An Ideal Mainstream Wi-Fi System

Highs

  • Easy to install
  • Small and discreet
  • Fast

Lows

  • Requires a smartphone
  • Lacks advanced router settings
  • Samsung Connect app needs improvements

Rating and Price

  • Rating: 8/10

The Samsung Connect Home (model AC1300) is a WIFI mesh network system that has several features which are highly desired by users. First, it provides a wireless connection to the whole home and helps to eliminate “coverage holes.” Secondly, it has been designed to be simply to install and configure. Finally, it is also a smart home hub so you won’t have to set up more “boxes” to control simple “smart appliances” such as sensors, smart bulbs, alarms and more. We’ve been putting it to the test, and here is how it worked in the real world.

Context

I’m very familiar with modem and routers and used a variety of them, usually high-performance ones. Occasionally, I have setup some forwarding inside my network, but I would instead find a cloud solution to that, so these edge cases are not my priority. I’ll look at this WiFi system from the point of view of someone who just wants a fast and reliable WiFi network with very little effort.

What is a Mesh Network, and why is it different than WiFi repeaters

First, we should define what a “mesh” WiFi network is.

WiFi coverage and signal strength issues are obviously not new. Previously, WiFi users had the option to extend wireless coverage by using WiFi extenders/repeaters or creating secondary networks. Although that approach somewhat worked for fixed devices, there were points of friction such as possibly having separate networks for each repeater, or setting up different passwords, or having to configure one with the password of the other. None of it was smooth, and that is the reason why many people (including me) would rather complain about WiFi coverage than do something about it.

Also, because old-style WiFi extensions they were different networks, it could happen that you connect your phone to an access point (AP) in your basement/family room, but when you go to the living room, the network would not be smart enough to “hand over” the connection to your living room as long as you have a little bit of signal from the basement AP. You will stay connected to the last-used WiFi device, even if it has a lousy signal. It is only when you lose the signal entirely that your phone will try to reconnect to a better, closer network.

Mesh Networks

"MESH NETWORKS APPEAR AS A SINGLE,VERY WIDE, WIFI NETWORK"

Mesh networks appear as a single,very wide, WiFi network, despite using several APs. Access Points (also called Nodes in a network) can communicate on a peer-to-peer basis to extend the range of the network.

Mesh networks also know how to hand-over the connection to the access point which has the best signal. This is very important for mobile devices because it means that you always have the best possible WiFi connection, and you don’t have to think about it at all. This is similar to how the cellular network is built with many cell towers that will transparently hand-over connections as you move around town.

Finally, the APs communicate among themselves with a private WiFi-based network, which is more efficient and less prone to latency when compared to setting up repeaters, or sub-networks.

Let’s be clear: Mesh Networks are highly convenient and the best thing that happened to WiFi for the past 10 years. But keep in mind that the APs are still subject to the same laws of physics governing general WiFi radios. You will need to make sure that each box can communicate decently with at least another one. Every obstacle in the home (walls, appliances, etc…) will diminish the signal between two APs.

Hardware

The Samsung Connect Home (AC1300) can come in a pack of one to three devices. I think that it is even possible to add up to five, but three is the maximum number of devices that you will get into a single retail box.

The Samsung Connect Home devices are all identical. They can both serve as a router or as a WiFi access point. You will connect one of them via Ethernet to either a modem or a router, and that one will become the de-facto “master” that will create the mesh network to which you add the subsequent ones.

The Connect home devices are quite compact (4.72″ x 1.16″ x 4.72″) and they are low-key enough to blend in in various kinds of home interiors. They are designed to be left on a flat surface, and there isn’t some built-in way to attach them to a wall or something like that.

Installation

The installation is straightforward and requires a smartphone (Android or iPhone). I’ll assume that you have a working WIFI with either a modem or a router that is connected to the Internet. If not, the first thing to do is to make sure that your internet connection is working by connecting a phone or a computer to the modem/router.

Once the home internet connection is known to work, all you have to do is to connect one of the Connect Home boxes via Ethernet and turn it on. Download the Samsung Connect app (Android/iOS) and launch it. The application should detect the Connect Home box currently running. If it does not, you can add it manually.

"THE PROCESS IS EXTREMELY EASY"

It seems like Samsung is using Bluetooth to connect the phone to the AP during the discovery phase, but there is no formal pairing (confirmation request). All you need to do is to get the phone near (< 1-feet), and things should go smoothly from there. I made the mistake of being too far, and the app could not finish the setup with the box. Once I realized that I needed to get closer, it was a smooth ride: your Connect Home WiFi network will be up when the green light is solid. You can keep the existing WiFi network if you had a router before and both will run side by side.

Once the Connect Home WiFi network is running, adding subsequent Connect Home devices to is a similar process. You just must power them, and use the app to add each. The process is extremely easy, and if the box doesn’t connect, make sure that it is close enough to another one the mesh to get a proper WiFi signal. You can also setup all boxes in the same room, then move them later. If one of them loses the connectivity, you can just move it around until it gets it back (the app shows signal strength). I did that for one of them, and it worked great.

