Review: Google Wifi (Part 2)

In the first part of this two-part review of Google Wifi, we kicked off proceedings with a look at creating a mesh network using ASUS and TP-Link’s Google OnHub routers. Today, we’ll take a look at the new Google Wifi points themselves.

Priced at $129 for one, with a three pack available for $299, Google is selling their Home Wi-Fi system at a considerably cheaper price than their competitors. Compare pricing to NETGEAR Orbi ($399 for two devices, $249 for the base router – see our review) and $499 eero (three pack – review) and, on paper, Google Wifi looks like great value. Ubiquiti Networks’ AmpliFi HD (my review) is closer on price – $149 for the base router (which can be meshed with additional devices) and $349 for a three-point pack.

google-wifi-2

Specifications

Google WiFi is designed around a dual-band 2×2 AC1200 router offering speeds up to 867 Mbps on the 5 GHz band and 300 Mbps at 2.4 GHz. The specs are broadly equivalent to the likes of eero and Luma, while AmpliFi HD – on paper – offers a slightly higher class AC1750 router.

NETGEAR Orbi is perhaps the most innovative design we’ve seen to date. It’s a tri-band AC3000 device that dedicates on of its two 5 GHz bands to transmit data between the WiFi points. While that means that the network itself (as far as your clients are concerned) is AC1200, that dedicated link (known as a backhaul) has proven itself to offer faster satellite connections than Orbi’s competitors.

Google Wifi is powered by a quad-core ARM CPU (of unspecified origin) with each core suporting speeds up to 710 MHz. There’s 512 GB RAM in support alongside 4 GB eMMC flash RAM. Each WiFi point is equipped with two Gigabit Ethernet ports. While that’s meagre compared to a traditional router (probably meaning that advanced users will require a network switch like the trusty NETGEAR GS108 I use with my OnHub) there’s an important distinction to be made. Unlike several competitors, Google has enabled the Ethernet ports for use as backhaul connections. Those that have Ethernet wiring (or coaxial cables for MoCA 2.0 adapters) can take advantage of high-speed connections between their WiFi points, ensuring that speeds are optimised when connecting to remote WiFi points. Not all mesh WiFi systems offer this feature today and we’ll be testing performance later with a wired and wireless backhaul to see just how big an advantage it is,

Like many of this new crop of home WiFi systems the hardware is small, compact and cute – a far cry from the traditional router designs with extensive arrays of external antennas. Like its close cousin, Google Home, users are encouraged to place Google Wifi points out on show, helping to ensure strong connectivity with other Wi-fi points and wireless devices around the home.

Google’s recommendation is that a single Google Wifi point (the first point will replace your router and will connect to your Internet modem) will support smaller apartments and homes between 500 and 1500 sq. ft. A medium home (1500-3000 square feet) should need two Wifi points for strong coverage while the three pack is designed to serve homes between 3000-4500 square feet.

Completing the specifications are Beamforming support (helping direct wireless signals to your devices) and Bluetooth Smart. Unlike Google OnHub, the company has made no mention of 802.15.4 (Zigbee) smart home support (note that this radio hasn’t been enabled on OnHub to date) but investigations at SmallNetBuilder have revealed that it’s included. An integrated Infineon SLB9615 TPM (trusted platform module, the same chip fitted to Google OnHub) strengthens security – the device will refuse to boot if any unauthorised changes are made to its software.

Those comparing specifications with Google OnHub (handy rundown here) will note that Google Wifi is equipped with a slightly lower specification on paper (2×2 AC1200 vs 3×3 AC1900) but we’ll see whether that translates into a different in real world performance. As discussed in Part 1 of the review, Google WiFi and Google OnHub are compatible and can be combined in a mesh network.

What’s in the Box?

One benefit of the slightly humbler specification is that Google Wifi is certainly smaller than the already diminutive Google OnHub. Resembling a over-tall hockey puck, each device measures just 4.17 in (106.12 mm) in diameter and 2.70 in (68.75 mm) in height.

Google Wifi’s packaging is as premium as the other devices recently launched under the “Made by Google” banner, Google Home and the Google Pixel/Pixel XL smartphone. The crisp white carton doesn’t quite hit the heights of the TP-Link Google OnHub pack, but you’re left in no doubt as to the quality you’ve purchased.

Each Wi-fi point ships with a 15W power adapter, 6 foot flat Ethernet cable (which is great) and a short quickstart guide (which basically says, “Plug it in. Download the app.”)

