Starry caused a big splash back in February when it promised a revolutionary new wireless Internet service. That service isn't here yet -- it's scheduled to launch later this summer in Boston. In the meantime, the company's Starry Wi-Fi Station router, which works just fine with any plain old broadband service, has arrived.
This router is the newest in the procession of "routers for dummies" -- products such as the Eero and Google OnHub, made for those intimidated by the home network setup process. For advanced users like me -- those who like having browser-based controls and meticulous network setup options -- find products like these to be oversimplified and generally lacking.
But if you're confused by networking terminology such as WAN, LAN, SSID, DNS, 802.11ac and MIMO, these products are well worth checking out. And from that perspective, the Starry Wi-Fi Station is a success. If you want a solid router that is as easy to use as programming your alarm clock, you'll love it. But that simplicity comes at a steep price: The Starry Wi-Fi Station costs $350. (It's not available in the UK or Australia, but its US price translates to about £245 or AU$475.)
What does the Starry Wi-Fi Station do?
As a Wi-Fi router, it connects to an Internet source (such as a broadband modem) and then shares that connection with multiple wireless devices, such as your laptop, your iPad and your mobile phone. All Wi-Fi routers do this.
The Starry supports the dual-band quad-stream (4x4) setup of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, meaning it has a top Wi-Fi speed on paper of 1,733Mbps, which is the fastest to date. It supports all existing Wi-Fi devices on the market.
What makes the Starry different from traditional Wi-Fi routers?
- The router has a unique design, shaped like a 7-inch equilateral triangle standing on one of its sides, with the base measuring 3 inches wide. It sure looks unlike any router I've seen, though some of my colleagues thought the router actually looked ugly.
- On the front it has a 3.8-inch touchscreen used for both the initial setup process and ongoing management of the router. (Most other routers don't have a screen at all, but this feature has been seen before on products such as the Securifi Almond.) This screen also displays what Starry calls the "network health score," Wi-Fi network name and password, currently connected devices and some other information. You can tap or swipe on the screen to switch between different info pages or run an Internet speed test.
- On the back, the router has only two network ports, as opposed to five on most others: one for the Internet connection (WAN) and the other for one wired client (LAN), such as a desktop computer or Roku box. This means if you want to connect more than one wired client, you will need to get a switch or a hub in order to add more ports.
- The router has a mic and a small speaker. Neither of these is currently used for anything. In the future, however, according to Starry, the ability to support voice commands will be added via a software update.
- With a focus on simplicity, the Starry is designed to be managed via a free mobile app on Android or iOS devices. Advanced users may lament the lack of a browser-based setup interface, though Starry says the company might add that sort of expert mode in the future.
- Starry says the router is "Internet of Things"-ready, with built-in support for home automation wireless standards, such as ZigBee. Again, this feature is not live at launch and will be released as software updates in the future.
Is it really that easy to set up?
Yes. The setup process is dead simple. You just plug the Starry into the power, connect its WAN port to a broadband modem, and turn it on. After that, via the touchscreen, you can pick a name and password for your Wi-Fi network from randomly generated options or type them in yourself. And that's it.
Can you easily customize its settings?
Not really. Once the setup process is done, other than turning the Guest network and the 5GHz band on or off, you can't use the touchscreen to customize anything else, even the network name and the password. All you can do is view information and reset the router to its original factory settings, then restart the setup process from the beginning.
If you want to customize its settings at all, you will need to use the Starry mobile app. To use this app, however, you will first need to register an account with Starry, which allows you to manage your home network even when you're out and about. In return, from then on the router will be connected to Starry at all times. And even then, its potential for customization is limited. You can't choose a name for the 5GHz band, for example: The router automatically takes the name of the 2.4GHz band plus the "_5" suffix. Similarly, the guest network would have the suffix "_Guest."
What information is collected by Starry via the Wi-Fi Station?
According to Starry, it collects throughput usage, "network health" score, speed tests, connected device types and router configuration. It then stores the configuration state of the router and telemetry data (speed test, throughput, ping and so on) so that it can display the graphs to the user via the touchscreen or the mobile app. It also collects data around how users use the device, such as which screen on the mobile app they spend the most time using, and so on.
Starry says it doesn't collect information on what users are doing online, such as the websites they visit, what apps they use, what movies or audio they stream and so forth.