Google WiFi Systems
If you want to extend fast internet to every corner of your home, the Google WiFi is the best device to do it. You just need two things:
This is because, unlike most routers, there’s no web-based interface and the new Wi-Fi system can only be set up and controlled via the new Google Wifi mobile application. Once set up, the Google Wifi will stay connected to Google at all times and will log into your Google account each time you want to manage it.
Google says the Wifi doesn’t collect user activity data, like what sites you’re visiting. By default, it appears to collect only hardware-, app- and network-related information. However, you can turn this off in the Privacy section of the settings.
Still, a constant connection to Google is required. That’s a deal breaker for some. Not all home mesh Wi-Fi systems, which use several “satellite” devices to extend the Wi-Fi signal, require a connection to the vendor in order to work — the does while the doesn’t. Most home routers don’t require this at all.
But that’s not something most people will care about, plus it will keep the device secure from hacking via regular automatic updates. So if you’re cool with this setup, Google WiFi has the best balance of ease-of-use, performance and price yet.
What I love about Google WiFi
The price: At just £129 for a single unit or £299 for a set of three, the Google WiFi is cheaper than other Wi-Fi systems like the or . (Google hasn’t said whether the WiFi will go on sale in the UK or Australia, but those prices convert to around £100 or AU$170 and £235 or $400.)
It’s really easy to use: It took me about 15 minutes to set up all three units using an Android phone. The whole process was self-explanatory, and dare I say, fun.
And fast. In terms of data throughput it tested well for a dual-stream AC1200 router, with a top sustained Wi-Fi speed of more than 470 megabits per second.
The nature of Wi-Fi, however, means that each time you extend the signal wirelessly, signal loss will occur, which basically means slower speed. You can mitigate this by placing the satellite units around the first router unit. To avoid this completely you can connect the units together using network cables.
Coverage and reliability is great: As a single unit or as a system of three units, the Google WiFi passed my 48-hour stress test with flying colours. During the test I set it to transfer lots of data between multiple wireless clients (four laptops in this case). The WiFi did this without any disconnections. The system also had excellent signal hand off, allowing you to walk around your house, seamlessly connecting from one unit to another without getting disconnected from the internet. I tried this while making a call over Wi-Fi and the conversation wasn’t affected at all.
Google claims the system is constantly analysing the air space to figure out the cleanest channel and the best Wi-Fi band (5GHz or 2.4GHz) for a client to connect to. I used it in a home with many other routers and the Google WiFi network remained stable, which definitely adds credence to its claim.
So What Exactly Is a Wi-Fi System?
Wi-Fi systems provide an easy way to install a far-reaching wireless network in your home without the need for range extenders, access points, or additional wiring. Most systems, including the Google Wifi, Luma, and Eero systems, utilize satellites and employ mesh technology that allows those satellites (which are actually individual routers) to communicate with one another and with wireless clients throughout your home (the Netgear Orbi is a bit different; it uses a dedicated 5GHz Wi-Fi radio band to communicate with its satellites). The main benefit of a Wi-Fi system is roaming connectivity; each satellite is part of the same network and provides seamless Wi-Fi from one point to another, which means you don’t have to worry about logging in to a range extender or access point as you move from room to room. Moreover, they don’t require much management or configuring, unlike a router-range extender or router-access point combination.
Design and Features
We tested the £299 Google Wifi 3-pack, which includes three satellites (which Google calls Wifi points), three power cords, a 6.5-foot Ethernet cable, and a quick start guide. Each point provides coverage for up to 1,500 square feet, which means the 3-Pack is good for homes of up to 4,500 square feet. For smaller dwellings (or to add more coverage to the 3-Pack), a single pack is available for $129. By way of comparison, each Luma and Eero module covers up to 1,000 square feet, and the Ubiquiti Amplifi HD Home Wi-Fi System covers up to 20,000 square feet using a base station and two high-density antennas. Our Editors’ Choice, the Netgear Orbi uses two modules to provide up to 4,000 square feet of coverage.