This year, Google has designed a range of new hardware. Google Wifi follows the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, the Google Daydream VR headset and Google Home smart speaker. If you’ve been tracking these products then you’ll know what a great job the company has done in their industrial design. Google Wifi is no exception.

google-wifi-kit

The compact, ice-white puck is perhaps my favourite design from the crop of new Home WiFi systems hitting the market this year. It’s certainly taller than eero (if a little narrower) but much more diminutive than the vase-shaped NETGEAR Orbi. Like Google Home, the device is designed to blend into your home environment. It’s not entirely invisible, but the design is subtle enough to stand out. It’s a shame it’s not available with replacement covers, like Google Home (and Google OnHub).

google-wifi-kitchen.jpg

The device is intersected by a thin, horizontal groove which serves as a status light. It glows subtly when the device is powered on and can change colour from blue and white  to orange and on to red to announce any issues.

google-wifi-rear-2

Flip the device over and you’ll find the twin Gigabit Ethernet ports (one WAN, one LAN for the first Wi-fi point – two LAN for subsequent points) tucked away neatly with a USB-C port used for power. The reset button is located on the rear of the device.

Two Ethernet ports is an improvement on this device’s predecessor, Google OnHub, but behind the four ports equipped on Amplifi HD (see our review). It’s likely you’ll need a network switch at some point if you’re using smart home hubs for devices like Sonos, SmartThings or Philips Hue, so be sure to build that into your thinking when positioning the device. Importantly, as we discussed in the first part of this review, those Ethernet ports are enabled for backhaul duties, which should enhance network speeds across the mesh.

onhub-and-wifi

Overall it’s a Google Wifi offers a simple design, but care has been taken to ensure the devices remain as neat and unobtrusive as possible.

28 comments

  1. At LONG last, my ideal home Wi-Fi system is in sight. I DO have Ethernet throughout the house, but that has left the problem of connectivity with wireless-only devices — namely, phones and tablets — but also with laptops which could, conceivably, be wired, but are much more convenient when used wirelessly. I’ve tried Ethernet-wired access points and followed instructions for setup from the manufacturers as well as authorities listing cookbook approaches in forums, but I have always ended up with my printers (wired) and some other connected devices, like my Windows Home Server, on “different sides” of the network from tablets and phones, inaccessible. I’m not a computer pro, let alone a networking professional, so I’ve made little headway with my problems.
    I think that a Google On-Hub router with wired Google Wi-Fi mesh extenders will finally, after years of fretting and finagling, give me the system for which I’ve been searching for what feels like eons.
    Thanks, Terry, for this fabulous review!

  2. Hi Terry, best review I’ve seen on Google WiFi, a lot of great info.

    I currently have a Asus OnHub as the main router connected to three Google Wifi units. Works quite well. After seeing your review about wired backhaul from the Google WiFi units I’d like to give it a try.

    My dilemma is that Ethernet cables or Moca in my house is not an option and was wondering if I could use some gigabit powerline adapters for the wired backhaul?

    Thanks
    Paul

    1. Hey Paul – really glad that you enjoyed the read.

      You *could* try Powerline adapters, but to be honest, I think you’ll probably get better performance from wireless backhaul. Powerline can be pretty flaky depending on your home wiring.

      1. Thanks for the reply. I think I’ll keep it the way it is, no reason to fix something that isn’t broken in the first place. Happy Holidays!

  3. Hi Terry, I enjoyed the review. I have a question for you. Will the Google Wifi or OnHub still function without internet? So say one day my ISP goes out during the day, will I still have local access? I was reading about Eero mesh routers and how if you don’t have internet connectivity that they will not function. Well let me correct myself, if your eero is up and running and had connectivity before you lost internet, local access will still function. I was told by eero support that if you reboot the routers after you lost connectivity that when the routers come back online you will not have local network access functionality. Eero support mentioned they are working on “persistent” networking capabilities? have you done any of that kind of testing on the Google Wifi or Onhub devices?

  4. I deeply appreciate your research and testing. I have a problem in that I must have multiple SSID’s (at least two, but three is better) on my networks. We have a renter in our basement, and have two duplexes we rent and want their traffic separate and private though sharing the internet connection.

    We use one SSID for each “home” in the duplex, and one SSID for the smart home gear (nest thermostats/protects and Wink equipment (managing schlage smart locks, light switches, etc) with Kuna light/cameras. I love having one SSID across all three physical homes for smart home gear as it makes it easy to move gear around or set things up at my house and drop them in the other homes. Also makes it easy for my wife and our cleaners to have their internet “just work” at all three homes.