The Samsung Connect app is probably the area that could use some improvements. Devices sometimes are visible,  in the app and therefore you cannot change settings. It is not clear why, and there’s no clear way to “refresh” things.

Results: excellent

"WIFI 100X FASTER IN THE KITCHEN. WOOT."

I didn’t come into this review with “performance” in mind, but there’s good news on that front too… WiFi performance, especially for gamers can be a thing for specific users (then Wired would be best), but I see the Samsung Connect Home as being for regular users who just want a good, hassle-less, WiFi network in their homes.

However, it turns out that the performance is great too. I wanted to challenge the Connect Home with a WiFi coverage hole in my kitchen. Because the Kitchen is on a separate floor from where the router is, and because there are heavy appliance blocking the signal, I used to have terrible WiFi there (< 1 Mbps). It was bad enough that I would turn WiFi OFF entirely on my phone and just use LTE when cooking.

The Samsung Connect Home (3-pack) created a mesh network which can top 95 Mbps / 13 Mbps at that problematic location, which is effectively the maximum speed allowed by my ISP. This is the same Internet peak speeds as my Ethernet-wired computers are getting. Since I still have my original router running, it is easy to compare. In fact, that is probably the best demo one would have to quickly explain the benefits of mesh networks. The Samsung Home Connect made WiFi ~100X faster in the Kitchen. Woot.

What kind of coverage can you expect?

Samsung says that a 3-nodes Connect Home can cover a home of ~4500 sqft, but adds that if depends on the home layout and construction.

It makes sense because the real-world answer is always “it depends”. Fortunately, it’s not too complicated to have a conservative estimation as you plan a potential upgrade. Think of your existing router as having a wireless bubble around it. What if you could extend the overall coverage with up to 3 bubbles the same size?

The resulting coverage would form a monolithic network with a single password and smart hand-over from node to nodes. That’s pretty much what you can expect from a WiFi mesh network like the Samsung Home Connect. If you have an old router, there is little doubt that the performance of each Home Connect AP will be superior.

Smarthome

Earlier, I mentioned that the Connect Home access points also had smart home capabilities. Samsung name these under the “SmartThings” label and has a whole SmartThings site if you want to check what is possible.

Samsung’s SmartThings is compatible with a wide array of smart devices that use different standards such as ZigBee and Z-Wave that are both low-power wireless communications protocols created for smart homes.

Low power consumption is necessary because many small appliances run on battery. Protocols such as Z-wave allow devices to form their Z-wave mesh network to extend the overall range without requiring more powerful radios (they suck power fast). Each Z-wave device can reach as far as 120 feet around. For distances beyond that, nodes will repeat one another’s messages, like a mini-internet.

In the review package, there were two devices: a connected wall outlet that you can turn on and off, and a door/window opening detector. I’ll focus on the installation and ease of use for these, and won’t review the devices themselves.

Just like earlier, adding the devices was very easy. The door sensor has a battery and will be visible on a nearby phone. The Outlet just needs to be plugged, and it will become detectable. As you can expect, both perform their duties as expected, and you can find more options for more brands online. Both worked precisely as expected to allow to switch the Outlet on and off from your phone or receive alerts when the door is open – with 1-2 seconds lag.

The point is that using the WiFi nodes as smart home hubs is highly convenient because they are already strategically placed in your home.

There is nothing worse than having to have an additional “smarthome box” for each device or category of device you buy. If on top of that, you need to have more than one to provide enough Z-wave coverage, it quickly becomes a nightmare. That is why integrating the smart devices HUB in the router nodes is a great idea. People need fewer boxes, not more.

Conclusion: great mainstream WiFi system

For a first push in the WiFi space, Samsung does very well with the Samsung Connect Home. It has a low-key size and is relatively compact, is very easy to install and performs very well. The addition of the smart home HUB is a great bonus and could be a sway factor for the smart home enthusiast if the competition does not offer the same functionality.

I kept an eye out for things like quality of the WiFi connection over the long-run because I have seen disconnection issues with other mesh networks. After several weeks, this product has been working very well. You should never think of your WiFi router unless the Internet is down. “Mission accomplished” for the Samsung Connect Home.

This router may offer basic QoS and parental control features, but it is undeniable that other routers may have more knobs to tweak, or make things a bit more convenient and powerful if you want to finely tune the network. You should be aware of this, although I suspect that most people don’t really care.

If you are lucky enough to have a Gigabit Internet connection, Samsung has a “Pro” version of this ( model AC2600) that can reach 800 Mbps over WiFi. Unfortunately, I won’t get this for another 6-months or so.

Connect Home Single
 
Connect Home 3-pack

Overall product rating: 8/10

Filed in Home >Reviews. Read more about routers and WiFi.

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