May 28, 2022

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Future Technology

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Review: A Weirdly Fun Wi-Fi 6 Router


In a good way, Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi Alien has been a weird router.

That was my initial impression more than two years ago, and it’s even more so today. I’ve reviewed dozens more Wi-Fi 6 routers in the past couple of years, yet none was like the Alien.

This router is somewhat similar to the Asus RT-AX92U in hardware specs but without a full web interface and extensive network settings. However, it manages to have some valuable and unique features. And the cool design never gets old.

Here’s the deal: If you’re looking for a dead simple-to-use and reliable router that will deliver any sub-Gigabit broadband connection in full, the Alien is your friend, still totally worth its current street price of around $450 today. And I dare say you may even love it.

But, if you’re expecting standard settings the ability to customize your home network to a great extent, the Alien is just a bit, well, out of this world. You might get mad. And in that case, for the price, you’d get a lot more with the Asus GT-AX11000 or TP-Link GX90 instead.

Dong’s note: I first published this review on December 9, 2019, and, per the requests of many, updated it on March 1, 2022, after extra testing using the latest firmware, which, among other things, has the support for the 160MHz channel width.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Wi Fi Router
The AmpliFi Alien feels solid and has a good heft. And the touchscreen is quite sleek.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien: An attention grabber

You either love the Alien’s design or find it annoying, but one thing is for sure: you will talk about it.

A design to impress

If the name itself is not enough, everything else about the Alien’s look is about putting on a great first impression. The router comes in a packaging generally reserved for expensive gifts — like a nice bottle of cognac or something fancy of a similar shape.

Out of the box, the Alien is a black cylindrical box with matte soft plastic skin that’s 9.84-inch (250 mm) tall 4.33-inch (110 mm) wide. The router feels solid, and at 2.65 lb (1.2 kg), it’s heavy enough not to topple easily. Overall, it’s slightly taller and narrower in diameter than the SURFboard mAX Pro.

And then, there’s this beautiful bright color 4.7-inch vertical (274 x 1268) touchscreen on the front, similar to that of a high-end smartphone. Ubiquiti’s idea of putting a touchscreen on a router started with the AmpliFi HD, but the Alien is where it shines.

You can swipe between this screen’s pages to view different sets of settings, including port status, the total amount of data transferred per period, the number of connected clients, and the router’s IP addresses.

In the beginning, the only interactive thing you can do with the screen is an Internet speed test. But over time, via firmware, Ubiquiti has added more and more functions to this screen.

By version 3.6.x, you can perform the initial setup, update the firmware, and change/check on all sorts of settings, such as volume, brightness, fan speeds, temperature, connected clients, etc. It’s by far the best touchscreen you can find on Wi-Fi routers.

On the bottom, the Alien has a ring of greenish light that shows the router’s status. The light flashes (and the touch screen also responds) each time you apply a setting or when you want to locate it via the mobile app — like you could misplace something that ostentatious.

By the way, this bottom ring of light is similar to the one on UniFi Dream Machine‘s top but much brighter. Also, like the UDM, the Alien has a built-in speaker that plays a tune each time it starts or when you apply a new setting.

As soon as you plug it in, the Alien gets busy fast with a flashing bright light and different chimes playing. The whole thing makes the setup process a bit too exciting — don’t do that at night when your family is asleep.

After the initial setup, you can manage the router’s sight and sound via the mobile app or its touchscreen.

AmpliFi Alien’s detail photos

AmpliFi Alien Front
The AmpliFi Alien’s retail box looks a bit out of this world, or at least like a nice bottle of fancy spirit.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Wi Fi Router
Inside the packaging, you’ll note the AmpliFi Alien looks like an expensive bottle of spirit.


Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Router
The AmpliFi Alien has no multi-gig port, just four regular Gigabit LAN ports on its back.

AmpliFi Alien Box WAN
And Gigabit WAN port on its underside.

AmpliFi Alien Router Light
The AmpliFi Alien can put out an overwhelming amount of light. But you can dim or turn off the bottom light or the screen separately.

App-operated, super quick setup

You might like the Alien’s frills, but if you don’t, you’ll be happy to know that you won’t need to make the router play sounds or flash its colorful light often. The setup process was short in my case — there weren’t many settings to change.

