Greater transparency is usually a positive thing. It encourages big companies to share stories and talk with their customers on social networks. It makes it easy for us to watch behind-the-scenes videos of our president and first lady dancing with R2-D2. It helps us feel more in control.
A company named Starry thinks you could benefit from a Wi-Fi router with greater transparency, and its Starry Station tries to give you just that. This is a triangular, white device that's meant to be seen rather than buried behind the couch, tucked under a desk, or hidden in a closet like most routers. With a glance at the Starry Station’s screen, you can see how many devices are using your Wi-Fi at any given time, if any device has issues, and you can read your Internet Health Score — a summary of how your service, speed, Wi-Fi conditions, and devices are performing. All of this data appears as a pattern of blue or red dots, calmly floating around your score in the center of the screen. (They even seem a little hypnotic if you watch them for a while.)
Starry also says that this 802.11ac router will step up your Wi-Fi network’s performance, and that it uses multiple built-in antennas to create a more powerful range. In my tests, download speeds were consistently around 20 mbps faster using the Starry Station than using my Comcast-provided router. (For homes that are abnormally large or were built with certain impenetrable materials, the Starry Wing Wi-Fi extender will come out this fall for $119.)
Starting today, the Starry Station is on sale for $349 at Starry.com and Amazon; Best Buy will follow next week. This is a lot of money to drop on a Wi-Fi router, even if you compare it to others that recently tried to improve this category like Google's OnHub ($199) or Eero ($199 for one or $499 for three). Apple's AirPort Extreme is also $199 and there are many high-end routers from Netgear, Asus, and others in the $200 price range.
Yes, this router has a fan
If you can stomach the price, this Wi-Fi router does a great job showing you data about your network that’s otherwise hidden from view. Its display is playful, and the Starry Station looks stylish in the home, even if its internal fan (yes, this is a router with a fan) does run a bit loud for my taste. It also has a built-in microphone and speaker, and since it runs on Android, in the future the Starry Station could work with voice-activated systems like Amazon’s Alexa Voice Services.
Still, the setup for this thing could be harder than you think. Starry’s idea that you put this device in a place where you can see and interact with it may solve some poor signal issues. But a lot of people deliberately place their modems somewhere out of the way so they won’t have to interact with them — places like basement corners or under desks, far away from where they actually hang out. Or, because of where the broadband connection comes into the house, the router is not easy to locate centrally. For many, setting up Starry as recommended by the company will require running ugly Ethernet extensions throughout the house. This is not a good look.
I’ve been using the Starry Station in my three-bedroom row house — where I haven’t had too many connection issues since about six months ago when a Comcast rep visited to fix some outside wiring. Though my house was built in the early 1900s, it has been renovated and the rooms aren’t far enough away from my Wi-Fi router to pose serious problems. I use a standard Comcast modem / router combo that’s positioned on the floor behind the sofa, so I didn’t have to run extra cables to get this thing in the right spot on a nearby end table. I followed three setup steps — connect modem, place Starry Station, and connect to power — and I was up and running in minutes.
The Starry Station lit up, and its oval-shaped, 3.8-inch touchscreen showed steps for getting started, including a screen that auto-generated names for the Wi-Fi network (I chose MerryNagging, which gave my husband a laugh) and password (these are all compound words that are easy to remember, like GrillEarly and FizzyBingo).
Ambient Mode, which shows the screen with the hypnotic floating circles, tells you more than it seems: bigger circles represent devices — a Roku, Mac, iPhone — that are using up more data, and a red circle indicates that a device is having problems. Tap on this screen and you switch to Interactive Mode, which shows another level of network information, like what your average download and upload speeds are. Tap on your Internet Health Score, speeds, or devices, and you’ll open even more settings on each of these. For example, you can run a speed test right on the device, see a network's name and password (or lock this with a four-digit security code), and adjust screen-time restrictions for kids’ devices.
You can also turn on additional networks from your Starry Station, like one just for guests and one for heavy lifting. By default, the Starry Station broadcasts a combined network of 2.4GHz and 5GHz, automatically toggling between the two to optimize for your devices depending on what you’re doing. In addition, the Starry Station automatically sets up a secondary 5GHz network when you first turn on your Starry Station. It shows up as MerryNagging_5 (or whatever your network is named plus a "_5" behind it). This comes in handy if one of the devices in your house is using a lot of data, like streaming video or doing a big file transfer. If that device switches to the 5GHz channel, it gives some relief to the rest of your devices back on the normal, combined network. The Starry Station will even suggest switching to the dedicated 5GHz network by sending you a message on the Station when it detects you’re taxing the regular network.
One super convenient thing you can do from your Starry Station is to request a call for tech support. You type in your phone number, and someone usually calls within five minutes. I tested this without telling the company when I’d be doing it, and got a call just 10 minutes later from a real person (note: this was before the product was available). This help is available every day at every hour.
The Starry app for iOS and Android helps you navigate through lots of settings, too. I opened settings in the app and renamed my connected devices — especially Android devices that just had numerical names — so I could quickly differentiate them on the Starry Station screen. Unfortunately, the app doesn't let me restart the router remotely, like Google's OnHub app, making triaging problems when out of the house difficult.
Starry, the company, has bigger plans for its Starry Station. This summer, it will launch a beta program in Boston to test something called Starry Internet. This uses a new technology that Starry says will be easier to access if you already own a Starry Station.
The Starry Station's high price makes it a tough sell
For people with deep pockets and well-placed modems, the Starry Station will be a breeze to set up and use. But it isn’t necessarily a much better router than the multitude of other options available, and its convenience features aren’t necessarily worth its higher price tag. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and Starry’s ultimate goal is to provide you with more knowledge and control over your home network in a way that’s accessible and not too complicated. That’s a lofty promise, and you’ll have to decide if that extra knowledge is worth the Starry Station’s cost.