as it comes out of the box without customizing it, chances are you will have fewer problems.

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    An erroneous message and the mess of Wi-Fi networks that the Almond 3 Wi-Fi system created. Note the open (unsecured) Wi-Fi network.

    Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

    Excellent smart home features

    The Almond 3 is one of the first routers with built-in support for smart homes. The Almond 3 is equipped to send and receive signals via ZigBee, a wireless frequency commonly used by smart-home gadgets, including the Philips Hue bulbs we use at the CNET Smart Apartment. This means once you plug an Almond 3 in, you'll be able to control them right from Almond's app.

    This was exactly the case in CNET's test. Keep in mind, however, that only a single Almond 3 router was used for this test, as CNET's Smart Home team couldn't get all three units to work together as a mesh Wi-Fi network.

    Aside from turning things on and off, Almond's app lets you control when specific devices are allowed to access the network. You can also label your kids' devices, then block them all at once when it's time to log off and go to bed. If you don't want to be the bad cop, sync Almond up with the Amazon Echo smart speaker , then tell Alexa to do it (and no, the kids can't ask her to turn things back on -- you can only unblock devices from within Almond's app).

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    Almond's app also features a pretty powerful rules engine. It follows an "if this, then that" framework that's similar to the free automation service IFTTT. However, unlike IFTTT, it'll let you pick out multiple triggers and multiple actions. You could, for instance, create a rule that turns your lamps on and sends a loved one a notification whenever you return home after 9 p.m..

    The Almond 3 is good at detecting your presence because it tracks your phone's Wi-Fi signal. As soon as that signal jumps onto Almond's network, it knows that you're returning home. In CNET's tests, this Wi-Fi-based geofencing worked flawlessly, reliably turning things on and off as we'd come and go. Securifi also offers accessories like a motion detector, an open/closed sensor, and a smart button -- triggering automated rules using those devices worked well, too.

    All of it is more than enough for the Almond 3 to live up to the "smart router" billing. It's just a shame that the shoddy networking leaves those smarts more or less moot.

    CNET Labs' 5Ghz Wi-Fi system performance

    Netgear Orbi (single router)
    416.2
    229.6
    Netgear Orbi (via one extender)
    415.83
    229.3
    Eero (single router)
    352.5
    197.7
    Almond 3 (single router)
    315.8
    220.6
    Eero (via one extender)
    170.7
    60
    Almond 3 (via one extender)
    159.1
    110.1

    Legend:

    Close range
    Long range

    Note:

    Measured in megabits per second. Longer bars mean better performance.

    Mixed Wi-Fi performance

    As a single Wi-Fi router, the Almond 3 performed well compared with other dual-stream (2x2) 802.11ac routers. It has a top close distance speed (within 15 feet) of 315Mbps and when I increased the range to 75 feet, it still averaged 220Mbps. Range was good, too, as it functioned up to 130 feet away with two walls in between. Also, it passed my 48-hour stress test (where I let it constantly transfer a large amount of data between multiple Wi-Fi clients) with no problem -- it didn't disconnect even once during this time.

    As a Wi-Fi system (three units working in tandem), however, it was a completely different story. First, it failed the stress test after just a few hours. In real-world usage, I was disconnected quite often during multiple gaming sections (really frustrating!). My gaming PC didn't completely disconnect, but it still took a few seconds to reconnect to the network, which was more than enough time to lose a game of Hearthstone. That said, if you're just surfing the web, you likely won't notice the disconnection.

    In terms of speed, the Almond 3 system was par for the course as Wi-Fi extenders go. Clients connected to the extender are expected to have some 50 percent less speed than those connected directly to the main router. This is because the extender needs to do both receiving the signal (from the main router) and rebroadcasting it. The only Wi-Fi system on the market that doesn't suffer from this signal-loss phenomenon is the Netgear Orbi.

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    Each Almond 3 can work as a router that has two LAN ports and one WAN port. When working as an extender, the WAN port is no longer used.

    James Martin/CNET

    Should I buy it?

    If you live in a small place and want a router that lets you connect all your smart-home devices, at $150 the Almond 3 isn't a bad deal. It's not the best router in the world, but performance is solid.

    However, as a Wi-Fi system, $400 is just too much to pay when there are better, less buggy, more reliable and easier to use "Wi-Fi for dummies" systems like the Eero or Netgear Orbi out there. Securifi seems to have shoehorned mesh network features onto its existing Almond hardware instead of developing a new system from the ground up. The result is a product with an archaic, buggy and unintuitive interface. And while you might be able to avoid the bugs by sticking to the default settings, the sporadic disconnection remains a major shortcoming. The Almond 3 system does a lot, but unfortunately doesn't excel at enough to be worth a purchase.

    Wait for the price to significantly decrease or a firmware update that addresses the current issues.

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