Willow Mesh Wi-Fi System Review: Full Wi-Fi Connectivity for Only $60?
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“Compared to the competition, you can save 90% of the cost with Vilo by sacrificing only 30% of the speed.”
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Easy setup with intuitive app
Too many Ethernet ports to get a wired connection
Compact, attractive design that’s expandable
No Wi-Fi 6 Support
Some speed and connection issues
no WPA3 support
Mesh routers are a great option for your home Wi-Fi needs, but the prices of these systems often make them inaccessible to many homes. Vilo is looking to lift the home mesh Wi-Fi market with its own affordable system.
Priced at just $20 for a router or $60 for a three-pack, which simultaneously connects to blanket up to a 4,500-square-foot home, the Velo can connect up to 120 devices at once at a fraction of the cost of competing units. promises. .
That’s about one-fifth the cost of competing Linksys Velop Mesh Wi-Fi systems, so apparently, Vilo had to make some compromises. But it cuts corners in the right places, balancing performance and features with its insanely attractive price tag.
Willow’s Mesh Router can be purchased in a pack of one — ideal for small spaces and offices — or a large pack of three designed to blanket larger homes. Each unit, called a node, is identical and interchangeable, so it can be connected directly to the modem as either a satellite or the main router.
The Vilo units appear a lot more premium than they are, and nothing about the Vilo’s build quality will deceive its $20 price tag. In fact, the minimalist square-shaped canister design—and the unit’s non-glossy white finish—reminds me of Linksys’ more premium Velop mesh system. The Velop retails from $229 to $300 for a three-pack by comparison.
Like the Velop, the Willow is very lightweight and its compact design — 5.9 x 2.7 x 2.7 inches — is no bigger than a tall can of iced tea. The simple design of this unit is made to match with your furniture and home decor.
Unlike traditional Wi-Fi routers, mesh systems don’t come with intimate, protruding antennas that resemble alien-like tentacles. The goal with these systems is that the more stylish design means you’ll want to place these units in your living space to give you better Wi-Fi coverage, not to hide the mesh system and its signal behind furniture and appliances. to obscure.
In front of each willow, you’ll find a blank circular button that can be used to quickly disable network connectivity for that specific node. As well as a network status indicator LED light. When Willow starts up, the LED is red, but it will turn a solid blue when you’re connected to the Internet and the system is ready. A flashing blue light shows spotty internet coverage, while amber shows the unit is paired and ready for setup.
If you’re sensitive to light or don’t want Willow’s LEDs to disrupt your home’s ambient lighting, you may want to cover the LED holes with some white tape for a clean aesthetic.
On the back, each unit comes with three Ethernet ports to accommodate wired connections if needed. Having Ethernet ports on satellite units can come in handy for gamers who may need a reliable connection and have their modem or main mesh router in a separate room, or for connecting IoT devices to remote corners of your home. The ports here don’t provide as much speed as you might expect when plugging directly into your modem, but can help maintain a more stable connection for more critical applications.
Having Ethernet ports on satellite units is a welcome change from my old Amazon Eero system that lacked support for wired Ethernet connections over satellites. In general, I use the Ethernet ports on my satellite nodes for plugging in my gaming console, a home IoT hub that doesn’t come with built-in Wi-Fi, and my desktop PC.
At just $20 per unit, you won’t get support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6e specifications. angel. Still, with dual-band 802.11ac on board, you’re getting the same Wi-Fi 5 support that’s found on something more premium Linksys Velop AC2200 Mesh System. Unlike Willow, Linksys offers a more premium version of its Velop system with Wi-Fi 6 support.
The key difference here is that the $229 Velop has a triband antenna for better coverage and reliability, while the cheaper Velop resorts to a dual-band antenna. At its significantly lower price, you’ll still benefit from the MU-MIMO connection, beamforming, and band steering on the Vilo. Band steering can be configured through the Velo Living app, which is available on both iOS and Android. The app’s dashboard gives you additional information about your mesh network, such as your Wi-Fi signal strength, running firmware version, and your choice of encryption method.
You’ll need to use the app to set up your home Wi-Fi network. Each Velo unit comes with a QR code at the bottom, and once you’re registered and logged into the app, it will prompt you to scan the main unit’s QR code first – that’s it. Which is plugged directly into the router. If you buy a multipack, subsequent satellites will be automatically detected once you plug it in. While Willow offers a three-pack configuration, you can purchase additional nodes and add them to your system if your home requires it. Like competing mesh systems, the app gives you a lot of control and information about your home network.
Another benefit with the app is that parents can control the network to schedule downtime where individual devices are turned off. If you have young children, it’s an extra layer of digital well-being apps built into many modern phones, and it can help establish healthy Internet habits.
You can also block specific websites, create a guest network for visitors to access with a different password, and remotely restart your mesh system if there’s a glitch. And if you’re into data, you can also check out the usage report to see how much data each device is using. For guest networks, Vilo allows you to set up temporary networks with expiration times or permanent networks, giving you a lot of flexibility to change your password and settings to keep things secure.
I tested a three-pack of Willow systems at my parents’ house, which is larger than my tiny apartment and is a better indicator of how the units perform together as a mesh network. In my small space, a single unit modem would have been sufficient.
For the test environment, I replaced the existing Eero Pro 6 network with a Vilo network at home. I installed a unit in the upstairs bedroom at the back of the house, one in the living room at the front of the house, and one in the garage.
The garage has always been a Wi-Fi dead zone because of the way the house is laid out, and in the past, my parents used to put repeaters or a mesh node in the garage so they could control their connected garage door opener and ring. Can you cameras. Since each unit needs to be connected to electricity, their location should be close to electrical outlets.
Like a network of cell phone towers, the mesh system will determine which node provides the best connection and switch your devices to the strongest node as you move through space. It all happens seamlessly, and in theory, you should get the best Wi-Fi reception without having to switch to a different network every time you step into a different coverage area.
To test Willow’s performance, I wanted to see if there was a drop in speed and differential coverage reliability when moving around in space. I know my parents have 300 Mbps symmetrical speeds from their local Internet Service Provider (ISP), and connecting my iPhone directly to the ISP’s router-modem combo got me speeds in that range.
This range runs from the lowest speed of 280Mbps to the highest speed of 325Mbps. Velo’s unit supports up to 867Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 500Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.
Willow says each unit has four internal antennas and can handle multiple users with MU-MIMO, making it reliable for a variety of devices connected simultaneously. Beamforming is also used to help route signals from nodes to devices, and band steering automatically sets each device to the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band.
If necessary, you can turn off band steering in Weelo’s app for devices that require a specific connection to the 2.4GHz band. I disabled band steering for testing and instead forced Velo to rely on the 5GHz band for our tests so that the ISP’s speeds weren’t limited by the lower band.
Running speed tests at various points in the home, I found that the Velo network was on average 30% slower than the Eero Pro 6, averaging over 350 Mbps across multiple locations in the home. Still, a three-unit pack of the Eero Pro 6 costs $599 for a three-pack.
This means you can save 90% of the cost by sacrificing only 30% of speed, making Vilo a serious winner for most average homes.
However, all was not terrible. In living rooms connected to the main node – the unit that is directly connected to the modem – speeds exceed around 400 Mbps. Moving to the opposite end of the house as the main node was running, the speed was close to 200 Mbps.
When a satellite was used in the same location in the house, the speed was around 250 Mbps. With in the garage…