How do you fix Wi-Fi dead zones? Mesh networks! These Wi-Fi systems, made up of multiple wireless routers spread throughout the home, have become popular in the last few years. Before this new crop, you could get little devices called range extenders to help, but they weren’t always that powerful, were a pain to set up, and each one created their own network IDs. Home mesh networks simplify all that by using slick setup software to take care of all the ins and outs of the setup process. You plug in a few units around the home, tap a few buttons on the phone, and that’s it — no more dead zones, and to the user’s eye, only one network ID to deal with.
That’s how it all works in theory, anyway. Over the past few weeks we’ve gotten to try out one of the first few mesh network systems, Luma. Luma’s little hexagons are routers that connect to each other to spread fast Wi-Fi all over the house. They’re very good at that, although the extreme simplicity and lack of advanced settings will turn off power users. But, Luma has just enough equally simple parental control features to be a great fit for parents who really don’t have the time to be fiddling with routers. It even has the nuclear option for parents — the ability to pause the internet around the home with just a couple taps.
Luma can be purchased in packs of one, two, or three, depending on how big of an area you need to cover. We received a three-pack, but due to the size of my apartment, only two of the units were used.
The box contains what you need to set the Luma system up, and nothing more. There are the three hexagonal Luma units, three AC power adapters, and a single ethernet cable. That ethernet cable is used to plug the hub unit into your modem — Luma is purely a wireless router system, so it won’t be replacing your modem. The three Luma units are identical, so any of them can be used as the hub unit. Keep in mind that they’re meant to stand upright (they have rubberized bottoms, so they won’t topple over easily) — the ethernet and power ports are on the back, so they can’t be laid flat. That’s why Luma made their routers look a lot nicer than the everyday router — they’re small, sleek, and come in a variety of colors. They’re not art pieces, but they aren’t eyesores, either.
Setup is handled from start to finish using the Luma smartphone app — it’s available for both iOS and Android, but keep in mind that there is no Luma PC or Mac software, so you’ll need a smartphone to set up these routers. Fortunately, the app is as straightforward as it gets. It’ll ask for your name and have you set an email/password combo to set up your account. The app will also ask for your phone number, just in case you do need some help from Luma’s support team along the way.
The app then asks how many units will be used, the kind of home they’ll be in (apartment, house, etc), and how many floors they’ll be spread across. This is to help the app and you make sure that the units are placed just far enough away from each other that they’ll cover the whole home. Plug the first unit into the wall and the modem, and the app will prompt you to set up a network name and password.
From there, it’s pretty much autopilot. Just keep your phone close to the Luma router, and the app will take care of the rest. Then, set up the other units near where there are typically dead zones — the app will have you enter where you’re placing those secondary routers on a virtual floor plan and name them by the room they’re in. The app guides you through everything, and the secondary units really only take a few taps to set up. That’s it! New Wi-Fi network, up and running.
The first thing you’ll see on the app after setup is current download and upload speeds for your network, along with quick access to each router. This will let you know that everything is working properly — if you don’t see ‘Wi-Fi Enabled’ in green under each unit, then that unit has become disconnected to the network (which never happened for me).
Luma doesn’t have much in the way of advanced settings, but they do have a bit in the way of parental control. The person with the app is in control — they can view all devices connected to the network and associate them with profiles for each family member. The only problem here is that one device can only be connected to one profile — not ideal if you have a family tablet that everyone uses. Creating a profile called ‘family’ is a decent enough workaround.
What’s the point of those profiles? For each one, the admin (the parents) can set content filters, bedtimes, and time limits. These are cool features, but they’re a bit limited. The content filters are based on Luma’s rating system, which is similar to the movie rating system. But, individual sites can’t be blocked or allowed using the app — instead, if someone tries to access a blocked website, they’ll get a splash screen from Luma and the option to request an exception. It’s not a bad system, and it guarantees that parents will know what their kids are trying to access, but some more customization options wouldn’t hurt. Bedtimes and time limits are similarly limited — there’s no option to set custom schedules. What’s there works well, though. Set bedtime for your youngest at 8:00 PM, and the internet gets cut off on all devices assigned to them. Set a two-hour Wi-Fi limit, and they’ll lose access as soon as they go over time.
The security tab on the app will tell you if you have a device connected to the network that has a virus or malware. If bad stuff is detected, Luma can knock that device off the network to prevent anything from spreading to your other devices. And, at all times, you have the option to block or unblock individual devices.
Having people over and don’t want to give them the real network password? In Wi-Fi settings, it’s possible to create a guest network — just toggle the option on and set a network ID and password, and you’re set. If you want to invite a guest to that network, you can send them the login info over email or a messaging app straight from the Luma app.
At the bottom right of the app, you’ll see an orange remote control button (note: this is for Android devices — it’ll look a bit different on iOS), which brings up four options: prioritize a device, pause internet, invite to Wi-Fi, and add a Luma. Invite to Wi-Fi is for sending guests login information, and adding a Luma means you want to add a unit to another room. Prioritizing a device simply means that Luma will guarantee faster speeds for that one device — it’s handy if someone’s streaming a movie and doesn’t want to wait for buffering or loading. Pausing the internet is a global disconnect — tap that button, and every device in the house loses internet connectivity immediately. Call it the dinnertime button! Luma also has an Alexa skill, which lets you pause the internet using voice commands.
We don’t have the resources to give Luma a full-on scientific review regarding speeds, but if you’re coming from an older router, you’ll likely see a huge speed boost (I went from about 50 Mbps download speeds using an old modem/router combo to about 120 Mbps with Luma, using the Ookla speed test). But, remember that speeds depend on your internet service and the device you’re using, too. So, while Luma is capable of 1 Gbps download speeds wired and 867 Mbps download speeds over Wi-Fi, what you’ll really get is whatever your internet provider is giving you. The good news is that Luma (along with many other new routers) will almost certainly allow you to get the most out of what your provider guarantees — if you’re paying Comcast for 150 Mbps speeds, that’s probably around what you’ll get out of Luma.
The main disappointment is in range. The app even cautions you against having walls and obstacles between your Luma units, which is unrealistic for virtually anyone planning to use Luma at home. Fortunately, that warning seems to have been given in an abundance of caution — a couple walls and about 30 feet separate the two Luma units I’m using, and I’ve had no connectivity issues so far. But, once you get up to 50 or 60 feet plus some walls and obstacles, you can run into some trouble. Luma works perfectly for a small three-bedroom apartment like mine, but if you live in a large two-story house, you could still end up with dead zones.
At its core, Luma does what range extenders do. The advantage here is that there’s only one network ID to connect to — Luma automatically connects devices to the nearest unit and switches between units as needed to guarantee the best speeds. With range extenders, you’d have to disconnect and reconnect to the closest unit as you move through the house — a common enough occurrence when you’re using a smartphone.