    We have MoCA in two of the three houses. Currently using either two routers or gear from Open-Mesh (Cloudtrax for management) in the homes. I would love to switch to Google WiFi for performance/simplicity but the multiple SSID’s is the hold up. With my need for multiple SSIDs what would you recommend? Does the Orbi support that? I would love to stick with ethernet for backhaul, but Google won’t work for me. I’ve been patiently waiting for multiple SSIDs in vain… 🙁

    1. Hi Aaron – all of these home WiFi systems are built with simplicity in mind. None of them are really going to be able to deliver what you’re looking for. They’re all single SSID (+ guest network) but you really need a device that allows you to manage multiple SSIDs and subnets. Really, your needs are more typical of a small business setup!

  5. Terry, it seems like a number of the other mesh systems — Luma, Eero, and Plume as well as Google Wifi — also allow wired backhaul. Do recommend Google over the others for this application?
    I am weighing one of these mesh systems with wired backhaul versus POE WAPs. I live in a recently renovated home with ethernet jacks, and, though I have almost no networking knowledge, I chanced it a couple of years ago and installed Ubiquiti Unifi APs with a Ubiquiti POE router. It was a little scary getting it going, but then it ran without a thought or hiccup for two years straight, until I turned on the automatic firmware updates on the APs, and they all died. My efforts to troubleshoot with Ubiquiti about this were pointless and infuriating, and since they were out of warranty, Ubiquiti didn’t bother to respond to my emails. It’s a little hard to buy more Unifi’s after that experience, and with young kids at home I would like some of the parental control features of the consumer mesh systems, but I wonder if you think I should swallow my pride and stick with Unifi APs.

    1. FYI, I posted a similar question on thewirecutter’s review of mesh products. One responder reported that switching from a Ubiquity Unifi setup with 3 AC Pro access points to 3 Google Wifi units with wired backhaul yielded improved range and speed. I’m surprised but excited to give it a try whenever GWifi starts shipping again.

  6. So, for a two story home with the modem coming in to the lower level, would you recommend the Google WiFi (3 positions) or two Onhub units (1 up and 1 down)? Sounds like it would be pretty much a wash. House is not wired throughout.

    1. Whichever is cheaper, TBH. Two OnHubs would provide ample coverage and would be slightly faster with faster wireless clients.

      But, you may find a single device covers you in a two storey home. I’d start with an Onhub and then add a second device if needed.

  7. Great review Terry.

    I’m running a mesh of 3 ASUS OnHubs and things are pretty great. It’s just as fast as the ASUS RT-AC5300 for me (500mbit synchronous Ethernet).

    My only issue is finicky band steering where devices get pushed onto 2.4 Ghz for no reason and get stuck there. I have to toggle the wifi off/on on the device and then I get 5 Ghz again.

    I think this is a firmware bug, but I’m not sure.

  8. Pricing aside, would you recommend google wifi over eero? Also, were your tests conducted with eero 2.0 firmware? Great review by the way!

    1. Thanks! The eero review I did was firmware 1.x. Performance was similar, but the way you frame the question highlights the issue – price.

      I found eero to be less stable than Google WiFi, so there are a couple of reasons I’d take GW over eero.

  9. thanks for the awesome review, this indeed is exactly what i am looking for, but i have a single question

    router is connected to WAN and chained to port1 of node1, node1 port2 is connected to node2 port1

    will that work ? having node one connecting the router with the furthest node2

    1. and i noticed that the radio speeds are 1200, how much is that effect compared to the 1900, 2600 that regular routers offers ?
      i have wired connections, but would love the hassle free setup/managment for all the nodes in my network

    1. thanks for the answers terry, 1 last question
      does the OnHub integrate with the google wifi ? single SSID, shows up in the mesh app, and activate the guest network

  10. did you connect the mesh Onhub to ethernet via LAN or WAN? WAN has been shown to slow down ethernet backhaul speed.

  11. Is it possible to connect a switch to the Orbi satellites or Google’s Wifi secondary points to connect more than four wired devices?

  12. Hi I was WO daring which would you recommend? Getting rid of current ISP router and then getting three google WiFi nodes. Or getting rid of ISP router and getting an onhub and two google WiFi nodes or getting two more on hubs instead? And BTW I agree with you on the fact that google severely failed on the smart home aspect.

  13. Thanks for this thorough review. Glad you checked the wired backhaul numbers. Netgear says they plan to add that to their devices. It could be awesome if do it right.

Leave a Reply