If you purchase the Almond as a Wi-Fi system or mesh network, it comes with three identical router units for $400. The first unit serves as your main router while the other two extend the first router's signal, blanketing your large home with Wi-Fi. At least, that's how it's supposed to work.
Wi-Fi systems like theEero and Netgear Orbipromise expansive Wi-Fi coverage with simple setup and maintenance. And while both the Eero and Orbi deliver on this promise, the mesh network features on the Almond 3 feel tacked on and are buggy as hell.
The Almond 3 is trying to be many things. It's perfectly fine as a single router or smarthome hub, but utterly fails as a mesh network with too high a price tag, an unreliable connection and an antiquated and buggy interface.
As a router and smarthome hub, this is a midlevel 802.11ac Wi-Fi router. It doesn't offer the fastest Wi-Fi speed but it's more than fast enough to deliver any residential internet connection. What makes it different from other routers, however, is the fact it comes with a touch screen -- similar to theStarry -- and a built-in one-volume-level speaker that works as an alarm (like a digital alarm clock). Apart from Wi-Fi, it can also work with other smart-home devices such as security sensors via a popular wireless standard for home automation called called ZigBee 1.2 and is compatible withhundreds of web-connected devices .
The device is small, but in my trial it's still powerful enough to cover a small home, say, about 1,500 square feet, with a strong Wi-Fi signal as long as it's placed in the middle of the living space.
As a Wi-Fi system, oneof the three units works as a router andthe other two as extenders, effectively extending the range of the Wi-Fi network. When all three are used together and placed at optimal distances from one another, they create a mesh network that can cover up to 4,000 square feet with a Wi-Fi signal.
You can control the Almond 3 from three different platforms: the touchscreen on the device, a separate mobile app that you'll need a phone or tablet to access, and a web interface via your home computer. The problem is, no single platform gives you complete control. Instead, you need to use all three to customize the system.
That would be bad enough, but it's compounded by a device that appears to be using the same touchscreen technology as theoriginal Almondreleased four years ago. So don't expect a modern phone-like experience here. It's more like aPalm Treoand is as archaic as the product shots you can see at the previous link. In fact, Securifi included a stylus with the Almond 3, because your fingers just aren't the best tool for this product.
So yeah -- this is not the kind of touchscreen you'd expect from a modern device. But since some features can only be accessed from the screen, you unfortunately won't be able to avoid it.
While most routers take about 30 seconds to boot up, the Almond 3 takes a full three minutes. With the multiple restarts required to complete the setup process, you'll easily spend about half an hour before you can start using a single unit of the Almond 3, which is not too bad.
Adding additional units to create a Wi-Fi system proved to be frustratingly time consuming, however, simply because it just didn't work most of the time. There's a wizard on the touchscreen to enable this process, and everything happened as intended -- until the last step where it was supposed to take "up to three minutes" for the two units to connect. Five minutes went by and nothing happened, and then it timed out, prompting me to reset the satellite unit to its factory default settings and start from beginning. The second time I tried it, the same thing happened. Finally, on my third try, it worked. But I had no idea what I did wrong on the first two attempts.
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.
The Almond 3 is one of the first routers withbuilt-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 atthe 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 upwith 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).Watch this: Testing the Almond 3 smart router in the CNET Smart Apartment
Almond's app also features a pretty powerful rules engine. It follows an "if this, then that" framework that's similar tothe 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.
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.
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 theEero 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.