/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Phicomm Smart Home Wi-Fi router (K3) review: Phicomm's fancy design masks a slightly above-average router

dan-dziedzic

The Phicomm K3 smart home router has fast speed and good range on 2.4GHz but the user interface is lacking. For $230, you get high-end hardware inside a "normal"-looking device (as opposed to the extraterrestrial designs favored by other router makers). This will allow you to place it out in the open and get the best signal possible. The menu wasn't as visually appealing as the router, but the settings are all there if you can find the ones you need. Anyone who wants to pay a little extra for the design, will get solid coverage for a medium-size home with Phicomm's new AC3150 router.

phicomm-router-product-photos-5
7.0

Phicomm Smart Home Wi-Fi router (K3)

The Good

It's fast and consistent on 2.4GHz, and it looks relatively “normal” compared to other futuristic-looking routers.

The Bad

The web interface and app need work. For the price, the long-range speed on 5GHz was disappointing, and it lacks detailed QoS to manage bandwidth. It also doesn't have extra anti-malware features to protect your smart devices.

The Bottom Line

The K3 has above-average overall speed, but its disorganized menu and limited range on 5GHz make it only worth the price if you really like the design.

Unique look that's not so futuristic

The Phicomm K3 smart home router was designed by high-end Scandinavian firm Jacob Jensen Design. Phicomm spends a lot of time talking about its elegance and style, but I think it's about as simple as can be, looking a lot like a PS3 or a large modem.

phicomm-router-product-photos-4

The Phicomm K3 router looks relatively "normal" and can be placed out in the open for a better Wi-Fi signal without offending anyone's sense of style.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The K3 is a stand-up metallic gray-and-black box with slightly rounded sides, and it's much heavier than other routers I've tested, weighing in at nearly three pounds. It doesn't have external antennas, but the top features a 3.5-inch LCD touchscreen. This display shows when you're connected to the internet, the status of your Ethernet ports, network names and passwords (this needs to be enabled), general router information and which devices are connected. In general, I find this display to be pointless unless you can change settings using it. The K3 is display-only.

The back features one gigabit WAN port and only three gigabit LAN ports for wired devices (four is standard), as well as a power on/off button and a DC port for a power adapter. It also has a USB 3.0 port, but in my wireless testing of network storage, the speeds were just average. You also need to enable the 3.0 feature from the menu because Phicomm notes that it could cause Wi-Fi interference.

phicomm-router-product-photos-2

The back features only three gigabit LAN ports for wired connections, as opposed to the standard four.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Overall, the Phicomm K3 isn't as crazy-looking as most routers, so it will draw less attention and fit in nicely pretty much anywhere in your home.

The user interface needs some work

Setting up the Phicomm K3 was easy.

You will need to set up your passwords and connection, but surprisingly, it didn't ask if I wanted to update the firmware. I had to log into the router menu and go to the Advanced tab, then click the Online Update icon. Don't confuse this with the Update icon, which requires you to download a file from Phicomm's download center and then select that file from the router menu. The router also reboots after you install the update, so you may have to reconnect to the network after it's finished.

This whole firmware update process was inconvenient and should have been part of the setup process. Not to mention that you can run into security issues down the road if you don't know you need to install a new update.

The menu as a whole was disappointing. The user interface looks a bit thrown together and isn't organized very well.

phicomm-k3-router-menu-1

The menu looks intimidating with four tabs and 22 icons. It can be confusing if you are a novice router user.

Dan Dziedzic/CNET

Pretty much all the settings are listed as icons (22 of them, to be exact) under the Advanced tab. Each icon has a description to help you find what you are looking for, but you probably will end up clicking through a few when looking for a specific, advanced setting. The K3 has limited parental controls and quality of service (QoS), the latter of which only allows you to set bandwidth limits on each device. One saving grace is a helpful question-mark icon at the top right of the screen, which is clickable after you open an icon to tell you what each of the settings mean.

Phicomm's PhiWiFi app is very similar to the browser menu except they narrowed it down to 17 icons. They removed most of the more complex settings like DMZ, port forwarding and VPN, but also some basic ones, like USB storage and security. I'm not sure why they limited the app so much, because the screens on the app look almost exactly as they do in a browser.

In my opinion, Phicomm should have invested more into developing its app and router interface and less time on the physical design of the router.

Powerful hardware but not enough bonus features

One thing Phicomm did right with this router is it gave it powerful wireless hardware.

Its AC3150 rating means 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps) on 2.4GHz and 2,167Mbps on 5GHz. Its 4x4 antennas offer four spatial streams for better reliability and speed. The K3 also has single SSID mode to let the router choose the best network (sometimes called band steering), MU-MIMO for fast simultaneous connections, and beamforming to focus Wi-Fi directly on your connected devices. You will need to enable all three of these features from the menu, if you want to take advantage of them.

