Review: Amped Wireless ALLY Plus Whole Home Smart Wi-Fi System

Getting Up and Running

As is now customary, the ALLY system is set up via a mobile app (with iOS and Android versions on offer), but you can also use a web browser if you prefer. The app requires an account (called AVG® MyAccount) to be configured and comes to a grinding halt unless the router is connected to the modem with a live connection.

If you prefer an offline/advanced configuration, the web browser set up is for you. It’s great to have the choice. Another good choice is the ability to configure converged or separate SSIDs for ALLY’s two bands. On most whole home Wi-Fi systems, you’re locked to a single SSID covering both. This is the preferred option for ALLY, but you have the choice during setup.

Installation includes a firmware update, but I was concerned to see that my smartphone appeared to lose connection with the router during the update process (not during a router reboot, which would be expected), so the update appeared to fail. One black mark in an otherwise seamless setup.

Connecting ALLY’s extender was reasonably straightforward. Select a halfway point between the router and the location to which you wish to extend the signal, plug in the extender and it will automatically connect to the ALLY router. The front status LED will switch from red to green depending on the quality of the wireless signal.

The partnership between Amped Wireless and AVG brings some new features to the former’s stable, but to access them, you’ll need to use the Ally smartphone app. Log into the router via a web browser and you’ll see a similar interface and feature set to that found across the Amped Wireless range.

Overall, it’s a reasonably straightforward feature set. You’ll find common wireless and wired networking controls, some basic security features such as URL, IP address and MAC address filtering, Firewall, QoS and DMZ settings plus integrated Dynamic DNS support (DynDNS and No-IP) which is a bonus. However, there’s no integrated VPN support available on the device.

The best whole home Wi-Fi systems I’ve tested make it easy to see how clients are connected to the network – that is, whether they’re connected via the extender or directly to the router and over which band. None of this functionality is available in the Amped Wireless console – indeed, you have to dig deep into the consoler to see the extender status (you get a MAC address, IP address, channel number and signal strength percentage). There’s no indication how your devices are connected to the network, which means you never really know whether you’re achieving the best connection – it’s a matter of trust. There’s definitely more for Amped Wireless to do here to improve usability.

Switching to app control unlocks ALLY’s AVG protection, which provides real-time scanning of network traffic and automatic blocking of known malicious links or websites. These nasties are blocked at the router, ensuring they don’t hit your device.

Screenshot_20170404-105852The first thing to note about the ALLY app is that it requires a live Internet connection to be useful. There’s no “offline” mode available and if you attempt to use the app when the router is disconnected from the Internet, it’ll complain vigorously. That in itself can cause frustration, but I also discovered that the ALLY app and the web management console had very different viewpoints on whether the router was actually connected to the Internet. On the one hand, the web management console told me that the Internet link was available (and indeed, I could browse the web from a computer) but the ALLY app complained that there was no connection available. Repeated attempts to refresh the app came back with a refusal (or inability) to connect to the ALLY server.

If you were frustrated by the ALLY app’s demand for a live WAN connection, just imagine the frustration when you have a live connection and the app still won’t connect.

Due to these connectivity issues, I can only provide a partial view of the AVG ALLY service. It may be great, but if you can’t connect to it, well, maybe it needs a little more polish.

Update (12.04.17) – Following publication of the review, Amped Wireless came back to me with the following explanation for the connection issues I experienced, “This was a known timing issue with the communications between the cloud and the router that we experienced for a short period while doing server maintenance/update. We apologize about the inconvenience and have fixed this issue on the server shortly after it started about 2-3 weeks ago. This message should no longer be seen.”

The app allows you to set up device and user profiles, that can then be managed from your mobile device. Devices can be connected to specific users, which then allows you to “pause” Internet access either at the user of individual device level. Also included is a comprehensive suite of Internet traffic filters, allowing the family admin to allow or block access to content by type (for example, Adult content, Dating, Gambling, Blogs, Email, File Transfers, Social Media and so on). Alternatively you can target specific websites or applications (from a preset list, including popular apps such as Facebook, Netflix,  Instagram, Kik and others). A Curfew feature allows you to schedule Internet availability for your users, which is a handy feature that’s not available on all whole home Wi-Fi devices.

Device filtering is less comprehensive, but it’s easy to completely block Internet access to a device with a single tap.

Elsewhere in the Settings menu, you’ll find options for managing network settings (SSID and password) and guest networking as well as push notifications of users/devices accessing the router as well as Activity Reports. However, I simply couldn’t persuade ALLY (or rather, AVG’s software) to let me check these features out. As ever, your mileage may vary, but on this showing, I’d say the ALLY app needs more baking before it’s ready to sample.

