A great way to extend your WiFi network

WiFi connectivity problems are so common that there's an entire class of devices aimed at extending the range of your Internet service and eliminating dead zones.

If only the technology worked better. Not only are these range extenders often woefully underpowered, unable to deliver on the promise of unfettered wireless access, but they can also be hard to configure. If you're tech savvy, setting up an extender is generally inconvenient. For the tech-averse, it's downright impossible.

Amped Wireless tries to tackle both of these problems with the TAP-EX, a high-power WiFi range extender that boasts both a remarkably powerful amplifier and a friendly touchscreen interface.

Traditional wireless extenders are often cumbersome to configure; you need to plug them into a PC using an Ethernet port and then log into a browser-based configuration screen that's little different than setting up a router.

The TAP-EX circumvents all of that. Just plug it into the wall in a central location where you plan to keep the extender permanently, and then tap a few buttons on the color LCD touch screen. You first need to scan for your WiFi network, choose it (assuming the signal strength is high enough -- if not, relocate the unit so it's closer to your Wi-Fi router) and assign a name to the extended network. That's pretty much it.

There's nothing here that's revolutionary in the sense that these are the same basic steps you'd follow for any WiFi range extender. The difference is that you don't need to plug it into a PC, and the touchscreen makes the process feel simple and achievable -- the straightforward, self-contained interface should give even total tech novices the confidence to supercharge their WiFi network without help.

If only everything were this simple.

All that is worthless if the extender doesn't perform. But here's another pleasant surprise: After trying a number of extenders over the years, it's clear that the TAP-EX is not a little better than the competition, it's a lot better. I tested this extender in a home that was apparently built out of solid steel and uranium, with WiFi networks unable to penetrate all the way to the back rooms.

The TAP-EX's extended network had no problem radiating to every corner of the home with full signal strength. How much more powerful is it than the typical range extender? It's hard to get precise numbers; most extenders don't list the strength of their amplifier in the spec sheets, but on average most extenders appear to put out about 50 mW. The TAP-EX has an 800 mW amp. And priced at $120, you're not paying much of a premium.

Unfortunately, the TAP-EX isn't the right solution for all WiFi networks; it's an 8902.11 b/g/N extender, but it only has a 2.4 GHz amplifier. That means if you need to extend your 5 GHz N network (to push high speed media to the corners of your home, for example), the TAP-EX won't be of any use. Amped Wireless has a dual amplifier 2.4 GHz/5 GHz model coming later this year, though.