I am currently using TP-Link Deco M5 at home, and have been very pleased with the overall performance, which is not entirely about bandwidth speed, but also about reliability, stability, UI, among others. When TP-Link announces the Deco M9 Plus, I am very excited to try out the new features.
Difference Between Deco M9 Plus and Deco M5
- AC2200 Tri-band (867 + 867 + 400) vs. AC1300 Dual-band (867 + 400)
- 6 antennas vs. 4 antennas
- Supports ZigBee HA1.2
- Built-in Smart Hub that supports several third-party IoT devices
- Larger size units, powered by 12V 2A round plug vs. 9V 1.2A USB-C standard plug
- Additional USB port reserved for future use
The Deco M9 Plus retail unit comes in 2-pack instead of 3-pack for the Deco M5, because the 2-pack can also cover 4500 square feet area, which is more than adequate for most urban apartments in Singapore, but if you really need more, the 1-pack units are also available. Retail prices for Deco M9 Plus is S$369 (2-pack) and S$199 (1-pack), while Deco M5 is at a new reduced retail price of S$309 (3-pack).
Just like the Deco M5, the setting up process for Deco M9 Plus is painless and smooth. The Deco app on the smartphone guides the user step-by-step, and if you follow closely, the unit will be up and running within 3 minutes.
The smartphone should be near to the unit during the set-up process because the smartphone will communicate to the unit via Bluetooth, which is how Deco is able to set-up more reliably. When setting up the second unit for the first time, make sure it’s within line-of-sight so that the unit can join the mesh system successfully. After that, you can move it around to your desired location.
Casual speed tests aren’t always accurate because of the inconsistent performance of Internet Service Providers (ISP). The better way for me to understand how good a router runs is by setting up the review routers as my primary Wi-Fi system and use it over a few weeks and get a sense of its reliability and performance.
Does the Deco M9 Plus perform better than Deco M5? It appears to be so. With a 2-unit setup, I definitely feel it offers the same coverage as Deco M5, and in some ways, there are slight improvements in the speed. It’s definitely not night-and-day, and I would say the improvement is not too significant. Depending on the time of day, location around the house, as well as the type of connected device, my results vary from 120 to 430Mbps. If you really want benchmark, then check out HardwareZone’s result. One thing is for sure: I have no complaints from my family about my connectivity issues.
If you do not mind installing more mesh units at your home, then the Deco M5 should be adequate, but if you want to install fewer mesh units to achieve the same coverage, then the Deco M9 Plus would be a better choice. My opinion is that it’s better to install more units so that the distance between each units are shorter to reduce potential interference. Having said that, the M9 Plus tri-band network offers a theoretical higher performance compared to M5, but only if you fully utilise the bandwidth, which in my case, rarely occurs.
Integrated Smart Hub
The key selling feature of the new Deco M9 Plus is the built-in Smart Home function. The Deco M9 Plus supports ZigBee technology, which means it is possible to setup Internet of Things (IoT) devices and interact directly from the Deco app instead of controlling the devices through separate apps.
From the app, choose “Add Device” then pick one of the product and categories that falls under the smart home device you have. Currently, there are a list of brands that are officially supported, like TP-Link, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, GE, Nest, Kwikset. Devices that run on ZigBee could potentially work under the “Others”.
I have Philips Hue system at home, and the review includes a TP-Link Smart Bulb and Smart Plug, so I got them all set up. After adding them to the Deco app, I can see the devices listed on the main page, and from there I can easily choose to turn on or off any of them.
One of the biggest advantage with this integrated smart hub feature is that I could create Shortcuts and Automation Actions with any connected device – phones, tablets, PC, laptops, webcams. Based on the device type, there are additional triggers that can be configured. For a start, I can create an automation action that whenever my smartphone connects to my home Wi-Fi, then turn on a smart device (like bulb). So now whenever I return home, the bulb will be turned on automatically.
The use case might be as extensive as Philips Hue, which through third-party API can even flash the bulb with incoming phone calls, or create light effects when watching TV shows, but it allows effective automation without additional investment on separate Smart Hubs.
Apart from the Home Hub feature, other Deco M9 Plus features are similar to Deco M5. My other favourite feature on the Deco Mesh System is the HomeCare suite of functions.
TP-Link HomeCare is powered by TrendMicro and offers these features:
- Parental Controls
- Quality of Service
- AntiVirus (Internet Security)
- Monthly Report
Parental controls allow me define profiles and pick the devices belonging to the profile, e.g. wife, child. From there, I can easily restrict the type of content, limit usage hours, set bed time barring. The Deco app offers insights to the type of content each profile consumes. For instance, I can see that my daughter is consuming traffic over “XBOX”, “YouTube”, “Whatsapp”. If necessary, I can block the specific app or website immediately by clicking the item.
Quality of Service is available in most routers, but Deco app lets you set the QoS easily. Just pick one of the categories then Deco will prioritise the type of traffic.
AntiVirus monitors the traffic to block malicious content, prevent intrusion, and quarantine infected device. You can choose to disable any of the categories if you find these features result in false negative detection. There is no option to further customise the detection level.
The Deco app also generates Monthly Report to give you a glimpse of your home network, like the top 5 visited sites, the number of network devices connected each day.
Other Router Settings
The Deco M9 Plus settings are not as customised as standard routers, but it does support the following
- IPv4 and IPv6
- Address Reservation
- Port Forwarding
- Fast Roaming
- LED Control
- Operating Mode (Router or Access Point)
The Deco units only has a small LED on top, which is unobtrusive compared to other routers. But in darkness, that small LED is still an eyesore, especially my wife. Good thing is that Deco supports night mode where I can schedule the LED to be turned off during a defined period. Life-saver.
TP-Link Smart Bulb and Smart Plug
Since the review comes with the TP-Link Smart Bulb (LB130) and Smart Plug (HS110), I’ll briefly mention here.
The Smart Bulb connects to any Wi-Fi home network directly and does not need a separate Hub Bridge like Philips Hue, making it convenient to deploy.
The Smart Plug allows you to remotely turn on and off the appliance connected to the plug.
In the absense of Deco M9 Plus, both products can operate through Kasa smartphone app, which tracks the energy consumption trend, as well as configuring the bulb colour and schedule the activities of the devices by time. It does not support action triggers, which requires Deco M9 Plus.
Over the years, I have reviewed several networking products, including powerline and wireless extender solutions. For Mesh Wi-Fi systems, I have reviewed Google Wifi, ASUS Lyra, Aztech AON Mesh. I am very satisfied with TP-Link Deco M5 and has been using it since September 2017. The current revised price of S$309 further makes it an excellent choice for home owners with a budget and who fear the technicalities of setting up a router system.
The experience of reviewing Deco M9 Plus further confirms that TP-Link’s wireless mesh products are easy to set-up and now offers an integrated smart home experience for the home-owners who want to dabble into smart home without the hassle or re-wiring. Since both Deco M9 Plus and Deco M5 are compatible, my suggestion is to get a single unit of M9 Plus at S$199 as the main unit, and multiple nodes of M5 around the house. This way, you will enjoy the benefits of the new Smart Hub functions especially when you want to start installing Smart Plugs (street price about S$30) or Smart Bulbs (about S$50 onwards). But if you are not ready for smart home, then just get the 3-pack Deco M5 now, and a few months later when you are ready, buy the 1-pack Deco M9 Plus and join to the existing network.
If you prefer to have fewer mesh units installed in the house, then the 2-pack Deco M9 Plus offers an ideal solution for your home, retailing at S$369. It’s the first step to a smart home.