Review: The Starry Station Wi-Fi router sticks with simplicity (+video)

This router looks great and is simple enough to keep friends and relatives from calling for help.

starry station

If you've reviewed tech products for as long as I have, you'll have learned that categories of products have archetypes. These days, for example, laptops are (for the most part) slim black boxes and monitors are thin glass rectangles. Mobile phones, which used to have clamshell designs, are now all metal (or metal-looking) slabs with a glass front. And home wireless routers tend to be small black boxes bristling with more antennas than an NSA surveillance van.

The Starry Station wireless router breaks the mold. A white polycarbonate-over-metal triangular prism with a base measuring 7 x 3 in. and standing 6.25 in. high, it has a 3.8-in. LCD touchscreen you can use to see and control the device's operational status. The device retails for $350 (Amazon price - What's this?).

Although the Starry Station is fully featured and works perfectly well, it is emphatically not an enterprise-grade device, nor is it intended to be. For a home, store or small office, the Starry Station would work perfectly fine. For a larger business, however, it would make most IT managers crazy.

The problem isn't the technology. The Starry packs in dual-band concurrent 4x4:4 MIMO radios and works on 802.11 standards up through 802.11ac. It can act as a NAT (network address translation) device and as a DHCP server, and supports PPoE and IPv4 (although not, apparently, IPv6 -- an update has been promised by the vendor). By default, it sets up both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks. Range will vary depending on the structure of your home or office; in my house, the 5GHz network covered one floor and the 2.4 got through two, the same as my AirPorts.

But here's the thing: The Starry is managed either through its touchscreen or via a smartphone app. You can't manage it over FTP or via a web connection. For home or small business needs, that might be even better than fine, because it's completely simple. For an enterprise, though, that's a disqualification right there.

For the rest of us, setting up and administering the Starry is a well-guided and very Mac-like process. Plug it into your router, plug it into power, download the Starry Station app (I used the iOS app; there is also one for Android devices), and follow instructions that come up on the screen.

Ease-of-use has pride of place here. The Starry Station suggests an SSID combining two common English words: "TenseFirst," for instance. If you want another, touch the Generate New button and it randomly picks another combination. I couldn't tell how many possible combinations there are; if none suits you, you can type in an SSID of your own invention.

The password selection process is identical, and you're asked to create a four-digit PIN that you can use to lock out administration functions.

From there, you confirm your time zone and launch the app on your phone. The Starry Station presents a six-letter code on its display you enter into the app to pair the devices. You create a Starry account -- email and password -- and you're done with the basics. In the vast majority of cases, that's all you need to do or know.

The Starry Station by default sets up two Wi-Fi networks: a 2.4GHz network under the name you specified during setup and a 5GHz network that has the same name with "_5" appended. You can turn off the faster network.

Most functions are administered through the app, which either pick up the router's IP and DNS addresses from your service provider, or you can enter them manually. You can select a subnet mask, assign a DHCP pool start and end, reserve IP addresses, turn UPnP on and off, forward ports and change Wi-Fi channels. You can change the SSID and password in the app, too.

The Starry Station is a little bossy, though. I couldn't turn off DHCP services, and the Station won't act as a bridge on an existing network, nor will AirPort devices bridge off it.

One place the Starry Station shines is in the network health data it provides. The station's screen, by default, shows your provider, the speed you should expect, and an ever-changing "health score" of your network connection on a scale from 0% to 100%. And both the app and the Station's screen can show the devices attached to the wireless network, their current network usage, how that usage has changed over time, and the device's IP and MAC addresses. It's quite neat, and perfect for home or small business use.

Another neat feature: You can turn off the network at preset times. Even better, you can restrict certain devices from the network at certain times -- like dinnertime, or when the kids are supposed to be asleep. And if you want, you can create a guest network (one that doesn't require a password).

Enterprise users will hate the Starry Station for what it isn't. For everyone else with simple, everyday needs, there's a lot to like.

This story, "Review: The Starry Station Wi-Fi router sticks with simplicity (+video)" was originally published by Computerworld.

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