Is the Eero a Dad’s Dream Router?
Once my children got to the age where each had to have his own personal streaming entertainment, the ever-increasing wails that “my brother’s eating my bandwidth!” started to get the better of me. My old Apple Time Capsule just wasn’t spreading the wealth very well in our airwave-confounding, walls-stuffed-with-lead-chicken-wire Edwardian apartment.
After the absolute minimum research that any overwhelmed parent would do, I threw an excessive pile of ducats ($300) at a TechCrunch darling, a startup called Eero. In theory, their “mesh system” multi-homed router would work much better than some generic, one-byte-at-a-time-flinger at the back of the house. Yet the Eero is double the cost of the nearest top-rated LinkSys model from Worst Buy. How would it perform? I had 30 days to find out. (Of course, if it worked even slightly better than the Time Capsule, I’d probably be too lackadaisical to notice when the 30 day trial had expired, and end up stuck with it.)
Happily, the Eero turns out in fact to satisfy four simultaneous bandwidth suckers, even with our paleolithic Sonic.Net 8Mb inflow. In this brief review, I’ll touch on its highlights, and some ways the nerds at Eero can do better next time. In other words, I’ll talk only about the two aspects I really care about, and leave the comprehensive specs-gushing to other techno-geeks.
Using the Eero’s
The Eero’s arrive in very Apple-like white boxes, each individually wrapped as if you would make a collection of them. Wasteful, but pretty. Plain old cardboard would have been fine, thank you. However… I care more about getting it up and working.
I’ve reached a point in life where, despite being an engineer myself, I have no extra energy to reverse-engineer someone else’s bad design choices.
The first appeal of the Eero is that it’s truly simple to set up. You add the iOS app to your phone, activate the phone’s bluetooth, plug the first Eero in to your modem, and touch a few buttons on the app to set up a LAN password. After that, plug your second Eero into the wall (you can’t have just one Eero), and it just starts working. You can then run a speed test from the app to see how it’s performing.
Unfortunately, the bandwidth wasn’t blazingly fast as I’d expected. But, after a call to Sonic.Net, I found out that, in fact, various iPads around the house were at fault for the continuing molasses. These poor tablets have been starved for bandwidth for so long, they’ve been unable to properly back themselves up. Switched over to Eero, they went hog-wild, shoveling every random game file they’d squirreled away for months, right up the data pipe. After soundly chastising the iPads, I was able to achieve Netflix Nirvana: streaming to 4 devices all at once!
Hooray! With Eero, I was able to achieve Netflix Nirvana: streaming to 4 devices all at once!
One flaw I found, however, was that the second Eero really prefers to be physically visible from the first one. This means both of them had to be in the main hall to feel good about themselves. I’d prefer a stronger signal in my living room, but nirvana quickly became purgatory when I tried moving Eero #2 around the bend, out of sight of Eero #1. A few adjustments later, while still maintaining line of sight, I managed to dial up the living room bandwidth sufficiently.
Now that the streamaholics were fully satisfied, it was time to move on to the next challenge for the Eero’s: restricting the very same kids. That’s right! Too much TV is not a good thing.The Eero has a scheduler that lets you decide which devices can get internet, when, and for how long. In a few minutes I was able to set up a “Kids” schedule from 6–8pm weekdays, excluding Monday and Tuesday when they have more homework, and 5:30–8pm on weekends. All other times, even should they crack my high-tech 6 digit numeric iPad access codes (by spying over my shoulder during unlocking, of course), there’d be no excessive YouTubing outside Dad control. Take that, Jack SepticEye!
But Not Everything is Joy in Mudville
Now comes the first area where using the Eero became difficult. While it’s easy to set up the schedule (called a “Profile”), the app’s interface makes it difficult to understand whether the schedule is active or not. Active profiles say “Paused”, and the control button is a Play icon. It’s highly confusing: is the profile paused, ie, internet traffic is not blocked, or is profile active, meaning internet traffic is blocked? What’s more, pressing the play icon actually deactivates the profile, meaning that now, traffic is flowing, but the button has become a double bar, indicating traffic is paused. Eero could address this muddle by simply displaying “Traffic is flowing” instead of “Paused”, and using a word, instead of an icon, to indicate the action you wish to take (e.g. “Disable Profile”).
The second weakness is exceptional access. Sometimes one of my kids deserves a little more or less time off schedule. This could be because they had a sax lesson during regularly scheduled TV time, so it’s only fair; or more likely, they ambushed their younger brother with a “spit soup” water balloon, and now they need time to “think about it” while the younger brother gets recompensed in “screen-time money”. (Truth be told, in my family, this kind of event isn’t that exceptional.)
With Profiles, the Eero’s could be a fantastic tool for my oh-so-modern “video-based child discipline”. But, no…
Because a client device can only belong to a single profile at a time, I need to set up a totally different schedule for the exceptional kid and move their device to it; when their time is up, I have to manually move the device back to the Kids schedule. This is tedious and difficult. Eero should allow you to control individual devices manually with an override. And, they should let you assign a clear name (e.g. a kid’s name) to devices rather than the sometimes cryptic name the device itself proffers, to make it easy to start and stop internet overrides.
I’m long past my 30 day trial period, and true to form I still haven’t recycled the Eero’s packaging, as if I could still return them (I can’t). Still, I’m not sorry I bought them. Because the Eero’s update themselves nightly, and because I’m positive the Eero engineers avidly read blogs like mine, I’m going to keep the little white pods. I have no doubt the Eero folks will shortly fix the line-of-sight restriction and improve the Profiles UX. Then, they’ll push a fix over the intertubes automagically, while I sleep. The very next day, the Eero product will be even spiffier than it is today.
Can your router beat that?