For the past few weeks I’ve been testing out a Starry Station wi-fi router at home as a replacement for the Apple AirPort Extreme that I’ve been using for the past several years.
The Starry Station is the best looking wi-fi hardware I’ve ever seen. It’s got a unique, triangular shape that’s attractive sitting on any tabletop surface but that also makes reaching its rear ports simpler than a traditional box-shaped chassis would. Of course, the jewel of the device is the touchscreen display on its frontside, a surprisingly rare feature for this kind of device. At about the size of a smartphone, the display makes setting up, controlling and checking the status of the Starry Station much, much more pleasant than any other router I’ve used.
The user interface is well designed and fairly clever. The colored circles you see in the illustration above aren’t purely decorative. They represent clients on the wi-fi network, with each client’s bandwidth usage corresponding to the circle’s size. I’m not completely sure that’s the most useful way to render the information, but it’s harmless enough and certainly cute.
The display is also a good resolution to a common router design practice that has always vexed me. As I wrote several years ago in a blog post titled “The Only Thing a Router Is Good For,” the vast majority of the time, the only reason you need to interact with a router is to reboot it. And yet on every router I’ve ever encountered, the only way to do that is to push a button on the back or, worse, unplug and replug the power cord. I’ve long argued that there should be a power button on the front of these devices, but the Starry Station strikes a fine compromise by allowing you to reboot it via an on-screen button. That in and of itself is a big win.
As for network range, the Starry Station does its job decently. Unfortunately it’s not really a breakthrough in terms of offering dramatically better wireless coverage in the way that other next generation routers like the Eero purport to. My house is not particularly large, but certain rooms have always been a challenge for routers, and the Starry Station fared no better than various models of AirPort Extreme that I’ve used, which was a disappointment. I suspect that the Starry would benefit from a network extender, and in fact the manufacturer had a product called “Starry Wing” in the works for later this year that would serve just that purpose. However, in recent weeks it seems to have been removed from the web site with no explanation.
Overall though, I find the Starry Station to be really well designed and easy to use—it’s certainly a better option than your average Linksys, Netgear or other consumer model (though to be fair, its price tag is higher than most). It reminds me of my Nest thermostat in that it represents enough progress to starkly highlight how poorly realized the other products in this category are. In fact, if it’s successful, its principal benefit may be that it spurs other manufacturers to finally take industrial and software design seriously and strive to create truly desirable and well-considered objects—something they’ve frankly never done.
Update, 05 Aug 2016: According to Starry, their Starry Wing extender is in fact going to ship later this year.