Working From Home has made maintaining a faster, more stable Wi-Fi connection one of the most important things to consider in 2020. That necessitates a leap from the current standard of 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) to 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) in order to cope with the burgeoning number and diversity of smart devices vying for that signal, and an appropriate router is going to facilitate that.
The problem is that Wi-Fi 6 routers are fairly expensive at the moment, seeing as the tech is still nascent for the majority of consumers. As months roll along, we’ll see the entry price for independently bought Wi-Fi 6 routers drop, and that’s already off to a nice start with the competitively priced D-Link EXO Mesh AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 Router.
At A$249, it’s an attractive buy for those who both have a multitude of smart devices at home, and need to get their work done without those big office budgets. This need goes up the more theoretical network congestion you’re dealing with at home, of course.
Don’t expect anything but the norm here. The AX1500 sports a traditional design for a desktop router, all black and measuring in at just 2 x 9.9 x 7.6-inches with those four spider-like adjustable antennas protruding upwards. Connectivity is standard as well, and while it lacks the generous options of more expensive models, you’ve got four gigabit LAN ports and 1 WAN port which should be absolutely sufficient for most users.
Rounding out the design is a reset, a WPS, and a power button, as well as four LED lights that blink for power, internet, and either the 2.4GHz or 5Ghz bands.
On the inside, the dual-band router is powered by its 1.5GHz tri-core CPU coupled with 256MB RAM and 128MB of flash memory. 802.11ax standard tech complements the overall function, which includes Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) to more efficiently manage four devices at once, and 1024 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) for higher wireless throughput. Other Wi-Fi 6 standard features designed for substantially more load than preceding routes are used to include beamforming, WPA3 encryption, Target Wake Time, and MI-MIMO data streaming.
As expected with a D-Link product, set-up is shockingly simple and straight forward with the company’s excellent mobile app. It’s simply a matter of scanning a QR code, inputting your ISP, and choosing a network name-password. The app also allows you to manage various features such as toggling the firewall, accessing quick VPS settings, playing around with Quality of Service (QoS) to prioritise clients, creating access schedules, and viewing usage stats.
This can all be done via the router’s web console as well, but both are just as easy and intuitive as the other.
The only thing I’m personally disappointed in is the lack of malware protection included in the router. You’ll need to fork out for something a bit more expensive to be properly covered, but this really depends on your individual needs.
With a theoretical network speed of 9,600Mbps – the standard for Wi-Fi 5 is 3,500 – the AX1500 is definitely going to show you a substantial bump from what you’re used to. And that’s even the case if you don’t have any Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices, seeing as the router is backwards compatible with IEEE 802.11ac/n/g/b/a and 803.3u/ab/az.
Either way, expect a massive jump in data speeds regardless of how clogged up your network is. Of course, it’s better the less traffic in the house, but given the OFDMA tech and its sub-channels you can work efficiently while others are messing around with VR or eating up data with a smart TV.
My house is moderately large, and I have one of D-Link’s mesh Wi-Fi systems set-up, so do note that what I experienced with this router acts as a function of the setting. Though I’d be surprised if you didn’t get the same high-quality and speedy experience in a typical middle-class home.
Throughput was fantastic even at quite a distance from the router (again, mesh system), my best result being 712Mbps on the 5GHz band. This was while 2 other people were streaming Netflix (and Stan) on a Smart TV, which is satisfying enough for a router at this price. Granted, I am using a Wi-Fi 6 compatible device.
Voice control, via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, is fast and responsive. Although seeing as I’m not living with many people, and don’t have to act as the gatekeeper for my network or create guest networks, it’s a negligible feature for me.
Verdict & Value
The high-end, more feature-rich Wi-Fi 6 routers are a bit too pricey right now. D-Link have swooped in and shown how much value they can provide at the reasonable price point of A$250. That’s well worth paying attention to, especially now that 2020 has meant more people are staying at home for longer, giving you more devices to contend with you as you try to get some work done.
It’d be hard to be disappointed with that, especially since the AX1500 is incredibly efficient at what it does, opening up Wi-Fi 6 to a better range of budgets, with very few compromises. If you can do without the more niche features of higher end models, and you don’t already have a high-performance router, this one’s a no-brainer.
That being said, if you’ve already got a perfectly good Wi-Fi 5 router, you might want to wait until competition opens things up even more to land on better price points. $250 is still a big ask in this current financial climate, but I’m confident D-Link do more than enough to justify it.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlight: Most cost effective Wi-Fi 6 router out there, without the compromises; stupidly easy set-up; any maintenance or control is easy to access via the app; lightweight design.
Lowlights: No malware protection; while I appreciate the smaller profile, the body does feel quite cheap.
Manufacturer: D-Link (more information here)
Review based on unit supplied by D-Link.