Nokia Beacon 1 review

Nokia is best known for its glory days when it dominated the emerging smartphone market – and for its more recent comeback with newer models such as the Nokia 8. But, after the roller-coaster ride of recent years, the company has started to diversify and develop a number of other products as well, including its Beacon range of mesh Wi-Fi routers.

The company launched the Beacon 3 earlier this year, but the AC3000 performance (3Gbps) of that router, and a price of £400/$450 for a kit containing three routers meant that the Beacon 3 was very much a high-end solution for very large homes that require super-fast Wi-Fi. Fortunately, Nokia has now released the Beacon 1, which is a more modest mesh kit offering AC1200 performance (1.2Gbps) and a more affordable price tag.

Price

We tested the Beacon 1 as a part of a kit that contained three routers, priced at $299 (although the packaging for that kit somewhat confusingly refers to it as the Beacon Trio – which could cause people to confuse it with the Beacon 3). You can buy the Beacon 1 from Newegg.

Nokia states that this will be suitable for homes up to 4500 sq.ft in size, but if you only live in a modest little mansion then you can buy a single Beacon 1 router on its own for $130. There is no two-piece kit available, though, so people in small and medium-size homes who are looking for a mesh networking kit might prefer to opt for rivals, such as Linksys and Tenda, that do offer less expensive two-piece kits.

Nokia told us that the Beacon 1 would go on sale in the UK towards the end of 2019, with pricing in line with the US. But, with the pound currently in free-fall, it’s difficult to estimate exactly what the Beacon 1 will cost in post-Brexit-Britain.

See our chart of the best mesh Wi-Fi network systems.

Design & Build

There’s no risk of confusing the Beacon 1 and Beacon 3, as they have completely different designs. The Beacon 3 routers are cylindrical devices, while the Beacon 1 has a more rectangular design that actually looks like a small air-humidifier unit.

It feels quite sturdy, and there are no vulnerable external antennae to worry about, so it’ll be right at home sitting on any convenient shelf at home. Just remember that, like most mesh routers, the Beacon 1 doesn’t include a modem for internet access, so you’ll need to connect one of the Beacon routers to your existing modem or router in order to use its internet connection.

Nokia Beacon 1 ports

Nokia Beacon 1 ports

The three routers in our test kit were all identical, with one Ethernet port for connecting to your existing router, and a second available to provide a wired connection for devices such as a smart TV or games console. But, at this price, it’s disappointing to see that there are no USB ports that would allow you to connect a printer or hard drive that you could share with other people on your network.

Setup

Installing the Beacon routers is pleasantly straightforward, as each router has a QR code printed on the base and the Nokia Wi-Fi app can set everything up for you simply by scanning the code with the camera on your smartphone or tablet.

The app has a few rough edges, though – not least of which is that we found that it would only run on one of our devices at a time, forcing us to manually log out of the app on one device before we were able to sign in on any other device.

During our tests I often found myself wandering from room to room in order to sign in and out on various devices that were connected to the network – which quickly becomes rather irritating. Fortunately, that’s only a minor inconvenience as – once your new network is up and running – you shouldn’t need to look at the app very often.

There’s a network map that lists all the devices that are connected to you network, and also allows you to set up a guest network for visitors.

The parental controls are very basic, though. You can manually block internet access for individual devices, so that you can get the kids to come to the dinner table every now and then. However, there are no scheduling options that would allow you to automatically control access at different times throughout the week, or content filtering that might block undesirable websites.

Nokia Beacon 1 wireless mesh

Nokia Beacon 1 wireless mesh

Nokia does provide a more detailed web ‘portal’ that allows you to control the routers through a web browser interface, but this primarily focuses on troubleshooting features for more advanced users, so it would be better to provide additional controls and features within the app itself.

Performance

Nokia’s app might be a bit basic, but the Beacon 1 routers perform very well, even with their entry-level AC1200 specification.

The ZTE router that provides our internet connection normally provides a top speed of around 420Mbps to devices in the same room, but then drops by almost half to just 240Mbps for devices hidden behind partition walls in our back office.

But, with the Beacon 1 kit installed, we saw those speeds rise to 755Mbps for devices in the first room. Performance in the back office did fall, but still managed a consistent 350Mbps – which was almost 50% faster than our normal router and also faster than rival mesh networks which get, using the Tenda Nova NW5 for example, 400Mbps and 200Mbps respectively.

Verdict

The Beacon 1 kit provides good performance for an entry-level mesh networking kit, and this three-piece kit will work well in larger homes that need a wide-ranging Wi-Fi signal.

However, it’s still relatively expensive compared to some rival mesh systems with similar AC1200 performance, so it’s worth shopping around to see if you can find a bargain, or perhaps opt for a less expensive two-piece kit instead like the Tenda Nova MW3.

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