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TP-Link Deco XE75 review: a solid WiFi 6E router system that delivers more for less

It has some rough edges, but for affordable networking brawn, it’s hard to beat.

Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

As the unromantic name implies, TP-Link’s Deco XE75 AXE5400 is one of the company’s many, many routers. A trio of plain cylinders standing 6.7-inches tall, they mirror the lack of excitement in its name, but as the saying goes, let’s not judge a book by its deeply unsexy cover. Hiding inside is a mesh of extreme quality that, despite a few rough edges, offers a great mix of power and affordability. If you’re confident in your ability to work your way through an admin panel or two, then this might be the mesh for you.

Hardware

I’ve already mentioned that the XE75 comprises a series of nondescript-looking cylinders which aren’t the prettiest mesh units. They certainly look like WiFi equipment, unlike many of the others on the market, which look like paperweights designed by Henry Moore. Unless you’re living in a minimalist’s paradise, they’ll hopefully blend into your decor with no fuss.

TP-Link

If you’re looking for an affordable WiFi 6E system with a broader range of features, TP-Link's Deco XE75 is your best option.

Pros
  • Affordable 6E mesh WiFi with good range
  • Blisteringly-fast speed and good reliability
  • Basic security and parental control features are free
Cons
  • App is a little rough around the edges
  • Hardware isn’t as good-looking as some of its rivals
$310 at Amazon

On the back of each node are three gigabit ethernet ports, one of which you’ll need to hook the primary mode up to your modem. You can also use the ports to run ethernet backhaul, if your house is (or will be) suitably-equipped. In 2023, when it can sometimes feel like wired ethernet is becoming a niche proposition, having three ports per node feels like luxury. And I don’t think many users will gripe over a lack of a 2.5 Gbps port which is a bit excessive, even these days.

One of the first choices you’ll need to make is how you’ll use the 6GHz band, which is reserved as backhaul by default. You can leave it like this or, if you have a plethora of WiFi 6-enabled devices already, you can run it dynamically. Like I said in the mesh WiFi buyer’s guide, using the 6GHz band for backhaul makes sense for now since so few phones, laptops and tablets can access that band directly at the moment.

TP-Link says its “AI-driven mesh” will learn which devices get faster speed from which nodes and prioritize those connections accordingly. Once each of your devices is connected to the mesh, you should hope to see your speed and reliability improve as it learns your usage.

Installation

Deco XE75 was easy to get set up, taking just 16 minutes from when I pulled the plastic film from the box to finish. Download the Deco companion app, set up a TP-Link account and you’ll then be guided through the short setup process. You just need to plug the first node in, tell the app if you have any ISP-specific needs, give your network a name and password and you’re off at the races.

Once done, the app will tell you to turn on the other nodes in the set and wait as they connect to the existing mesh. You’ll also need to assign each node a name based on their locations in your home. My phone pinged several times in quick succession after this as all the gadgets in my home joined the network. The degree of seamlessness and ease of setup was more or less perfect.

That is, except for one minor real-world annoyance that I feel compelled to flag — the length of the power cables for the UK models I’ve been testing. A lot of mesh products ask users to place nodes in visible, prominent locations, rather than hidden behind furniture, to avoid interference. That’s harder to do, however, if your power cable is just 57 inches long, a small but noticeable bit shorter than the other products I’m testing. To the point where I couldn’t put one module in my usual location at the top of a bookcase because the cable didn’t stretch that far. In this case, that module had to go on my top shelf, rather than above it. It’s a specific and possibly niche complaint but worth mentioning in case you have an unforgiving room layout.

Performance

Image of a single Deco XE75 unit on a white table in front of a bookcase.
Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

After setting up the modules in the usual places in my home, I found that it took about 10 minutes for the connection to stabilize. I had to run a firmware update that caused things to drop out for a further five minutes afterward, but after that, the connection was very stable. A lot of more affordable 6E routers use the 6GHz band as backhaul, and this worked well in my home.

