Review: Almond 3 Wi-Fi router will bring you joy

Touchscreen router adds mesh, smart home controls and Amazon Echo support

If you’re a fan of the little guy, one such company to root for is Securifi, which makes a really cool Wi-Fi router known as the Almond. The first version of this router came out in 2012, featuring a touch-screen display long before some other competitors added screens to their routers.

The latest version, Almond 3, has entered the wireless mesh arena, offering three Almond routers in a pack to let owners set up a mesh network in their homes as well as new smart home control options (including Amazon Echo integration). The company recently sent me a three-pack and a bunch of sensors to test out.

Each Almond unit is the same (no worrying about which one is the router and which one is the receiver). It’s about the size of a small paperback book – imagine a toaster shrunk down to about a fourth of its size. Each unit includes an Ethernet WAN port and two Ethernet LAN ports, as well as a USB connection and power port.

Securifi gives you flexibility in how to set up the units. You can use all three units to set up a wireless mesh for greater coverage to help with wireless dead spots; or you could just set up one unit to the modem and use it as a stand-alone Wi-Fi router. A third option lets you connect an Almond unit to an existing Wi-Fi network, creating a Range Extender. I tested the wireless mesh option, since I was sent the three-pack.

The first Almond 3 unit you connect to your broadband modem becomes the “Prime Almond” – this is where you connect via Ethernet and then set up the wireless network via the unit’s touchscreen display. In a brilliant display of forethought, Securifi includes a built-in plastic stylus on top of each unit, letting users navigate through the setup options with that instead of their fingers (which might pick the wrong option on such a small display). After choosing language and region settings, the Almond 3 will select its own Wi-Fi network name (SSID) and password, but you can easily choose your own by choosing the “Edit Wi-Fi settings” option. This method isn’t as cool as the Starry Station, which can randomly generate SSIDs and passwords through its interface, but it gets the job done.

Because the Almond 3 is a dual-band Wi-Fi device (works on the 2.4GHz and 5 GHz frequencies), you can give separate names and passwords for each frequency, or you can keep them the same (if you have clients that can tell the difference). In my test, I chose a different name for the 5GHz network (to help see where coverage got weak).

After you’ve set up the first device, you can then download the Almond app (iOS and Android supported), which also requires that you set up an Almond account (it’s free). The app provides a big range of features such as network status, IP address settings, MAC address settings and a list of devices that are connected to the network. The app is also where you can set up additional Almond units in other parts of your house. In theory you could set up additional units via the first unit and its display, but it’s much easier to set up everything with the app. It was curious that the app didn’t offer the ability to access an Internet speed test; this seems to be a default feature on most new routers/mesh networks.

Parental controls are handled only through scheduling of specific devices in terms of granting or blocking Internet access. Once a child’s device connects to the network, the app lets you decide whether to grant them a “kids” or “Others” role, with the ability to then schedule when Internet access is given to that particular device. The schedule is a 7 by 24 grid with days of the week and one-hour blocks that toggle for either On (internet OK) or off (Internet blocked). I would have preferred a bit more granularity (like the ability to block from 6:30 pm to 7:45 pm, for example), as well as some app blocking (like block Netflix, but allow them to use educational apps). Like other systems that “Pause the Internet”, you can do the same with Almond 3, but blocking is done on an individual basis by device, there’s not one giant red button that pauses the Internet for everyone.

The other main appeal of the Almond 3 is its smart home controls. The router acts as a smart hub for many different detectors and sensors, with support for other smart home devices as well. In our test, we tested a Motion Detector, a door/window sensor, the Peanut smart plug and the Almond Click (a button that could act like a doorbell or other control). But it also works with other vendors’ systems, including Nest, Philips Hue, GE, Belkin, and Kwikset, to name a few. If you’ve already invested in a bunch of smart home devices, you can monitor and control them through the Almond 3.

If you feel like going down the rabbit hole of home automation, you can start setting up rules and “scenes” that trigger based on certain scenarios and what kind of devices you have on the network. For example, you can create a rule that says to turn on a specific light if a device is on the network (each device can act as a presence sensor). Another example – if two devices are on the network (such as my phone and my wife’s phone), then you can trigger a rule that sets the thermostat to a specific temperature setting.

These rules and settings also can be used to set up a home security system. The Almond app lets you set whether you’re “home” or “away” (manually triggered, not through any geo-fencing or GPS presence), and then rules can be applied based on that setting. So, as another example – if you’re away and the door sensor is triggered, the system can be told to play the siren on the Almond unit (each one has its own siren/alarm with volume settings), turn on the lights and send notifications to the smartphone user. This is getting deep into real nerdy territory, but it was nice to see that these options were available, and it also indicates how the home router could be the central hub for a lot of these devices (if we could all just agree on common protocols and simplifying it a lot more).

With the new version, Almond has enabled Amazon Echo integration, which then gives you voice control for several Almond functions (Securifi uses this example: “Alexa, tell Almond to turn off kids’ Wi-Fi.” In my test I didn’t have access to an Amazon Echo, so I was unable to test this.

Bottom line: If you want to invest in a home Wi-Fi system that includes easy setup via touch-screen display, a mesh network that gives you whole-home coverage and a central hub that can control smart home devices, the Almond 3 deserves a spot at the top of your list.

Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five)

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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