I’ve been curious about the proliferation of what we might call “generic” wi-fi routers on Amazon from brands other than the big names that are immediately recognizable. Have routers finally reached a point that they are so basic that pretty much anyone can produce a decent one? I decided to take a router from ECPN — a company so generic that it doesn’t even have a live web site — out for a spin.
The ECPN AX1800’s actual hardware specs looked impressive and the price was great for the specs: roughly $90 after adding the coupon offered on the Amazon page. If anything, less-than-basic routers seem to be getting more expensive in the present generation, so I was intrigued to see what this one could do, not in theoretical tests, but in real world use.
This router was easier to setup in my experience than the various Netgears I’ve installed in recent years and probably more analogous to the streamlined experience of setting up recent mesh systems. In the past, whether it was changing the access point name or some other step, it would seem like the process never went smoothly from start to finish. This ECPN router’s setup did. Its straightforward, brightly colored setup screens never skipped a beat. Though the English on the screens is not perfect — par for the course when it comes to almost any such generic products on Amazon, I have found — it was perfectly understandable. Given that setup is most intense interaction most people have with a router, this is already a significant win for the ECPN.
(My only quibble: the “unify” option that merges the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands under a single SSID name for easier use should be on by default. I have been using the equivalent option on routers for years and it is virtually never a benefit to separate the bands these days. The “unify” option on the ECPN router works just fine.)
The router is a little smaller than my trusty Nighthawk — it can sit on top of it and not completely cover it — and has just one LED light rather than the plethora that indicate different status functions on most routers. I rarely end up looking at the physical router, so fewer lights is probably just as well. Situated in the same place as the old router, my largely Wi-Fi 5 compatible set of devices negotiated almost identical signal strength levels as they did with the old (and still-in-2021 more expensive) Netgear router.
Introducing a Wi-Fi 6 enabled device will likely yield more of a benefit, but needless to say, if you ignore the Wi-Fi generation and are simply curious how well your existing devices will work, I would have to say: “just fine.” At this juncture, we probably need to worry less about Wi-Fi generations and spiffy technologies and more about the real world environment of the routers.
What do I mean by that? For example, last year, I tested a TP-Link Deco mesh system that promised to increase signal strength in my modest home by bringing the Wi-Fi transmitter closer to my devices, but in practice even when right next to the mesh node, my MacBook’s signal strength was worse than I got from my single, centralized, seven year old Netgear Nighthawk R7000. In that environment, at least, mesh just did not offer much payoff for the addition of multiple nodes (and the additional cost involved in buying those nodes). Conversely, my office benefitted when I replaced a similar Nighthawk with an Eero system that overcame some of the issues that trying to centralize a router there gave.
In theory, the Eero is worse than my Nighthawk and, again in theory, the Deco was better than the Eero. It all depends on your setting and that is one intriguing aspect of this router I have not been able to test, since ECPN only provided one test unit: while designed much more like a traditional, centralized router, it supports becoming part of a mesh if you buy multiple units. This potentially offers the best of both worlds. Two of these would run about the same as the two Eeros I recently installed for my office, but at least in theory, would offer higher performance. Hopefully, we can test this router in mesh configuration in the future.
One last note that seems like an advantage to this router for me, but your milage may vary on: the web admin interface after setup is clear and well laid out, but doesn’t have a lot of handholding. I’m the sort of person who, when using a router from a brand like Netgear, will immediately click the “Advanced” tab so I can get to what I want without the system trying to help me so much. I find it almost frustrating not to be able to do some of that with mesh routers like the TP-Link Deco series, so for me this is great. The ECPN interface shows the signal strength of devices, makes changing to Access Point mode a two click task without having to wade deep into menus and so on. However, if you expect a lot of “wizards” to help you through changing settings after setup, this might be a downside for you.
Overall, I’m happy so far and I have not had to reboot the router at all since I set it up in early January (the better part of a month).
Disclosure: the manufacturer provided this router for review, but they were not given the review ahead of press time or allowed to influence it. OFB Labs only accepts editorial access to products if we can give the review we feel the product genuinely deserves. Also, the article may contain affiliate links to retailers selling the product reviewed; these links help fund the publication of OFB.