€Wireless extenders are a dime a dozen, but the TAP-EX stands out in one area: raw power. This unassuming little piece of networking hardware pumps out 800 mW of signal amplifying juice. Read on as we put it through the paces and determine if that’s worth the price of admission.
What is The TAP-EX?
The TAP-EX is a Wi-Fi range extender from Amped Wireless with a tabletop form factor vaguely reminiscent of a digital picture frame. The device includes a stand (as well as mounting holes if you wish to wall mount it), a detachable external antenna, and a low-voltage power adapter. The TAP-EX retails for $119.99.
The primary interface for the device is the centrally located touch screen. The device includes a tiny stylus (stowed away in the upper left corner of the device body) for users that find the small touch screen difficult to use with their fingertip.
The main function of the TAP-EX is repeating and amplifying your existing 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network. To this end the device includes an array of Wi-Fi radio chips that boast an impressive 800 mW worth of output. To put that in perspective the FCC limit for home Wi-Fi devices is 1000 mW and the majority of routers only use 50-100 mW.
In addition to the primary function of network extension, the TAP-EX also has three ports: one USB port and two Ethernet ports. The USB port allows for a USB flash or disk drive to be mounted as a network storage device and the Ethernet ports turn the TAP-EX into a network bridge so you can connect Ethernet-only devices to your wireless network.
How Do I Set It Up?
Setting up the TAP-EX is trivially easy. Unpack the device, attach the antenna (per the instructions attach or remove the antenna only when the device is powered off), attach the stand, plug it in, and get ready to do some simple configuration.
After an initial scan to find local Wi-Fi nodes, select the network you wish to connect to. You can create a new network or clone the existing network settings. If you create a new network it will have a unique SSID different from your old network and a separate password. If you clone your existing network the TAP-EX will have the same SSID and password as your existing Wi-Fi network.
Be forewarned that some devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) handle multi-node identical-SSID networks very poorly. While cloning the SSID works in most cases (and provides a seamless user experience under ideal circumstances) some devices just freak out and can’t handle jumping from one node to another properly. If you experience issues with dropped connections and you’ve used the clone-network function you’ll want to run the setup process again and create a unique SSID just for the TAP-EX.
After linking the TAP-EX to your local Wi-Fi network (by either cloning or assigning a new SSID and password to the TAP-EX) there are no other configuration requirements if your goal is simply extending your network or bridging Ethernet devices. Place the device in a central location in your house (or next to the Ethernet-enabled device you wish to bridge to the wireless network) and you’re all done.
Under the settings menu, accessed from the dashboard touch screen or via web browser on a Wi-Fi connected device (navigate to http://10.0.0.22 while connected to the TAP-EX’s SSID), you’ll find simple menus for additional settings. Here you can assign a workgroup and name to the attached USB drive, set up an access schedule, adjust the output power, and lock the touch screen with a PIN to restrict access to the TAP-EX.
How Does It Perform?
The TAP-EX has, as you would imagine given the sheer output power, a phenomenal range. During our tests we could surf the web on our mobile devices down the street and certainly all around our home and yard without issue. Solid coverage within a 150 foot umbrella of the base station shouldn’t be a problem in most environments.
The most significant limitation of the TAP-EX is definitely not raw power, but that it is limited to the 2.4GHz band. If you’re in a congested area (lots of neighbors with Wi-Fi that bleeds over into your home or apartment, 2.4GHz cordless phones, baby monitors, etc.) the performance on the 2.4GHz band will suffer and even a powerful extender like the TAP-EX will suffer along with it.
Nonetheless, our speed tests with the TAP-EX were promising. Within the home on the ground floor (where the TAP-EX was centrally located for testing) we had consistent speeds around 65 Mbps. Outside the home roaming around the yard and up and down the street in front the throughput fell until, around 150 feet from the unit we could only pull down 1.5 Mbps. While that’s a terrible throughput for a wired broadband connection it’s not so terrible for a device on the fringe edge of a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi extender; we could still casually browse the web without issue.
The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict
After speed testing the device, roaming about, and taking the extended features for a spin, what do we have to say about the TAP-EX?
- Touch screen, despite our initial feeling that it was a gimmick, worked very well and we had no need for the browser-based configuration.
- The 800 mW power output is serious business; if extending the sheer reach of your network is your goal it’s tough to beat.
- Setup was extremely easy and took less than three minutes start to finish (most of that time was spent waiting for the automated portions of the setup to finish).
- The TAP-EX looks nice and won’t stand out in your home or next to your media center.
- Schedule-based access restrictions useful for limiting children’s Internet time.
- 2.4GHz only Wi-Fi extension will be a deal breaker for many consumers.
- Security settings and access restriction features for the USB network drive are non-existent. It shares the whole drive with the whole network or not at all.
- USB port is only USB 2.0 and Ethernet ports are 10/100.
If we can say nothing else about the TAP-EX it does exactly what they say it will do: it offers a significant increase in 2.4GHz Wi-Fi coverage. If your home isn’t overly congested with 2.4GHz traffic and you want to ensure that you can play on your iPad all the way from the mailbox down at the street to the hammock out by the back fence, the TAP-EX will get the job done with power to spare. If you don’t want to shell out for a premium router upgrade (that can run you easily $200-300) but you do want increased coverage, by all means get it.
What you shouldn’t buy the TAP-EX for is the auxiliary functions like the networked storage and the network bridging. These features work just fine but their implementation is a bit light. If your end goal is a low-power secure network storage device, for example, the limitations on the TAP-EX are too significant to securely use it in a multi-person household.
Those features were clearly added on as afterthoughts, however, and issues like the lackluster security on the network drive could easily be addressed with future firmware updates. In the realm of raw power and network extension the TAP-EX delivers on the Wi-Fi range extension it promises.
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