5 Best Wi-Fi Access Points and Buying Tips

5 Best Wi-Fi Access Points and Buying Tips

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Wi-Fi access points (WAPs, or APs) are similar to extenders, with one significant difference: an AP connects to the existing network, namely your router, using a network cable. And that changes everything.

This post explains the idea of Wi-Fi access points and offers tips on picking the best for your network. I’ll also include a list of the top five I’ve tested.

Picking the best Wi-Fi access points: Wi-Fi access points come in all shapes and sizes.

Wi-Fi Access Points: Building a network with wired backhauling

Using a Wi-Fi access point means you build a network using network cables. That’s the traditional way and also the only way for best-performing networking. That’s especially true with the help of Multi-Gig.

But first, what is an access point exactly?

Access points in a nutshell

An access point is a device that broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal. It’s like a network switch, but instead of Ethernet ports, it incorporates radio bands that emit wireless data signals using one or more Wi-Fi standards for clients to latch on.

So, in a sentence, an AP is the required hardware component that allows your device to connect to the local network without wire.

Popular roles of a Wi-Fi router

Below is the breakdown of four typical roles of a router. Not all hardware supports all of these, but most will have at least the first one plus another.

Some routers have even more roles — those from Asus, for example, also feature the proprietary AiMesh node role.

Asus Router Operation Roles
Here are the operation roles available in an Asus router. Note the Access Point and Media Bridge, of which the name might be something else in routers of different vendors.

1. Wireless Router

This role is the default — the hardware will work as such unless you actively change that.

The hardware works as a Wi-Fi router that gets the Internet connection and then distributes that to the rest of the network via wired and Wi-Fi connections.

In this role, you must use the router’s WAN port for the Internet source. It’s also the only role in which the router’s routing and networking features (QoS, Parental Control, Dynamic DNS, VPN server, port-forwarding, etc.) are available.

Essentially, the hardware is now a standard routing box with a built-in managed switch and Wi-Fi access point(s).

Netgear WAX204 Roles
Here are the traditional roles of a Netgear router.

2. Access Point (AP)

Important note: Certain vendors call this role “Bridge.”

In this mode, the hardware now works as an access point. It connects to an existing router via a network cable and extends the network farther, both wired and wireless.

In this role, none of the routing and features are available. All of the device’s network ports function as LAN ports. Essentially, the router is now a network switch with built-in Wi-Fi broadcaster(s).

By the way, if you have a Wi-Fi 6 router with a Multi-Gig WAN port, using it as an AP is the only way you can take advantage of this port’s high speed locally — without a Gig+ Internet connection, that is — assuming you have a Multi-Gig switch.

TP Link Router Operation Roles
A TP-Link router generally can also work as an access point. It won’t work as a Media Bridge.

3. Repeater

The router now works as a Wi-Fi extender.

Specially, you use one of its bands (2.4GHz, 5GHz, or 6GHz) to connect to an existing Wi-Fi network — this is the backhaul band. After that, you can configure one or all of its bands (including the backhaul band) with separate SSID(s) to serve clients.

In this mode, all of the router’s network ports will work as LAN ports of the existing network.

Linksys Router Operation Roles
Here are the operation roles of a Linksys router. Note that the “Bridge Mode” and “Wireless Bridge” are called “Access Point” and “Media Bridge,” respectively, by other vendors.

4. Bridge or Media Bridge

Important note: Certain vendors — those that use “Bridge” to call the “Access Point” role as mentioned above — name this mode “Wireless Bridge.” There might be other arbitrary names for this role.

In this mode, the router works essentially as a Wi-Fi-to-Ethernet adapter.

Specifically, you use one of its bands to connect to an existing Wi-Fi network. Now, you can connect wired devices to the router’s LAN ports to make them part of the network. (In most cases, you should leave the WAN port alone, but some routers turn this port into another LAN.)

In the Media Bridge mode, the rest of the router’s Wi-Fi bands are unavailable.

In a gateway unit, which is a router + modem combo box, the Bridge mode is a bit different.

That’s when the gateway will work solely as a modem and no longer has any router-related function.

You can read more on this in the post about how to get the most out of ISP-supplied equipment.

This post discusses standalone access points that you can use to add Wi-Fi to an existing network. That brings us to the first question: When do access points make sense?

