Consumer-grade WiFi access points have come a long way over the years as companies keep adding power, antennas and technology to the devices to provide more complete, consistent wireless coverage. This is becoming increasingly important as more and more connected devices are being deployed. Despite the additional coverage, there are many users who still struggle with establishing suitable coverage for large areas, especially when dealing with intervening infrastructure. This is why we are seeing companies like Google finally starting to push into development of consumer grade mesh technologies for WiFi. An older, established way to to that though is through the use of range extenders.
That brings us to the subject of this review of the Amped Wireless HELIOS-EX High Power AC2200 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Range Extender. The HELIOS-EX is a traditional range extender in that it establishes its own connection to the primary WiFi access point and then effectively serves up its own access point. Amped Wireless includes some features to try to make this an easy, effective solution for consumers looking for plug-and-play simplicity when trying to fix dead spots in their WiFi coverage.
Unlike some of the newer devices hitting the market, the HELIOS-EX retains a classic consumer grade WiFi access point design. That is to say, it is basically a black box with antennas sticking out of it – three to be precise. Along the front side of the device are a series of LED lights to help users assess the status of their network. The primary one to be concerned with is the middle light which will turn red, yellow or green depending on the status of the connection back to the primary access point.
A stand is included so that the HELIOS-EX can be situated vertically if desired. Being a black box, users will also have to contend with a power cord. This means that depending on where a user is trying to locate the unit, they may be left with no recourse other than to have it sitting out in the open rather than discretely tucked away somewhere.
The HELIOS-EX includes 12 amplifiers and four high gain antennas with three of them being external and one being internal to the unit. The unit includes MU-MIMO technology to help manage multiple devices being connected at a single time without adversely affecting each other. As is the standard, the unit includes capacity for both 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz bands with speeds of up to 399Mbps and 866Mbps respectively.
Amped Wireless includes a third 5GHz band, hence the “Tri-Band” part of the full name. This third band is used for the connection to the primary access point so that devices connecting are not competing with that wireless traffic. Amped Wireless calls this the “DirectLink” feature and it does require the initial connection with the primary access point be made using the 5GHz band.
In addition to all of the wireless technology included, the HELIOS-EX has ports for wired connections and supports USB 3.0 connections for external hard drives.
The HELIOS-EX incorporates a mobile-friendly setup wizard. Once you plug the unit in and it boots up, users can connect to the newly visible access point then point their mobile browser to a setup page. The app walks you through connecting to the primary access point, verifies the quality and existence of an Internet connection, and then asks whether you want to clone the existing access point settings.
On this last step, while the wizard will import things like passwords, the access point names get an “_RE” appended onto the name of them. As you may guess, this means the HELIOS-EX does not really create a mesh network where you are always connected to the same SSID and just pick up the closest, strongest access point. Instead, you have to rely on your connected device to handle the chore of picking the most appropriate access point to connect to. I found in testing that my phone was constantly switching between access points depending on where I was in the house. With a new phone, this was seamless, but I am not sure this may not create issues for users with older devices.
As far as the extended WiFi coverage, I found the HELIOS-EX did exactly what it was designed to do – extend the range and help eliminate dead spots. In my testing I found that I was able to establish and maintain WiFi connections in weak areas that were now just as solid as if I were sitting in my office 6 feet away from the primary access point. If you look at some of the graphs I pulled, you can see how much stronger the “dagobah_RE” access point is compared to the regular “dagobah” access point. The same was true in the 2.4GHz band for the “bespin” related access points.
I also went through the trouble of re-configuring one of my Chromecast devices to use the HELIOS-EX access point. I do not have any testing reports to verify an improved connection, but subjectively it seemed like content was loading faster and no buffering issues were noted.
Although I did not test some of the other features, the HELIOS-EX does include a full web-based admin control panel. From there, users can do things like adjust the signal strength and thus the area covered, add guest access points, limit traffic, and tweak security settings.
As a final note on performance, the HELIOS-EX is capable of working with any existing access point according to Amped Wireless. This means buyers do not have to replace their primary unit but instead can just add the HELIOS-EX to an existing network. That was the case in my testing.
In the past, adding more access points to a home-based WiFi network meant users had to go through the trouble of teaching themselves on topics like how to create bridges and set units to be secondary. Typically, this also meant having to buy units from the same manufacturer for compatibility purposes. The Amped Wireless HELIOS-EX addresses these issues by making available a unit that is very close to plug-and-play capable.
In my time reviewing the unit, I spent probably five minutes on the initial setup and configuration. After that, I was able to pretty much forget about it and just enjoy having much better WiFi coverage throughout my house and even beyond. As a product designed to address a particular problem and that accomplishes that in such an easy manner, the HELIOS-EX is recommended for those users who need to address weak or dead WiFi coverage with minimal fuss.
The HELIOS-EX can be purchased for $179.99 directly from Amped Wireless and select major retailers.