Close to the primary node, speeds hit an average of 270 Mbps down, and in my office two floors away, I was still getting 260 Mbps. Even in my back bedroom with its dreaded signal dead spot, SpeedTest download benchmarks fell to around 220 Mbps. Ping times were similarly consistent, to the point where I reckon a two-point mesh might have sufficed.

The Deco app very clearly shows your network topography, enabling you to quickly see which devices connect to which node. What surprised me is that the hardware in my office preferred the primary node rather than the one that was nearer. I suspect, over time, those connections would shift, but the fact I saw such good performance despite being two floors away was great.

App and controls

The Deco app lays everything out in a friendly, easy-to-parse manner that shouldn’t deter novice users from upgrading. The home screen shows you the network topography, and what devices are connected to each node by default, helping you to feel in control of what’s going on.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the level of control available to you inside each submenu isn’t that deep. View your WiFi settings, for instance, and you’ll be able to change your network name and password or share those details to someone else. But the only other option is to decide if the 6GHz network is used for dedicated backhaul or if you can share it with devices on the network. You can activate a Guest Network on the homescreen, letting you set one up with one press, although I’m less of a fan that it’s password-free by default.

You can scroll the list of what’s connected to the network to see its signal strength, as well as how much data it’s up-and-down-loading at the time. Each device can be assigned to a family member for parental controls, and you can single out a unit for priority on the network. The one downside to this is that TP-Link really struggles to identify each piece of equipment on your network compared to, say, a product from Netgear. So many units were named “iot_device” in the list, that you’ll probably need to take the time to rename them all manually.

In the More sub-menu, you can run tests to optimize your network, set up an IPv6 connection, as well as tweak IP settings. One feature I appreciated was the choice to get a push notification every time a new device joins the network, which appeals to my paranoia.

You can also access your settings through a browser-based client but, as far as I could see, the only difference is it lets you force a firmware upgrade with a local file rather than handling the system online. That’s a fairly niche use, though.

Additional features

Deco does offer smart home integrations, but it’s limited to TP-Link’s own gear and Philips Hue. The only other thing that the company offers is Homeshield, which offers a suite of security features to help keep your WiFi secure. The free Basic tier will scan your network for security threats and offers “robust” parental controls. That includes the ability to block specific websites, set daily usage limits and time-out zones to stop your kids accessing the internet in the middle of the night.

You can also activate content filtering, which will lock down swathes of the web that TP-Link deems unsuitable. That includes Adult Content, Gambling, and Download sites, amongst many others. More problematically, you can block access to sites offering sex and relationship education information, which feels like TP-Link is enabling more harm than good there.

What I will say, despite my objections, is that the suite of options available for free here is a very good mix. Plenty of companies have taken to putting even the most basic parental controls, like time limits and access control, behind their paywalls. The fact the essentials are available here, for free, means the company gets plenty of extra points here.

TP-Link also offers a paid version of Homeshield, which includes more protection against hacks, greater data about what websites users are visiting. This, it says, will guard against “teenager internet addiction (sic),” “IoT Devices Attacks (sic)” and “Cyber Virus Intrusion (sic).” Homeshield Pro costs $5.99 a month, or $55 for a year, although I’m not sure I see enough value in it to encourage anyone to sign up for the extras on offer.

Wrap-up

There’s no single glitzy, attention-grabbing feature that makes the Deco XE75 a must-buy, but what puts it ahead of the competition is its brawn. Nestled inside those cylinders is powerful, reliable hardware that generates a fast and far-reaching network which is reason enough to pick up TP-Link’s system. The app and services offered at no additional cost, squarely tick the “good enough” box.

The one thing the Deco XE75 lacks is polish, both in its app and its services. I wouldn’t suggest this to anyone who would freeze up at the very thought of having to make a decision about something like a backhaul channel. But, if you are prepared to make the effort, then this is certainly the mesh WiFi system for you. It’s fast, reliable, fairly easy to use and I reckon the (cheaper) two-pack will cover all but the biggest of homes.