When should you use an access point(s)

You can consider using access points only when your home is wired. Or let me put it this way: it never hurts to get your home wired so you can use access points.

After that, access points are applicable when:

  • you have a non-Wi-Fi router, such as the Firewall Gold, and want to add Wi-Fi.
  • you have a router with dated Wi-Fi standards. In this case, you can use an AP to upgrade your Wi-Fi network (and disable that on the router, if applicable.)
  • you want to extend the Wi-Fi coverage via a network cable to that far corner of a house.
  • you want to build a robust enterprise-class Wi-Fi mesh system

No matter the scenario, APs allow for flexibility in Wi-Fi availability. Generally, you place one in an area where Wi-Fi is needed.

And that brings us to the second question: How do I pick the correct AP for my need?

Wi-Fi 6 and 6E Access Points
Picking the best Wi-Fi access points: Generally, all business access points are wall/ceiling mountable. However, only a few are designed for the outdoors.

Tips on picking access points

How you arrange access points is the same as how you do a mesh system with wired backhauling. In such a mesh system, each satellite unit is an access point.

So there are a couple of things to note, depending on how much coverage you need.

The number of units

In most homes, you’d need just one access point. And that’s easy: pick one of the Wi-Fi grades and features you’d like to have.

Generally, a standalone access point requires you to manage it individually, and that’s not a huge deal with a single unit — you have a single Wi-Fi network anyway. In this case, you generally want an AP that can be managed locally (instead of a web portal.)

On the other hand, if you need multiple units to blanket the desired area, it’s best to get those that can work together so that you still have a single Wi-Fi network.

Managing multiple individual access points can be a pain. That’s not to mention many of them — especially those from different vendors don’t work well together.

In this case, it’s best to get access points that belong to a managed ecosystem, such as Omda of TP-Link, Insight Managed of Netgear, or Cloud To-Go of Engenius. That’s generally how an enterprise-class Wi-Fi network is built, by the way.

Power-over-Ethernet standards

The second thing to note about getting APs is Power-over-Ethernet. As detailed in this post on PoE, this feature allows you to use the network cable to both data signal and power to the supported access point.

Here's a TP-Link AP (top) in a PoE setup. Note the PoE injector in the middle.
Picking the best Wi-Fi access points: A typical setup for a PoE Wi-Fi access point, note the router (black), the PoE injector (middle), and the Wi-Fi access point.

PoE is perfect when you need to place the AP at a location without electricity, such as outdoors in the middle of a large yard or the attic.

In this case, you might also need a PoE switch or separate PoE injectors. Ensure you have them of the same PoE standard (PoE, PoE+, or PoE++).

All business-class access point support PoE, but most home access points, which generally also work as extenders, don’t and require a separate power adapter.

Extra: Access points vs extenders vs mesh systems

A mesh system consists of multiple broadcasters that work together and can be managed in one place such as a mobile app or the web user interface of the router unit.

In a mesh with wireless backhauling, each satellite unit of the system is essentially a managed Wi-Fi extender.

In a mesh with wired backhauling, each satellite unit of the system is essentially a managed access point.

Using individual extenders or access points in a network is not ideal from the management’s perspective. You’ll generally experience no sealless handoff and get slow performance in the extenders’ case.

With that, if you’re in a hurry, below are the top five access points I’ve reviewed.

Top five access points for all use cases

These access points are not sorted in any particular order. The numbers are just numerical and not the ranking. I’ll explain each one and the case you should use it.

1. TP-Link EAP670: Representing the Omada family of managed access points

TP-Link Omada EAP670 Wi-Fi 6 Access Point
Picking the best Wi-Fi access points: The TP-Link Omada EAP670 is an excellent AP for a home or business.

The EAP670 is one of the latest APs in TP-Link’s Omada family. It’s one of my favorites due to its excellent cost, performance, and features combo.

Each Omada access point can be managed locally as an individual unit, or you can get multiple units to create a robust mesh system via a controller.

As a system, Omda offers both local management and a cloud portal, requiring no additional cost in either case. Alternatively, you can pick any Omada AP that fits your need. All of them can work together to form a system.

