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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.