The puck-shaped Wifi points are matte white, measure 4.1 inches in diameter, and are 2.7 inches in height. While a bit taller than the Eero (1.3 inch) and Luma (1.1 inch) modules, they have a much lower profile than the Netgear Orbi components (8.8 inches) and will blend in well with most décor. Just like Google Home, the new voice assistant/speaker combo, Wifi is meant to be seen, unlike traditional networking gear, which often sticks out like a sore thumb. An LED light strip embedded in the middle of each Wifi point pulses blue during setup, emits a steady light teal beacon when everything is working as it should, and glows amber when it loses its Internet connection. The base has two gigabit LAN ports and a power port; the main Wi-Fi point (the one directly connected to your modem) uses one port as a WAN (Internet) port and the other as a LAN port that can connect to devices like desktops, gaming consoles, and home automation hubs, while both ports on the additional points act as dual LAN ports. The Wifi points lack USB connectivity, which means you can’t attach peripherals such as printers or external storage drives.
Each Wifi point is powered by a quad-core Arm CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of eMMC flash memory. Each one also contains AC1200 (2X2) 802.11ac and 802.11s (mesh) circuitry along with a Bluetooth radio. Google Wifi supports beamforming and WPA2-PSK security, and as is the case with other Wi-Fi systems, uses embedded software (dubbed Network Assist) to steer clients to the least crowded channel, the fastest available radio band, and the closest Wi-Fi point. As with the Luma, Eero, and Orbi systems, Google Wifi presents both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands as a single band, which means you can’t manually assign client to a specific band like you can with the Amplifi system.
The system is installed and managed using Google’s thoughtfully designed free Android or iOS mobile app. It opens to a home screen that tells you the status of your network (online/offline) and how many devices are connected, and displays a simple network map. Tapping any device or Wi-Fi point on the map takes you to a status screen for that device with information such as total upload and download stats, the IP address, and the MAC address. The three-bar icon on the upper left corner takes you to a screen where you can add more Wifi points, send feedback, and access online help.
Just above the map are three icons. On the left is an Info button that displays status on Wifi point connectivity and walks you through processes like setting up Guest Networking and Family Wi-Fi, adjusting LED brightness on the Wifi points, and addressing any issues you may be having with satellites or connected clients. The round Internet icon in the center takes you back to the home screen, and the four-dot icon on the right takes you to the Shortcuts and Settings screen. Shortcuts include Network Check, where you can test your Web speed and Wi-Fi signal strength to your mobile devices, and Priority Device, which allows you to give traffic priority to any device connected to the network for 1, 2, or 4 hours at a time. There’s also a Show Password shortcut in case you’ve forgotten your password, and Internet Pause buttons for devices that you’ve enrolled as Family Wi-Fi clients.
Family Wi-Fi lets you instantly pause internet access for specific wireless clients, groups of clients, or all connected clients. In the Settings menu, tap Family Wi-Fi, select a client from the list, and give it a group label, if you prefer. Now all you have to do is tap a group label or an individual device to pause Internet access, say for your kids’ laptops and tablets at dinnertime or bedtime. Simply tap the button again to resume. The Network settings menu has options for restarting your Wifi points, performing a factory reset, and updating firmware. Advanced network settings allow you to use an automatic DNS or use your ISP-mandated DNS, enable DHCP, create Port Forwarding rules, and select a Network mode (Bridge or Standard). For example, in Standard mode the system is acting as a single network, providing Wi-Fi coverage and assigning IP addresses. In Bridge mode, the points act as an extension of another network and doesn’t have DHCP server capabilities.
You don’t get these types of advanced settings with the Luma or Eero systems, but both the Amplify HD and Orbi systems offer similar settings. That said, a high-end router such as our Editors’ Choice, the D-Link AC5300 Ultra Wi-Fi Router (DIR-895L/R), offers much more control and lets you configure, among other things, firewall settings, virtual server settings, and wireless transmission power levels. Additionally, you can select a wireless channel and change the channel width if you’re experiencing neighbourly interference.
There’s also a Guest networking setting that allows you to create a limited access network for guests, and a unique Home Control setting that you can use to control supported home automation devices. At the time of this review, Philips Hue lights were the only supported devices, but Google plans to add more, including support for the Nest thermostat, in the near future. Google is also working on integrations with Google Home and Amazon Echo via IFTTT.