Pros

Excellent Wi-Fi coverage, fast performance

Affordable; easy setup option; no additional cost for cloud-manage

Lots of mesh features and settings

APs include mounting accessories, and PoE or power adapter

The system can be managed via a local web user interface, a useful optional mobile app

Cons

The controller can’t work as a router, nor does it include a power adapter or PoE injector

Networking know-know and network cables are required


2. Netgear WAX630E: Representing the Insight Managed family

Netgear WAX630E Wi Fi 6E Access Point 10
Picking the best Wi-Fi access points: The Netgear WAX630E Wi-Fi is a gigantic Wi-Fi 6E access point.

The WAX630E is one of the first Wi-Fi 6E access points, and it’s a perfect unit to buy if you need a single AP that gives you all Wi-Fi flavors.

As part of Netgear’s Insight Managed family — as shown in the drawer below — the WAX630E can work with others or in multiple units to deliver a robust mesh system. However, in this case, you must pay a subscription fee per unit — there are no free options.

Netgear’s Insight Managed access points

Model WAX630E WAX630 WAX620 WAX610
Name Insight App Managed Wi-Fi 6E Tri-band AXE7800
Tri-band Wireless Access Point
Insight App Managed
Wi-Fi 6 AX6000
Tri-band Wireless Access Point
Insight App Managed
Wi-Fi 6 AX3600
Dual-band Wireless Access Point
Insight App Managed 
Wi-Fi 6 AX1800
Dual-band Wireless
 Access Point
Wi-Fi Standards Tri-band AXE7800 Tri-band AX6000 Dual-band AX3600 Dual-band AX1800
1st Band
2.4GHz
(channel width)
2×2 AX
Up to 600Mbps
(20/40MHz)
4×4 AX
Up to 1200Mbps
(20/40MHz)
4×4 AX
Up to 1200Mbps
(20/40MHz)
2×2 AX
Up to 600Mbps
(20/40MHz)
2nd Band
5GHz
(channel width)
4×4 AX
Up to 4800Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
5GHz-1
(Lower channels)
2×2 AX
Up to 2400Mbps
(20/40/80+80MHz)
4×4 AX
Up to 2400Mbps
(20/40/80MHz)
2×2 AX
Up to 1200Mbps
(20/40/80MHz)
3rd Band
(channel width)
6GHz
2×2 AXE
Up to 2400Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
5GHz-2
(Upper channels)
2×2 AX
Up to 2400Mbps
(20/40/80MHz)
None None
Backward Compatibility 802.11ac/n/g/a/b 802.11ac/n/g/a/b 802.11ac/n/g/a/b 802.11ac/n/g/a/b
Power over Ethernet 
(PoE)
802.3bt or
802.3at
(50% 5GHz performance)
802.3bt or
802.3at
(50% 5GHz-1 performance)
802.11at or 
802.3af 
(60% performance)
802.11at or 
802.3af 
(60% performance)
Power Consumption 27.64W 30.1W 25.5W 15.3W
Network Port 1x 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig PoE,
1x Gigabit
1x 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig PoE,
1x Gigabit
1x 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig PoE 1x 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig PoE
Security WPA, WPA2, WPA3 WPA, WPA2, WPA3 WPA, WPA2, WPA3 WPA, WPA2, WPA3
Local Managed Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cloud-Managed Netgear Insight
Premium or Pro
Netgear Insight
Premium or Pro
Netgear Insight
Premium or Pro
Netgear Insight
Premium or Pro
Mobile App NETGEAR Insight App NETGEAR Insight App NETGEAR Insight App NETGEAR Insight App
Mode Access Point,
Bridge,
Repeater Mode
Access Point,
Bridge,
Repeater Mode
Access Point,
Bridge,
Repeater Mode
Access Point,
Bridge,
Repeater Mode
Dimensions 
(W x D x H)
10.49 x 10.56 x 2.18 in
(266.6 x 268.3 x 55.5 mm)
10.49 x 10.56 x 2.18 in
(266.61 x 268.29 x 55.5 mm)
8.09 x 8.09 x 1.35 in
(205.7 x 205.7 x 34.3 mm)
6.33 x 6.33 x 1.30 in 
(160.9 x 160.9 x 33.25 mm) 
Weight 2.31 lb (1050 g) 2.10 lb (956 g) 1.72 lb (783 g) 0.90 lb (412 g)
LED Power and Cloud,
LAN speed,
2.4GHz status,
5.0GHz status,
6.0GHz status
Power and Cloud,
LAN speed,
2.4GHz status,
5.0GHz-1 status,
5.0GHz-2 status
Power and Cloud,
LAN speed,
2.4GHz status,
5.0GHz status
Power and Cloud,
LAN speed,
2.4GHz status,
5.0GHz status
US Retail Cost
(at launch)
$349.99
$369.99
(with power adapter)
$329.99
$339.99
(with power adapter)
$229.99 $179.99
Warranty 5-year 5-year 5-year 5-year
Netgear’s business PoE access points’ hardware specifications
WAX630E vs WAX630 vs WAX620 vs. WAX610

