Vilo review: What do you expect from a $20 mesh router?


Ry Crist/CNET

There’s a classic moment in the beloved sitcom Arrested Development where Michael Bluth finds a paper bag in the freezer with the words, “Dead dove, Do not eat” written on it. Frowning, Michael takes the bag, no doubt left by his dove-clumsy magician brother, and takes a peek inside.

“Well, I don’t know what I expected,” Michael remarks.

For some reason, that scene was on my mind as I unboxed the Vilo mesh router. At just $20 per device, Vilo could net you a three-piece mesh setup capable of relaying a steadier Wi-Fi signal throughout your home for an absurdly low cost of $60, plus shipping. But at that price, what kind of performance could I honestly expect from it?

Like

  • Unbeatable value
  • Simple setup, with extenders that pair automatically as soon as you plug them in
  • Capable of delivering better speeds at range than a cheap, single-point router

Don’t Like

  • Average speeds were slower than any other mesh router I’ve ever tested
  • Occasional drops and other networking hiccups
  • No device prioritization, gaming modes or other advanced features

A dual-band, AC1200 router, Vilo doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, and it doesn’t promise top speeds any faster than 867 megabits per second in the most ideal of circumstances. In fact, Vilo’s average speeds finished in last place behind every other mesh router I’ve tested. That means that you can go ahead and rule it out as a worthy pick for anyone with a gigabit internet connection, and you really shouldn’t expect it to make the most of your connection if your home’s top speeds are anything much higher than 100Mbps. I also noticed some drops and other mesh networking hiccups as I moved about my home running speed tests, so don’t expect it to be a FaceTime champion if you prefer to walk-and-talk, either.

All of that keeps Vilo off of my list of the best mesh routers (and if you’re looking for a mesh router bargain pick, I think the AC1200 version of Netgear Orbi, currently available in a three-pack for about $130, is a lot closer to the sweet spot). That said, Vilo was extremely easy to set up and use, and it did successfully spread a usable signal to all corners of my home, including a dead zone that most single-point routers fail to penetrate at all. In other words, it’s no dead dove in a bag, and it’s better than you might expect at this price — just don’t expect more than what you’re paying for.

Getting Vilo up and running really couldn’t be much easier. Note the clock in the corner of each screenshot — I was online in about five minutes.


Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Simple by design

Vilo’s mesh router makes a good first impression, and not just because you don’t have to spend very much money in order to get it. A little bigger than a can of Red Bull and clad in matte-white plastic, each Vilo device comes with three Ethernet ports for wired connections, which you don’t always get with cheap mesh routers like this one. Each Vilo device is identical and interchangeable, too, so any one of them can serve as your system’s main router. Just pick one and plug it into your modem, then launch the Vilo app and follow the instructions to set it up. You’ll join its network and scan a QR code on the bottom of the device to pair with the app, and that’s that — from there, the other Vilo devices will automatically pair with your network as soon as you plug them in.

The Vilo app’s dashboard offers a quick glance at the devices connected to your network, plus easy access to settings and indicators for things like network interference and signal strength.


Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Speaking of the Vilo app, it’s nothing too fancy, but it is simple, clean-looking and easy to use, which goes a long way if you’re someone who finds routers intimidating. Once your system is up and running, you’ll see a System Dashboard that offers a quick glimpse at the devices connected to your network plus easy access to features and settings. Just don’t expect anything too advanced in that department — you can quickly change your network name and password, create a guest network, or turn bandsteering on and off, but that’s really about it. If you want to make use of things like advanced troubleshooting diagnostics or full-featured device prioritization, then Vilo probably isn’t the pick for you.

Still, the app does offer a sense of how your network performance looks, with indicators for things like interference and signal strength that might help you figure out if you need to move one of the extenders a little closer to the router. There’s even an indicator for the strength of your password, but I don’t know how much stock I’d put into it. When I tried using an all-lower case password that was identical to the network name (don’t try this at home), the app still listed my password security as “strong.”

After running hundreds of wireless speed tests in several spots throughout my home, Vilo’s average upload and download speeds were lower than any other mesh router I’ve put through the same battery of tests.


Ry Crist/CNET

Slow speeds, a sometimes shaky mesh… and yet…

Let’s be clear: The bar for performance from a mesh router you only spent $40 or $60 on is about as low as it gets. I wasn’t expecting Vilo to be a top finisher in my speed tests by any stretch — and I wasn’t terribly surprised when it ended up finishing those tests in last place behind every other mesh router I’ve ever tested at my home. At this price, Vilo doesn’t need to be the speed king — it just needs to be competent, and better than a cheap single-point router at providing a usable connection throughout the majority of your home.

