Zyxel Multy X review: Screamingly fast mesh Wi-Fi
Wide coverage and great speeds for an attractive price
Next to BT Whole Home Wi-Fi's classy discs or Google Wi-Fi's friendly little cylinders, Zyxel's bulging Multy X modules look rather cheap - and with a sizeable footprint of 236 x 178mm, they take up more shelf-space than most rivals too. But these nodes are large for a reason: each one crams in a dedicated 4x4 antenna array for the backhaul - providing a huge theoretical bandwidth of 1,733Mbits/sec - alongside separate 2x2 arrays for connected clients.
What this means in practical terms is that the nodes can communicate between themselves faster, and over longer distances, than most other mesh systems. In our own tests, we found we were able to connect the primary node to the modem, haul the other node all the way to the utility room at the rear of the property, and still - according to the signal meter that's handily built into the Multy X smartphone app - enjoy a "perfect" connection between the two.
That in turn translated to some seriously impressive wireless coverage. No matter where we roamed around the property - indeed, even when we strayed out onto the exterior terrace - we enjoyed the kind of blazing speeds that had previously only been attainable when sitting right next to our old router. Even on the slower 2.4GHz band, the connection topped 5MB/sec almost everywhere around the building.
That alone would be enough to earn the Multy X a warm recommendation, but there's other good news too. We've complained elsewhere that two Gigabit Ethernet ports isn't really enough for a system that intends to replace your router. The Multy X shows how it should be done, offering a generous four ports on each node, so you can attach up to seven wired clients without needing to mess around with switches. It's just a shame that the USB 2 port at the back of each node doesn't currently do anything - it would be nice to be able to connect an external hard disk, but Zyxel says the connector is "reserved for future usage", and we suggest you don't hold your breath.
We were also pleased to note that splitting up the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless bands is as easy as flipping a toggle in the Multy X app. By default the 5GHz network is, slightly oddly, distinguished by having ".speed" appended to its SSID, but you can change it to whatever you like. There's a very simple parental control system too, which lets you configure internet access schedules for individual devices or groups.
As a final bonus, the Multy X system works with Alexa, so if you have an Amazon Echo device you can verbally instruct it to disable the guest network, test your internet speed or temporarily suspend internet access. It would have been nice to be able to reboot the router with a voice command, but if your internet is glitching then Alexa probably won't work anyway.
While the Multy X gets a lot right, it does hit a few bum notes. Yet again, you're stuck with a custom IP range - 192.168.212.x, if you're interested - which will be frustrating for anyone who has their IP addresses set up the way they like them. And as with Google Wi-Fi, while you can inspect your connected clients, you can't blacklist any that shouldn't be there. (You can cut off their internet access - but they'll still be able to talk to other devices on your LAN.)
Be warned too that, while the smartphone app is quite capable, it's aggravatingly slow: as you tap around its various pages, you're frequently left staring at a spinning wheel for five seconds or more while the app queries the nodes for whatever information it needs. You can't even work around the issue by using the web interface, because there isn't one. Visit the gateway in your web browser and you'll be greeted with a terse "not found" error.
One final caveat is that the Multy X doesn't currently operate as a true mesh network; instead it uses a star configuration in which all nodes talk directly to the router. An update is promised in March that will add support for daisy-chained configurations - but if you were thinking of investing in additional units then be warned that, as things stand, they may not extend the system's range by as much as you'd hope.
For those of us who don't live in mansions, though, the Zyxel X is a fantastic system. It may not be the most aesthetically beautiful networking kit on the block, but it delivers screamingly fast Wi-Fi over an impressively wide area, for a price that's extremely reasonable.
The Zyxel X is a fantastic system. It may not be the most aesthetically beautiful networking kit on the block, but it delivers screamingly fast Wi-Fi over an impressively wide area, for a price that’s extremely reasonable.