For this reason, financially, you should only consider the WAX630E or any Netgear business access point when you just need a single unit.

Pros

Wi-Fi 6E support, reliable performance with excellent coverage

2.5 Gbps PoE network port, extra Gigabit port

Excellent web local interface, tons of Wi-Fi settings, and lots of AP-related features

Cons

Bulky design, no power adapter or PoE injector included

Sustained throughput speeds could be better

No support for multiple units via local management, no free level of Insight cloud-based management


3. EnGenius EWS850AP: An excellent outdoor Wi-Fi 6 access point

EnGenius EWS850AP Wi Fi 6 Access Point
Picking the best Wi-Fi access points: The EnGenius EWS850AP is an excellent outdoor access point.

The EnGenius EWS850AP is available as an individual access point designed for outdoors. It has excellent performance and can handle the weather exceptionally well.

If you need to extend Wi-Fi coverage for a large backyard, it’s a perfect fit.

Pros

Reliable performance, excellent coverage

Full web interface that’s responsive and comprehensive

Includes all parts and accessories to work right out of the box

2.5 Gbps PoE network port

Cons

No 160 MHz channel width support

Included PoE injector caps at 1Gbps

No web portal sign-in option for Guest Wi-Fi

Bulky, no separate power port


4. TRENDnet TEW-921DAP: An excellent local low-cost access point

Out of the box, the TRENDnet TEW-921DAP includes wall/ceiling mounting accessories and a network cable but no power adapter or PoE injector.
Picking the best Wi-Fi access points: The TRENDnet TEW-921DAP is a compact, frill-free PoE access point.

The TRENDnet TEW-921DAP is a frill-free entry-level access point you can safely get for your home — only if you need a single unit since it has no mesh capability.

Alternatively, you can also consider the Netgear WAX214 or WAX220 to have a similar experience.

Pros

Reliable Wi-Fi with up to 16 separate SSIDs and captive portal support

Compact design, easily accessible web user interface

No login account with vendor required, lots of Wi-Fi settings, responsive web user interface

No login account required

Wall/ceiling mounting accessories included

Cons

No 160MHz bandwidth or Multi-Gig port, modest Wi-Fi specs and performance

No performance-favored Wi-Fi settings, no power adapter or PoE injector included


5. Asus RP-AX56: Representing consumer-grade non-PoE access point

Asus RP-AX56 AX1800 Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 Repeater in AP mode
Picking the best Wi-Fi access points: The Asus RP-AX56 in action work as an access point. Note its connected network cable.

The Asus RP-AX56 is a home device and the only access point on this list that’s not PoE-ready.

Marketed as an extender, the little snap-on device has a Gigabit port and can also work as an excellent individual access point for any existing network.

Better yet, if you use it with an Asus AiMesh router via wired backhauling, it’ll be an excellent mesh satellite.

Pros

Reliable and relatively fast Wi-Fi with good coverage

Can work as an Access Point, a Media Bridge, an Extender, or an AiMesh node (via wireless or wired backhaul)

Convenient design, excellent web interface

Cons

No 160MHz bandwidth, modest specs

The Initial firmware is a bit buggy (at launch)

Bulky for a snap-on device


The final thoughts

Individually, Wi-Fi access points are excellent ways to build a Wi-Fi network because they all use network cables. When deployed correctly, they can work together as a robust mesh system.

You do need a router before you can take advantage of APs. This router decides all the features of your network — the access points generally only handle the Wi-Fi portion.



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