Review: Portal: Turbocharged WiFi router

Ignition Design Labs funded a new router called “Portal” via Kickstarter. A team of people experienced with designing routers, they aimed to build a router that maximizes the speed of wi-fi through two ways. First, FastLanes uses Dynamic Frequency Selection which would let you use 5 Ghz channels that are not typically available, while SmartLanes would help to reguarly select the least congested channel for your devices to be connected on. The promise is More Speed & More Range.

The question is…. does it really work in Singapore’s HDB nest of wifi signals.

First Impressions

My daily driver is actually the ASUS RT-AC87U. So my comments would largely be in comparison to it. The router actually feels light and plastic-ky. But thankfully its clamp shell design does fit better into the modern day furnishing design. No trouble for it to fit into your house decoration.

It comes with a ethernet cable, and power cable. Nothing extra.

The user interface is very simplistic at the moment, partially because some of the features are still in development. But all the core functionality I need is still there, while some might find it even easier not to bother with a large page of wireless settings. But power users would definitely be disappointed.

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Interface of the app

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Is the wireless really better

Faster Speed, Yes.

Dynamic Frequency Selection was something totally new to me until I went to google it recently. Short summary is that it allows you to use my channels than typical 5 ghz Wifi channels. These channels are usually reserved for military and enterprise usage, even in Singapore. By right, should you the device detect a DFS channel being used, it should stop transmitting on it. There arn’t many consumera grade routers that can do this, with the Portal being the only one currently that can hop frequencies, on top of avoiding those being in use. Some devices also seem to be unable to access those channels as well. E.g. my Ino 3 phone doesn’t have access to all the additional 5 Ghz channels, but my Samsung S6 has no issues. My AC87U does not have access to the same channels

I’m not quite sure what causes it, but the speed from the router was definitely faster.

The following is a comparison between the Portal router and the RT-AC87U

Near to router:

Portal – 310 mbps RT-AC87U – 280 mbps

Two room away (two concrete walls in between):

Portal – 50 mbps RT-AC87U – 38 mbps

As you can see, definitely advantage in speed provided by Portal

More Range, definitely No

The range of the Portal Router was disappointing though. When I was three walls away, I totally could not detect any signals from the Portal at all, even though I could still connect to the RT-AC87U. So my hopes of using a single wireless router at home just melted away. Maybe it’s the lack of external antennas.

Conclusion

The portal unfortunately can’t replace the router I have at home, even with the additional speed. It just doesn’t have the range that I need. There are some features that are coming up that we can look forward to. Adaptive Band Steering makes sure that all Wi-Fi devices in your home are using the best possible band. It lets you give your 2.4 and 5GHz bands the same SSID name and let Portal worry about which one your device should be using.

At US$200, it’s quite a cheap price for a router with such advanced features. In addition, even with the AC-87U, I’m using a separate AP in the last bed room, so the lack of range, while disappointing, isn’t a negative over the AC-87U. Alternatives would be the upcoming mesh routers, such as the google wifi. But putting a network of them in a HDB house could be price prohibitive.

Looking forward to updating the article when more features are implemented for the router.

 

tedfox

Zhaolin aka Tedfox owns both Nexus 7 (2012 and 2013), a Nexus 4, iNo Two, and the OnePlus One. He enjoys playing with the latest gadgets as well as software, - like Plex and Waze.

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