Installation and Performance
Wi-Fi systems are designed for ease of use and Google Wifi is no different. I started by connecting a Wifi point to my modem using the included LAN cable and powered it up, at which point the LED ring went through a series of blue and white flashes until it finally pulsed blue. I opened the app, clicked Get Started, and waited a few seconds while the app discovered the Wifi point. I scanned the QR code on the base when prompted and waited around 30 seconds for the point to connect wirelessly to my modem and attain an Internet connection. I named the network, assigned a password, and chose a location for the point from the list (office, kitchen, living room, etc). I was then prompted to add more points or finish the installation. I elected to add more Wi-Fi points.
The app suggested that I place the next point no more than two rooms away from the main point, so I located it in the living room, which is two small rooms over from my office and exactly where I placed the Luma, Amplifi, and Orbi satellites for my tests. I chose Living Room as the location, scanned the QR code, and waited 40 seconds for the point to connect. I was then prompted to test the wireless connection and the app told me that the connection was poor. I moved the point into the kitchen (one room closer to my office), retested, where I saw a good connection. I repeated this process with the third point and located it in my basement (in the same location where I tested the third Luma satellite), and saw a good signal on the first try.
I performed my usual throughput tests on the main Wi-Fi point and on each of the two satellites. As with the Orbi, Luma, and Eero systems, Google Wifi uses automatic band steering that doesn’t allow you to separate the 2.4GHz band from the 5GHz band, so my results are based on combined throughput speeds. The main point scored 491Mbps on the close proximity (same room) test, narrowly beating the Orbi (460Mbps), the Amplifi HD (459Mbps), and the Luma (457Mbps). At a distance of 30 feet, the Google Wifi scored 175Mbps, easily surpassing the Luma (76.1Mbps) and Eero (71.2Mbps), but not the Orbi or the Amplifi HD, both of which scored 223Mbps.
Wifi point results were mixed. The Google kitchen satellite’s score of 182Mbps on the close proximity test was faster than the Luma (106Mbps) but trailed the Amplifi HD (193Mbps). The Orbi satellite scored an impressive 480Mbps, thanks to its dedicated 5GHz backhaul band. At a distance of 30 feet the kitchen Wifi point’s score of 141Mbps was a bit slower than the Amplifi HD (168Mbps), but significantly faster than the Luma (77.2Mbps). Once again, the Orbi dominated with a score of 220Mbps. Finally, the basement satellite scored 111Mbps on the close proximity test and 117Mbps on the 30 foot test, besting the Luma (101Mbps and 75Mbps, respectively) but not the Amplifi HD (189Mbps and 162Mbps, respectively).
To compare these scores with a traditional router, our midrange Editors’ Choice, the Trendnet AC2600 StreamBoost MU-MIMO WiFi Router (TEW-827DRU) bests Google Wifi, scoring 590Mbps on the close proximity test and 260Mbps on the 30 foot test.
Google Wifi will appeal to those who want to create a simplified home wireless network that is easy to set up and maintain. You won’t get individual band control and the parental controls that come with a traditional router, but you do get a bit more control than with the Luma and Eero systems, including port forwarding and Quality of Service settings.
The system offers solid room-to-room Wi-Fi coverage with relatively fast throughput speeds, and its Family Wi-Fi feature is ideal for parents who wish to limit their children’s Internet time or simply want to pause online activity temporarily. Likewise, the one-touch Priority feature makes it easy to instantly give clients the bandwidth they need, when they need it, without having to log in to a management console and change settings.
That said, our Editors’ Choice for Wi-Fi systems, the Netgear Orbi, delivered much better range performance in our testing and supports Multi User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO), which streams data to multiple compatible wireless clients simultaneously rather than sequentially. It also offers better connectivity (the router has three LAN ports and a WAN port and the satellite has four LAN ports), than the Google system, and each component covers more area (2,000 square feet) than each Google Wifi point (1,500 square feet), but the Orbi will cost you about $100 more than the 3-pack.
If you’re just looking for very fast throughput speeds or require more control over your network, consider a traditional midrange router such as the Trendnet AC2600 StreamBoost MU-MIMO WiFi Router (TEW-827DRU). It delivers better throughput performance, offers individual band assignment, and supports MU-MIMO streaming, for about $100 less than the Google Wifi 3-pack. If you have a large home, pair it with a TP-Link AC1750 Wi-Fi Range Extender (RE450) to fill in any dead zones. Just don’t expect the ease of use and seamless roaming that you get with Google Wifi.