Indeed, using the AmpliFi mobile app, which is used for all AmpliFi hardware, I could get the router up and running in less than 5 minutes. There was nothing to note here, other than the fact you’ll need to get an account with Ubiquiti, which I had already created for the AmpliFi HD’s review.

Aliens AmpliFi Mobile App
The AmpliFi mobile app makes managing the Alien an easy job.

After that, follow the steps on the phone’s screen, and you’d get the router up and running.

The app is easy to use and allows for an overview of your home network. You can monitor connected clients in real-time and manage its speaker and lighting. You can also schedule to turn off the touchscreen during certain hours.

The mobile app has the option to enable remote access, which allows you to manage the Alien even when you’re out and about. Using the apps, you’ll also be able to get access to the router’s few extra settings. These include port-forwarding, some basic Parental Control functions, and the Teleport VPN — more below.

In return, just like the case of any router with a login account, using the AmpliFi mobile app might put your privacy at risk, as I detailed in this post on router management.

The Alien has a simple one-page web user interface that you can use to manage without a login account — more below. But in this case, you’ll have no access to all the extra settings mentioned above.

Spartan network settings

No matter which you use, the Alien doesn’t have a lot of settings to customize.

As mentioned above, using the app, you can set up port forwarding and fixed IP addresses. But in both cases, it’s a bit of a pain considering the phone’s screen.

And that’s about all of the conventional settings and features you’ll find. There are no standard extras, such as Dynamic DNS, online protection, game-related features, and so on. (Similar to the case of the AmpliFi HD, the Alien might have a game version that comes with built-in QoS.)

As for Wi-Fi settings, you can customize the Alien’s Wi-Fi network, namely separating the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands, or create a new virtual network for each band.

You can also pick the channel you want a band to work on (or leave it as Auto) and the channel bandwidth.

Excellent firmware updates

I initially reviewed the Alien using firmware version 3.2.2. Since then, Ubiquiti has released a dozen updates, some of which added valuable improvements to the hardware.

Most noticeable, version 3.6.0, released mid-2021, added the support for DFS and the 160MHz channel width for both of the Alien’s 5GHz bands. This version is why I decided to re-test the router and update this review.

While the 160MHz support was welcome news, keep in mind that the router doesn’t have any Multi-Gig port, meaning you might not see many improved performances — more below.

Aso significant, before this, version 3.4.0 (released mid-2020) added the unique virtual private network (VPN) feature. That was by far the most valuable improvement.

AmpliFi Teleport: Sleek VPN for travelers

Indeed, Teleport, which was also added to AmpliFi HD via a firmware update, was a complete bonus. It’s a proprietary VPN server that initially required a separate hardware unit.

Designed primarily for mobile devices, Teleport works via another app called Teleport. On Windows or Mac computers, you need a separate Android emulator application.

But in either case, Teleport is dead simple to use. First, you create a Teleport Code using the AmpliFi mobile app. Then, on a mobile device (or up to 10 of them), run the Teleport app, and enter that code.

And that’s it, now that device will connect to the Internet using a VPN that links to the Alien. In effect, that keeps the connection secure as though the remote device is connected directly to the home Wi-Fi network.

By the way, the VPN code is valid only for up to 24 hours (or 1 hour by default). If you don’t enter it on the intended mobile device within that window, you’ll have to create a new one.

The Teleport VPN feature
Teleport is the AmpliFi Alien’s useful built-in VPN feature for mobile devices.

A VPN like that is an excellent way to stay protected when you use public Wi-Fi, and it doesn’t incur costs or have data restrictions like one of those popular paid VPN services.

What’s more, if you happen to have two AmpliFi routers at different locations, you can use Teleport to link them together.

In this case, all devices of one location will enjoy the VPN benefit by being part of the other place, making the feature quite fitting for businesses with two small offices.

Simple, but sufficient for basic usage, web user interface

Other than the mobile app, the Alien also has a one-page web interface you can get to by pointing a browser to its IP address, which by default is 192.168.121.1, and using the same password for the mobile app to log in.

(Note that this default IP might change from one Alien router to another, but you can easily find out what it is.)