The K3 has your standard WPA2-PSK security and VPN support along with an option to turn on/off a firewall and set up Denial of Service (DoS) protection. I'm very surprised that Phicomm calls this a "smart home router" but doesn't have additional antimalware and security measures for all your connected devices. D-Link recently teamed up with McAfee to create a smart home router and TP-Link has free Trend Micro services on its Archer C3150 V2 router.

That seems to be a recurring theme with the K3 router -- it has most of what you want but definitely doesn't have many "extras." And some of the menu features it does have can be a little confusing with non-standard terminology. For example, there's an icon labelled "wireless extension," which is where you can set up the router as a wireless repeater/extender.

The $220 price tag leaves me wanting more from the K3. One bonus is that the router does include a two-year manufacturer's warranty.

2.4GHz has good range, 5GHz could suffer in large homes

Despite not having the best software, the K3's hardware performed well overall, especially on 2.4GHz. I saw consistent speeds all the way up to 50 feet, peaking at 165Mbps from close range.

2.4GHz Wi-Fi Performance

Asus RT-AC86U AC2900 142 169 143Linksys WRT32X AC3200 172 165 152D-Link DIR-882 AC2600 165 164 164Linksys EA8300 AC2200 110 116 116AmpliFi AFi-R AC1750 133 130 94TP-Link Archer C3150 V2 AC3150 163 163 160Netgear XR500 AC2600 166 158 153Phicomm K3 AC3150 165 155 155
  • 7 feet
  • 25 feet
  • 50 feet
Notes: All speeds in megabits per second (Mbps)

The K3 was a mixed bag on 5GHz. Its close range speed was awesome, clocking in at 847Mbps, but I saw a significant drop-off at 25 and 50 feet, performing at 417Mbps and 139Mbps, respectively. As you can see from the chart below, most routers didn't drop off this much at those distances.

5GHz Wi-Fi Performance

Asus RT-AC86U AC2900 938 567 293Linksys WRT32X AC3200 770 370 116D-Link DIR-882 AC2600 927 568 283Linksys EA8300 AC2200 655 367 89AmpliFi AFi-R AC1750 431 279 70TP-Link Archer C3150 AC3150 897 529 274Netgear XR500 AC2600 772 530 224Phicomm K3 AC3150 847 417 139
  • 7 feet
  • 25 feet
  • 50 feet
Notes: All speeds in megabits per second (Mbps)

To test the router's wireless file transfer speeds, I used an ADATA SD700 256GB external solid state drive connected to the router's USB 3.0 port. I tested from 15 feet away and got some surprising results. I actually saw a faster top speed on 2.4GHz, measuring a download speed of 10 megabytes per second (MBps) and an upload speed of nearly 18MBps. On 5GHz, it performed at 11MBps down and 15MBps up.

Network Storage Performance

TP-Link Archer C3150 AC3150 9.73 11.10 17.57 15.28Netgear XR500 AC2600 14.66 18.96 49.34 30.80Phicomm K3 AC3150 10.09 17.82 10.75 15.17
  • 2.4GHz Download
  • 2.4GHz Upload
  • 5GHz Download
  • 5GHz Upload
Notes: All speeds in megabytes per second (MBps)

Should you buy one?

The Phicomm K3 smart home Wi-Fi router is above average, but not the best for an AC3150 router. I'd still recommend the Asus RT-AC86U (AC2900) or the TP-Link Archer C3150 V2 (AC3150) for ease-of-use, range and top speed. The K3 has powerful hardware, but the menu and app need work, and the 5GHz range could be better. The deciding factor for me is the price. The K3 is just too expensive at $220. You will get top speed in the same room as the router, but the range may suffer in a larger home with lots of devices.

Editors' note: In April 2018, Phicomm released new firmware for the K3 router (V22.1.23.149), which they say will improve wireless performance. It is available at Phicomm's download center.

Phicomm K3 specs

Brand PhicommModelK3
IEEE 802.11 Standard a/b/g/n/acClassAC3150
Speed (Mbps) 3,167 (1,000+2,167)CPU processorDual-core 1.4GHz
Frequency Dual-band (2.4GHz+5GHz)RAM memory512MB
Ethernet ports 1 Gigabit WAN; 3 Gigabit LANFlash memory128MB
USB ports 1 USB 3.0Guest Wi-FiYes
Antennas 4x4 internalParental controlsYes
Spatial streams 4 (2.4GHz); 4 (5GHz)MU-MIMOYes
Modulation 1024-QAM 5/6BeamformingYes
Security WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK, Firewall, DoS protectionSetupApp or browser
Size (in.) 8.3 by 2.9 by 9.1Weight (lbs.)2.78
phicomm-router-product-photos-5
7.0

Phicomm Smart Home Wi-Fi router (K3)

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 6Performance 8