Close observers of Apple’s networking products—surely they exist—know that the company hasn’t updated its Airport line of Wi-Fi routers since 2013. That’s so many iPhones ago! This week, the company made it official: It will no longer churn out Airport Express, Extreme, or Time Capsule routers. Rather than mourn the end of an era, take the chance to give your home Wi-Fi a boost with one of these newer, better alternatives.
Even if the official end of the Airport era was a long time coming, it’s still a shame. Apple’s routers may not have had as many features or as much horsepower their peers, but you didn’t have to think twice about them and they looked nice, at a time when most other options caused near-constant hassles and mostly resembled alien robot spiders. Time Capsule, especially, provided one-stop, no-muss backup for people who didn’t want to fiddle with external hard drives. Like so many Apple products, they were imperfect and expensive, but they were also reliable, and they did about as much as most people needed them to.
The good news is that over the last few years a new wave of so-called mesh network systems, which deploy multiple units throughout your home for can’t-miss coverage, have caught up to Apple in design and far surpassed it in functionality and coverage. It’s a complete enough walloping that Apple even sells a pricey Linksys mesh networking system in retail stores, alongside the few Airport Expresses and Extremes that it hasn’t yet cleared out of its warehouses.
And really, it’s been five years since Apple paid any attention to its routers. At this point, much any decent model you pick up will be an improvement. If you want to know what basic features to look for, Apple now even provides a handy list: support for the IEEE 802.11ac standard, simultaneous dual-band coverage, WPA2 encryption, and MIMO, which stands for multiple input, multiple output, a performance booster when you connect multiple devices. (The one thing you’ll have a harder time replacing: Time Capsule’s backups. You should probably just to get an external hard drive.)
Those features have come mostly standard in routers in the Airport price range for years. What you really want is something with a little style, a lot of coverage, and an interface that doesn’t leave you catatonic. Something like one of these.
Eero (2nd Generation)
Eero places such a premium on design and usability that it feels like the mesh router Apple would have made if it had bothered. It comes as both a base station and a smaller, plug-into-the-wall Beacon—think Airport Extreme and Express, although the Beacons don’t act as a standalone—that blanket your house in robust Wi-Fi. (If you have an apartment, you probably don’t need a mesh network, although it couldn’t hurt.) It has a killer app as well, with features like letting you pause the internet throughout the house, or even for individual devices. The downside? It’s pricey. A basic set-up with one base station and one Beacon costs $300; a four-bedroom home probably needs another Beacon, which gets you up to $400. But hey, if there’s one thing Airport fans are used to, it’s paying top dollar for a router that looks as nice as it works. Buy it here.
The Orbi’s not as sleek as the Eero, but it has a few advantages that make it worth calling out. The set-up couldn’t be simpler; after you’ve hooked up the router to your modem, you just carry the satellite unit around your house and watch it glow blue. If it turns amber, you’ve gone too far for a solid connection. You also only need two Orbi units to cover an amount of space that other mesh networks suggest three for, and it has very little signal loss between the two thanks to some clever engineering. If you’re someone who likes to get under the hood, Orbi also offers a more detailed feature set, including dynamic DNS. Depending on the size of your house, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $330. Still not cheap, but a little less than Eeero. Buy it here.
Here’s where things start getting a little redundant. Amplifi HD is a more attractive router than you might be used to, with great coverage, a useful app, and a full feature set. It’s reasonably priced, too. You can get a single router unit for $125, and add satellites for $120 a pop. The killer feature, though, is the set-up. If you buy the system with satellites, they come already paired, so there’s no fussing to add a node at a time. It’s also backed by a company called Ubiquiti, which may not be a household name, but has spent years providing large-scale Wi-Fi solutions for offices and convention centers. If they can handle a luxury resort, they can handle your bungalow. Buy it here.
Netgear Nighthawk R6700
If you’re not sold on the mesh life—or just don’t have that much space to cover—you can’t really go wrong with Netgear’s Nighthawk router lineup. At the high end is the R7000, which gets raves from sites like The Wirecutter. But we wanted a pick under $100 for the Airport Express faithful, which means we’re going with the R6700 instead. It’s just slightly less capable than the R7000 in a handful of ways, most of which you won’t notice unless you’re gaming or especially fastidious about Wi-Fi speeds. As a further endorsement: WIRED Market Editor Brendan Nystedt recently bought one to replace his eight-year-old Apple Time Capsule. Buy it here.
One last mesh system, which does in broad strokes what the ones above do. A three-pack costs $480, and it’s not clear that you’re getting that much more for your money. But as a tall white cube-shaped router that’s for sale in the Apple Store, it seems worth mentioning, if only to ease any Airport separation anxiety. Buy it here.
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