AmpliFi Alien Old Firmware Mode AmpliFi Alien New Firmware

The AmpliFi Alien’s web interface old vs new: Version 3.6.x comes with a lot more options. But either will allow you to set up the hardware as a standalone router or an access point.

You can use the web page to set up the Alien as a router or an Access point and toggle some settings, including a DNS-based ad-blocker. Once turned on, this feature will stop online ads from coming into your home network — more below.

With the latest firmware, this webpage allows access to even more settings, as shown in the screenshots above, including customizing the Wi-Fi network.

But still, you can’t use this web interface for any extras, such as port-forwarding, IP reservation, VPN, or Parental Controls, nor can you use it to access the router remotely. Again, there’s no Dynamic DNS support.

Nonetheless, if you’re happy with the Alien at the basic level, you can use the Alien via its web interface completely without the need to register an account with Ubiquiti.

In this case, remember that you’d have to rely solely on the touchscreen for the lights and volume, and you’d need to be physically by the router itself to adjust those. But your privacy might be worth the little incontinence.

A largely working ad-blocking feature

By the way, I tried the ad-blocking out for an extended period, and it worked pretty well. The feature indeed blocked most ads of all kinds. However, it’s far from perfect.

That’s because there’s no way to fine-tune it — you can only turn it on or off. Since some videos and sites put ads as part of their content, they might not work at all unless you can turn ad-blocking off for them.

That said, with ad-blocking turned on, certain websites or streaming services will not work as intended, and you might not know what happens since there’s no warning or meaningful error message.

The point is that you should use this feature with care and be aware that you have a router-based ad-blocking when troubleshooting your broadband.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien: Unconventional specs, no multi-gig port

The Alien has the five usual Gigabit network ports, the WAN port in on its underside, and the LANs are on its back. There’s no multi-gig port. That said, in a wired-to-wireless connection, its speed caps at 1Gbps.

In reality, the lack of faster-than-Gigabit network ports doesn’t matter much since 1Gbps is significantly faster than the required speeds of any application.

But faster is always better if you ask me, especially Gigabit and Gig+ broadband have been getting more and more popular.

Lopsided tri-band setup

When it first came out, the Alien was the first Tri-band router with lopsided 5GHz bands.

Traditionally, a tri-band router includes one 2.4GHz band and two identical 5GHz bands. The Alien, however, has two different 5GHz bands.

One is a straightforward 4×4 Wi-Fi 5 band that caps at 1733 Mbps. The other is a 4800 Mbps Wi-Fi 6 band with a bit of controversy. Ubiquiti calls this an 8×8 band, but that’s just marketing, as I mentioned in this post on Wi-Fi 6.

Initially, the Wi-Fi 6 band only supported up to 80MHz channel width, but, as mentioned above, firmware version 3.6.0 added the support for the 160MHz.

Later on, there were more and more routers with this type of Wi-Fi specs, with the most popular being the Asus RT-AX92U, which I also reviewed twice.

AmpliFi Alien vs Asus RT-AX92U: Hardware specifications

Model AFi-ALN-R RT-AX92U
Full Name Ubiquiti
AmpliFi Alien 
Mesh Router
Asus RT-AX92U
 AX6100
Tri-band 
Wi-Fi 6 Router
Mesh-Ready Yes Yes
Dimensions 9.84-inch (250 mm) tall
4.33-inch (110 mm) wide
6.1 x 6.1 x 2.07 inc 
(15.5 x 15.5 x 5.26 cm)
Weight 2.65 lb (1.2 kg) 1.43 lbs (651 g)
5GHz-1 Wi-Fi Specs
(channel width)
4 x 4 AC
Up to 1733 Mbps 
(low band)
(20/40/80/160MHz)
2×2 AC
Up to 867Mbps 
(low band)
(20/40/80MHz)
5GHz-2 Wi-Fi Specs
(channel width)
4 x 4 AX
Up to 4804 Mbps 
(high band)
(20/40/80/160MHz)
4 x 4 AX
Up to 4804 Mbps 
(high band)
(20/40/80/160MHz)
2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs
(channel width)
4 x 4 AX
Up to 1148 Mbps
(20/40MHz)
2×2 Wi-Fi 4
Up to 400Mbps
(20/40MHz)
Backward Compatibility  802.11ac/n/g/a/b 802.11ac/n/g/a/b
Touchscreen Specs 4.7-inch (110.38 mm),
 274 x 1268, 279 PPI Resolution, 
G+F Touch, 
Full Color
None
Mobile App AmpliFi Asus Router
Web User Interface Yes (simple) Yes (full)
AP (Bridge) Mode Yes Yes
USB Port None 1x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ports 4 x LAN, 1 x WAN 4 x LAN, 1 x WAN
Link Aggregation No Yes
Multi-Gig Port None None
CPU 2.2 GHz 64-Bit Quad-Core CPU Dual-core 1.8Ghz CPU,
512 MB RAM, 256 MB Flash
Release Date December 2019 January 2021
Firmware Version
(at review)
1st try: 3.2.2
2nd tri: 3.6.2
1st try: 3.0.0.4.384_79.77
2nd try: 3.0.0.4.386_41535
US Price
(at 2nd review)
$430
(Single router)
$375
(2-pack)
AmpliFi Alien’s hardware specifications

