Review: Starry Station
Routers: they’re a necessary evil to get the internet that’s piped into your home seamlessly split across all your devices. But what if you could do away with the need to ever type in a router IP address, dig up old manuals to find default credentials to log into it, and then deal with an interface that looks like it was designed before you were born? In a nutshell that’s the idea behind Starry Station ($280): a router that’s not in any way cryptic or convoluted. Is it really as user friendly as you’d assume? Spoiler: yes. But read on for the full review.
Unboxing the Starry Station was a lot like unboxing an Apple product (that distinct smell included). A lot of attention was paid to the packaging, which is shaped in a triangle that could fit little else, and at least as much to the router itself. MacBook-reminiscent White polycarbonate for the front and sides meet a brushed aluminum back that doubles as a heatsink. Its overall design begs to be placed on a desk or somewhere just as prominent unlike most boxy routers that we’d rather hide. Flip it around to find a large speaker (a microphone’s on the front), though for now they don’t do anything and we’ll have to wait and see what Starry has in store for these.
Further down lie the device’s three only ports: one for power and two ethernet ports, one in (from your modem) and one out (to a switch or device plugged physically via ethernet cable). Normally we wouldn’t care to mention accessories but it needs to be said that an elegant white power cable and a unique flat ethernet cable come with the router, both white and both standing out in our tangle of wires. Anyway, on the front it’s equipped with a 3.8-inch touchscreen that displays network status at a glance (if you want it to) and is used to set up the router from start to finish.
So how easy is it to get Starry running? Very. There’s no user manual included, and truth be told you won’t need one. Plug it in, connect your modem, and prompts on the screen guide you through the process of setting up a WPA2 network in minutes including customizing both the name and password you want using an on-screen keyboard, both aided by a sometimes humorous name generator should you be lacking inspiration. Another few clicks and you’ll get a 5GHz network — that’s good for attaining faster speeds at closer range for streaming and the like — running alongside the 2.4GHz. It might suggest switching a device from one band to the other if speeds could benefit. A four-digit PIN number is also set to keep just anybody with access from messing with your settings. It constantly monitors your network for issues and displays plain text explanations of the issues along with a phone number, email address, and the option to request a call for 24h support in case you’ve encountered a problem you can’t solve yourself. We initially had a snag with our modem while setting up and Starry noticed, which prompted us to reset the modem and get our internet up and running. It’s a lot better than trying to interpret a string of flashing lights.
Once initialized the Starry Station displays both your internet Health Score in percentage and a series of blue and red orbs that represent your connected devices. Blue means a healthy connection, red means a problem (tap on it to get feedback for improving it), and larger orbs signify increased data use by a device. We’ve never bothered looking up individual usage of our devices in the past due to presumed complexity but it’s all too simple here, making it easy to figure out who’s responsible for blowing the monthly data cap. Another interesting consequence is that your Health Score gives you real time feedback on the physical placement of the Station; hide it under a cabinet or place it sub-optimally very far from your devices and the score will go down. Ookla-powered speed tests are also frequently done right on the device and represented by a line graph that shows its change over time (if your ISP is cheating you, you’ll know). ScreenTime is one other interesting feature useful for those with children, letting you set up rules for individual devices to restrict internet use between given times.
An accompanying iOS and Android app gives you the reigns from your smartphone. Pairing them was easy: Starry displayed a code to be entered in the app. Once paired, monitoring, accessing, and changing router settings can be done from anywhere, including outside your home. The app also enables more advanced settings like port forwarding, DHCP, and more, though frankly we haven’t needed to touch any of these.
The 802.11ac router, which is 802.15-ready, gave us excellent performance, though we’ll leave the in-detail performance reviews to the specialists (speed comparisons at CNET and PC Mag deem favorably). More features are coming indicated by Internet of Things compatibility and the as-yet inactive speaker and mic, but we’ll pass judgement on these considering we have no idea what’s coming (other than Starry’s wireless broadband internet service that’s interesting but that’s still in beta for now).
To sum it up, Starry Station is a router for most everyone, albeit at a price — literally. Solid performance and an intuitive, well-designed interface intersect in this intriguing triangular machine. Besides the cost, drawbacks include the absence of a USB port for wireless printing/backing up, only one Gigabit ethernet port out (requiring a switch to physically connect more than one other device), and the inclusion of a fan that, while quiet, can still be heard when ambient noise is absent. Still, there’s no other router that’s quite so smart and easy to use, so if you value that then pick one up.
Grab one at Amazon – $280 (down from $300 until September 4th)