Our lives revolve around an internet connection these days. Love it or hate it, that’s the reality we live in. Smartphones keep us locked into the web while on the go, but the most coveted pipeline may be the home network. The newest wave to technology around the household internet has been mesh routers.
TP-Link has joined the fray of this new option of WiFi router that also supports WiFi 6. The Deco X20 mesh system pits TP-Link against the likes of Amazon’s Eero units as well as Google’s Nest WiFi. The company allowed us over a month with the Deco X20 routers and I’ve come away impressed.
What’s a mesh WiFi system?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the specs list for the TP-Link Deco X20 routers, let’s briefly summarize mesh networking. As a relatively new introduction to the average home consumer, it will help set the foundation for this system’s strengths.
Mesh WiFi is essentially two things: a router unit hooked to your modem with identical units that then blanket the house with the same connection. Each “beacon” or access point device shares the exact same settings and network SSID name and password.
This gives you a much more modular approach to extend your wireless connection seamlessly across your house with minimal setup. The “smarts” of these networks like the Deco X20 duplicate all the same settings to where your connected devices see the units as the same router across the home. It simply searches for the closest mesh router with the strongest signal and passes your device connected to the best option.
For instance, I set up the TP-Link Deco X20 three-pack in my office, living room, and my bonus room. This gives me coverage throughout my home with no dead spots. My kitchen is closest to my office so when in that room I connect to the main Deco X20 plugged into my modem. When I move upstairs my devices are automatically passed to the bonus room X20 and the same when I enter the living room and that Deco is the closest.
TP-Link has done a decent job of balancing a techie vibe and home decor design with the Deco X20 routers. These cylindered units can easily sit on a shelf and be mistaken for something like an air freshener or wireless speaker. This allows the X20s to blend in well under any environment or room placement.
Around the back of the Deco X20 router is where the business happens. Here you’ll find a proprietary barrel port for charging and two ethernet ports. Each of these network ports is capable of up to gigabit data speeds if your service supports speeds that high.
One omission and one miss are present in my mind. I’d love to see a USB connection from a traditional router maker like TP-Link. This could set the Deco X20 apart from more modern offerings from Google and Eero. The miss is the proprietary charging cable. In the age of USB-C, this should be the standard for any device like the Deco X20 routers in 2021.
The setup of your network with the TP-Link Deco X20 is drop-dead simple. The “main” router needs to be plugged directly into your modem. This acts as the brain of the operation to create the mesh network with the other satellites and to create your base settings.
After powering on and plugging into your modem, you will need to download the Deco app and create a log-in. The app wizard then walks you thru how to get started while creating an SSID for your wireless network and assigning a room to the main Deco.
Your last step is creating the mesh network with additional Deco X20s thru your home. Each company has its own idea of how this works, but I prefer the way TP-Link pulls this off. You simply plug in the new Deco and wait a few minutes. No separate screen in the app or scanning a random QR code, just plug and play with the system identifying and adding the satellites automatically.
App controls and web interface
The app interaction TP-Link has created is superb. The Deco Android application is well laid out and intuitive to use. From here you can handle several tasks and network management. This includes simple things like renaming a device connected to the network or more advanced things like port forwarding.
While the more advanced usage cases are there I’ve found myself basically setting the Deco X20 up and forgetting about it. I’ve set a few devices to have network priority and renamed new devices that have generic default names, but otherwise, I’ve left it alone.
Speaking of naming, TP-Link has made this pretty easy; if the naming isn’t to your liking, it notifies you of each new connected gadget on your network and lets you edit the name. I’ve used this several times now to click the notification when adding a device and immediately renaming to something I will recognize.
One major inclusion I like from TP-Link over my Google Wi-Fi system is a web interface. While it’s limited in comparison to the app, you can still make simple changes like changing the Wi-Fi name or seeing clients connected. It’s a little thing that offers some basic securities if you break your phone or the app is unavailable for some reason.
General use has been exceptional. I’m getting consistent network reliability throughout my home that frankly is better than my Google WiFi system. The Deco X20 three-pack covers a slightly larger area of my home and adds WiFi 6 to my home for newer devices with the new protocol. This allows for better multi-device performance and simultaneous connections versus WiFi 5.
I’ve been happy with my speeds under wireless and wired connections. My ethernet wired desktop is hitting my network’s peak 300mbps consistently without issue. Wireless connections depend on my location and conditions, but I often see the same speeds as my wired units.
Another nice feature that TP-Link includes with the Deco X20 is auto frequency selection. The Deco system communicates with your devices on the initial connection and sets the channel to either 2.4GHz or 5GHz. This is set by the default of each client. Most of my home automation devices like Simplisafe and WiFi outlets prefer 2.4GHz and the software sets that in the Deco app without any input from me the user.
TP-Link has created a new mesh network system that is truly compelling. You can upgrade to a better network with WiFi 6, a great app, and excellent performance. And you can get all this without breaking the bank.
The base price is $100 on Amazon for a single unit, $130 for a two-pack, or $200 for a three-pack. Any of these investments are worth it for the TP-Link X20. Whether upgrading from an existing mesh network just for WiFi 6 or entering the mesh crowd for the first time, these routers won’t disappoint.