No dedicated backhaul

The Alien is mesh-ready. You can get two or more units to form a mesh system — just like the RT-AX92U. There’s also an Alien Mesh Kit that includes a router and a mesh point which I reviewed separately.

One thing is for sure: The Alien’s non-conventional Tri-band specs mean when you get multiple units to create a mesh, the system has no dedicated backhaul.

In this case, the routers would create a separate virtual network on its Wi-Fi 6 band that links the hardware units.

This virtual network shares the bandwidth with the main network, so this band will still have to do two jobs simultaneously, linking the routers and serving clients. As a result, it will suffer from the standard signal loss found in dual-band mesh routers.

That said, if you intend to go with a mesh setup, it’s best to use the Alien via the wired backhaul.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien: Reliable performance

Before this second try, I had used the Alien for almost two years, and it proved to be reliable — just like the case of the AmpliFi HD. The router is generally a pleasure to use.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien 5GHz Wi Fi Performance
The Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien’s performance while hosting a 5GHz Wi-Fi 6 client

In terms of performance, it wasn’t the best I’ve seen, especially when compared with newer hardware. But it wasn’t slow, either.

Interestingly, the addition of 160MHz support didn’t change much in its throughputs, likely because it has no Multi-Gig port. And rested it using this channel width and experienced no improvement at all.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien 5GHz AC Performance
Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien 5GHz AC Performance

In fact, for better reliability, which is at risk when you use DFS channels, I’d recommend using this router with its default 80MHz channel.

The Alien has always had excellent Wi-Fi coverage. It’s on par, if not better than some high-end Wi-Fi 6 I’ve tested. Put it in the middle, and chances are it’ll cover a house of some 2000 ft² (186 m²) with no problems.

Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien .4GHz Performance
The Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien’s performance while hosting a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi 6 client

In all, the Alien had excellent performance for its specs. And my two-year experience is a testament to its reliability and enduring attraction.

AmpliFi Alien

Pros

Reliable and fast Wi-Fi with excellent coverage

Sleek design, sufficient web interface, and well-designed mobile app

Convenient and free Teleport VPN

Built-in ad-blocking feature

Cons

Limited in conventional settings and features

Unconventional tri-band setup with no dedicated backhaul when used in a mesh setup

VPN requires an app or an Android emulator to work on regular computers

No Multi-Gig port, not wall-mountable

Conclusion

As the name suggests, the AmpliFi Alien is an unconventional Wi-Fi 6 router.

On the one hand, it has some unique and valuable features. On the other, it lacks conventional settings and features you might assume from a home networking device of its caliber.

That said, if Wi-Fi speeds and coverage are what you care about, this router has enough to justify its cost for anyone with a sub-Gigabit broadband connection. And the unique and useful Teleport VPN is an awesome bonus.

If you’re comfortable with using the mobile apps — and all that implies — — that Alien has a lot for you to love.

I’ve had it for more than two years and still don’t want to let it go. And that’s definitely something for a guy who has the possibly largest collection of home routers.

By the way, if you’re wondering if you should get a second unit from a mesh, I address that in a separate review of the Alien Mesh system.



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