ProsTremendous speed close to main node; decent mesh performance
ConsSmartphone app has lots of improper English; constant node drops
Over the years, we've tested our fair share of networking devices, and we've seen the payoff for big technological leaps. First from 802.11n to 802.11ac, then from 802.11ac to 802.11ac mesh. While a new protocol is already hitting the market, namely 802.11ac (or WiFi 6), it will be a very long time before it becomes mainstream. So, in the meantime, what is a bandwidth lover to buy? Well, our recommendation for the past year or so has been if you want straight-line speed over a short distance, you get a muscle-bound "mega" router, bulging with antennae and packed with radios, or if you want whole-home coverage, you absolutely, positively get a mesh network.
But what if you want both? Is it possible? Well, with its new ESR580, EnGenius tries to give you just that: amazing short-range speed along with whole-home coverage. But this isn't the first time EnGenius has promised us that, and in our review of the earlier ESR530, we weren't entirely impressed. The new ESR580 offers up a dedicated backhaul to improve its mesh system, along with slightly higher transmit power. Does it achieve the impossible? We'll soon find out!
Special thanks to EnGenius for providing a review sample of the EnGenius ESR580 Smart Mesh Router 2-Pack System.
Description and Features
The ESR580 comes in a 2-pack, which means you get two identical nodes, either of which can be the main router in a mesh network, the remote node, or can function as a stand-alone router. Each ESR580 node is 5" in diameter, and a fairly chunky 2.2" tall. While reasonably attractive in glossy white, the ESR580 won't win any design awards for innovation. The only stylistic flourish is the small LED indicator light, which can change colors to indicate operating status. Blue is what you want to see, although during setup, it flashes a number of different colors, and during operation, it will change colors if the remote node is too far or too close to the main node. In event, as you can see below, EnGenius continues to tower over the competition in terms of size; svelte the ESR580 is not. But if its larger size leads to better performance, we might be OK with it!
Hidden away underneath the ESR580 router are all the connectors, including power, WAN, LAN, and a USB 3.0 port. That last feature is an improvement upon the ESR530, which has a USB 2.0 port, and it's a big edge that EnGenius potentially gains on its competitors, which typically don't offer any USB ports on their mesh products. We'd give EnGenius major points for this design, except for one major problem: the USB port won't fit most USB drives! This is a major design oversight, and we attribute it to a lack of real-world beta testing. Yes, you can plug in an external SSD drive that uses an extension cable, but most users if you want to stick a thumb drive in there, be aware that many simply will not fit. The other issue with this feature is that it doesn't actually allow access from your home network - it's exclusively a file server for the smartphone app called "EnFile". So the big question is: how do you get files on there? Well, you don't, unless you save them directly onto the thumb drive from a PC. So this is sort of a half-baked feature, but we're not going to take off points for it, because like we said, most competitors don't even have a USB port at all. We believe this has to do with some limitations of mesh networking devices, given that they're ubiquitous on single-node networking devices.
Setup went fairly well, and we can tell EnGenius has fine-tuned the process since we tested the ESR530. The QR reader built into the app quickly recognized the QR code on the bottom of our ESR580 router, which is more than we can say of the ESR530. Alas, we still found our fair share of improper English, and we continue to view this as unacceptable. Can you spot the "bad English" below???
Frankly, this is simply not that hard to get right. Companies selling security-related products like home networking gear need to be willing to hire native English speakers to write, or at least proof-read, their apps. It was one thing when this sort of mistake ended up in instruction manuals, but when it's in the app that people see every time they log in to check their settings, they are going to start wondering who's in charge. Is it someone they can trust?
So, yes, EnGenius had made improvements to its setup process and smartphone app, but yes, more work need to be done!
To get a sense of how the ESR580's wireless networking performance stacks up, we compared it to our two favorite networking products, the TP-Link Deco M9, which is TP-Link's best mesh system, and the TP-Link Archer C5400, among its best traditional home routers. We also through in the original ESR530. Here are all four products with their corresponding selling prices as of our publication date, as well as their MSRPs for reference:
- EnGenius ESR580 Smart Mesh Router 2-Pack - $250
- EnGenius ESR530 Smart Mesh Router 2-Pack - $100
- TP-Link Deco M9 Plus Mesh WiFi System - $247 (original MSRP: $300)
- TP-Link Archer C5400 Router - discontinued (original MSRP: $400)
We mention MSRPs because it's quite typical for home networking products to debut at one price, drop in price relatively quickly after release, and then continue dropping to compete in a different product class over time. Such is the case with the Archer C5400, which was once the most advanced router on the market. Before being discontinued, it was typically selling for around $240. Similarly, TP-Link's Deco M9 was relatively competitive at $300 when it debuted in mid-2018, given that most of its competition was in the $350-$400 price range. Today it's at $250, which means it's still a premium product, but if EnGenius was targeting the original MSRP, it was in for a surprise. The M9 Plus's street price is now a few dollars below the ESR580's debut price!
Flip to the next page to see how the ESR580 system compares!