Architeuthis is correct, the Spec V filter system is what I was thinking. I haven't tried that system extensively, I have a JBJ nano cube 12g that has that, and I like the idea - maybe someone with a fluval V can comment on what they think of it's filtration.
My main dislike of the UG, which is obvious in hindsight, is that all the crap collects on the bottom so you must must must vacuum out your substrate. I'm laZy, I barely do the minimum. And For me I intended the tank to be a shrimp tank, so having to vacuum out the substrate where all the shrimpies would live was kind of a stupid plan on my part. You are probably right, the roots filled up all the gaps, preventing actual water flow. I also suspect that a lack of general water flow (not just the random gurgle from the air pump) allowed bio-sludge to build up. A general 'flow' or water circulation I think is better.
There are people who the UG filtration systems work for, One guy I saw had a UG feeding to a HOB, and he swears by it for shrimp tanks. I think he maintains his tanks more and the water movement from the HOB helps deal with sedimentation.
My issue with pre-packaged tanks, is that there is probably something crappy about it. Even the fluval spec V's have issues, the LED lighting it pretty skimpy from what I hear. I feel like planning out exactly what you want, and slowly (or quickly) building up that X Y Z gives you more value. Ultimately too, if you buy say a 5G, unless you destroy that 5G, you could sell it or reset it up according to change of desire. Unless the All in One is something really special ( which in this case I don't think so) I would avoid such solutions. I paid up to buy a JBJ cube, which is a sort of all in one. However, I bought it used for 50$, and it only came with two items, a pump and a glass lid. I built my own LED fixture, etc etc. Just the way I like it.
Anyways, thats my 2 cents.
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