To see if Vilo meets that bar, let’s dig into the data a little deeper — and let me start by describing my testing setup. My home is a single-story, 1,300 square foot shotgun-style house in Louisville, Kentucky, where I have a fiber internet plan with max upload and download speeds of 300Mbps. It’s not the largest space, but the floorplan is long and narrow, and with a router located in my living room at the front of my house, I’ll often struggle to maintain a connection in the back of the house, where a back bathroom sits.

Whenever I test a mesh router, I position the main router in that front living room, then add one of the satellite extenders in the back half of the house, in the master bedroom. Then it’s time to run lots and lots of speed tests across five different parts of the house. I’ll start with a fresh connection close to the router in the living room and run speed tests there and in every other room until I reach the back bathroom. Then, I disconnect, reconnect, and repeat the process in reverse, moving from the back of the house toward the front, to see how the system holds up when I start by connecting from afar. Once that’s done, I repeat the entire process multiple times across multiple days, running tests in the morning, afternoon and evening. (It’s a living!)

Vilo wasn’t as fast as CNET’s top mesh router picks, but it still managed to average triple-digit speeds throughout my entire house.


Ry Crist/CNET

In the end, I get a very good look at my average speeds in each room — and in Vilo’s case, the numbers weren’t terrible. As the chart above shows, it was handily outperformed by every mesh router from my best list, but it was still able to maintain average download speeds of at least 100Mbps in every room I tested in. A lot of single-point routers I’ve tested wouldn’t be able to do that — I’ve even tested some entry-level Wi-Fi 6 routers from names like Linksys and TP-Link that didn’t come close to averaging triple digits in that back bathroom.

Even better, Vilo’s back bathroom speeds were consistent, regardless of whether I had initiated my connection close to the router or right there in the back of the house. Across all of my tests in that back bathroom, my download speed never dipped any lower than 73Mbps. That’s a good result, and significantly better than I saw when I ditched the extender and tested the capabilities of a single Vilo on its own (average back bathroom downloads of 14Mbps), and better than I saw with the bandsteering turned off and the 2.4 and 5GHz bands split into separate networks (average back bathroom downloads of 40Mbps and 56Mbps, respectively). That’s Vilo’s mesh at work, and working as advertised, even if the speed boost is moderate at best.

In this test, I started with a fresh connection in the back bathroom (right) and moved towards the living room, where the main router sits (left). My speeds plummeted as I went, likely because Vilo failed to recognize that I had moved closer to the router than the extender in the master bedroom.


Ry Crist/CNET

That said, Vilo isn’t without its rough spots. In one round of tests, I started with a fresh connection in the back of the house and saw decent speeds, but the numbers plummeted as I moved toward the front of the house, and closer to the main router. By the time I was back in the living room — just a few feet away from the router — my download speeds had fallen down below 25Mbps. My best guess is that Vilo failed to recognize that I had moved closer to the front of the house, and was still routing my connection through the extender in the back of the house.

In two other instances, my speed tests stalled out and forced me to refresh and start again, and at one point, my connection cut out entirely. Hiccups like that, and like the mesh mishap mentioned above, would require you to disconnect and reconnect for the best speeds, which gets annoying if you have a habit of moving from room to room with your laptop as you work from home, or if you like to be free to move about your house while on a video call with family. Vilo isn’t the best at tracking and reacting to movement like that, but for devices that remain stationary, like a desktop computer or a gaming system, it’s less of a headache.

vilo-mesh-router-3-pack

Ry Crist/CNET

So is it worth a shot?

For most folks, I’d recommend a mesh router with a little more oomph to it. The AC1200 version of Netgear Orbi seems like the better bargain pick to me — while a three-pack currently costs a little more than twice as much as Vilo does, it offers a more reliable connection with noticeably faster speeds. If you really want a worthy splurge that’s capable of making the most of a fast connection, then consider saving up for a system like the Asus ZenWifi AX or the AX6000 version of Netgear Orbi. Both are expensive, but they add in top-tier performance, high speeds at range, and support for Wi-Fi 6.

Still, Vilo was better than I expected. Underwhelming speeds aside, it successfully delivered a usable connection throughout the entirety of my home, which is exactly what you want from a mesh router. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a fiber connection like mine, but if you’re living with internet speeds of 100Mbps or less and interested in trying out a mesh network, then picking up Vilo on the cheap is likely a more appealing option than splurging on a fancier, more expensive mesh router with top speed capabilities you’ll never need. You’ll need to be prepared for the occasional networking hiccup, but if the savings balance that out in your book, then yes, Vilo might be worth a shot.

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