Despite issues with the ALLY app and AVG software, the router proved itself to be a strong performer. As Amped Wireless are billing ALLY as a whole home Wi-Fi System, I benchmarked the router against competing mesh networking models that we’ve previously reviewed. However, given its relatively traditional router + extender topology, I’m also including a couple of standard AC1900 routers in the test lineup.

Ethernet Performance

With an average speed of 919 Mbps, ALLY Plus is more than capable of saturating a local network and performs better than most of its Whole Home Wi-Fi System peers with a wired connection. Only Linksys Velop (with 943 Mbps) and EA7500, plus the D-Link DIR-880L beat the debutant, but Amped Wireless’ model beat NETGEAR Orbi, Google Wifi and others on this test. Any router that can achieve over 900 Mbps over Ethernet gets a thumbs up from us.

Ally-plus-ethernet

5 GHz Wireless Performance

Switching to Wi-Fi, I connected the ALLY router to a range of mobile and fixed wireless clients, then tested average file transfer speeds. Before we dive into the results, I should reiterate that I’m testing this AC1900-class device against other Whole Home Wi-Fi Systems, which range between AC1200 and AC3000. So bear in mind that this comparison isn’t exactly apples with apples. That said, you can see from the chart that the ALLY Plus system excelled at short range, topping 745 Mbps with an iMac. Across almost all of our client tests, ALLY Plus won out, so there’s no argument that it’s a nimble performer. It comfortably outpaced the AC1900-class Google OnHub and D-Link DIR-880L, while even NETGEAR Orbi and Linksys Velop were left behind in 3×3 and 4×4 client tests.

Ally-plus-5GHz

In our multi-device test, we connect five clients to the router simultaneously to test aggregate file transfer performance. It’s a good measure of routing performance in the real world. Again, the Amped Wireless ALLY Plus acquitted itself well – an aggregate average of 526 Mbps isn’t the fastest we’ve tested in this class (858 Mbps from Linksys Velop is going to be tough to beat), but it’s well ahead of the majority of competing whole home Wi-Fi systems. ALLY may be compact, but it can certainly handle multiple clients with ease.

Ally-plus-5GHz-multi

Multi-Location Performance

So, at short range, the Amped Wireless ALLY Plus has been somewhat of a revelation, achieving average speeds that surpass many more expensive systems. But, of course, the acid test of a whole home Wi-Fi system is how performance varies throughout the home. To test long range wireless performance, we measure speeds in three locations. The first is the main bedroom, where my cable modem is located – it’s pretty much the centre of the home. I then installed the ALLY Plus extender up on the third floor, in my attic office, and tested speed once again (using a Microsoft Surface Pro 4). Finally, I relocated the extender to the basement for the final test.

Ally-plus-multi-location

With ALLY Plus lacking wired backhaul support, it’s nigh on impossible to outpace the likes of Google Wifi and Linksys Velop, both of which offer the feature. However, the ALLY Plus still managed a great result. The average speed of 443 Mbps in the bedroom is actually the highest I’ve seen on the Surface Pro 4 from any of the systems we’ve tested to date. Impressively, that average only dropped to 358 Mbps in the attic, which is by far the fastest speed I’ve measured in that location from a whole home Wi-Fi system. In the depths of the basement, ALLY Plus wasn’t able to match NETGEAR Orbi’s huge 228 Mbps, or the 163 Mbps delivered by Linksys Velop, but 135 Mbps is a decent effort that’s well ahead of the chasing pack.

USB Performance

Finally, we get to test USB file transfer performance. While read/write speeds of 23.1/15.11 MB/s aren’t particularly special, ALLY Plus can at least manage USB sharing, unlike most whole home Wi-Fi systems. You’ll certainly have no problems with file sharing and the odd stream, but don’t expect this device to replace a dedicated NAS for anything but the basics.

On paper, ALLY Plus from Amped Wireless looks like a compelling proposition. Svelte, attractive hardware, whole-home wireless coverage, great network speeds and a comprehensive assortment of family protection features. It’s a lot to deliver and it almost gets there. There’s no doubt that this is a very capable system and the router + extender model more than gives competing mesh networking systems a run for their money. While you don’t get the modularity (and perhaps quite the range) that you find with those systems, ALLY Plus is faster than many of its peers. Priced under $300, it’s also better value.

However, the poor performance of the ALLY app was a real frustration. It looks promising and is packed with features that mainstream families will gobble up. But with major connectivity issues, a requirement for live Internet service and mismatched features across web console and app, it’s clear that the results of the partnership between AVG and Amped Wireless isn’t as seamless as they (or I) would like. With greater stability and a little added usability, ALLY Plus will be a real contender in the whole home Wi-Fi market – one that could a great job in the connected home. If Amped Wireless could add wired backhaul, then there’d be no stopping it.

Until then, the Amped Wireless ALLY Plus Smart Home Wi-Fi System is packed with potential and potent performance – but it’s not quite the finished article.

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