Getting Up and Running
Installing Google Wifi is a simple and easy job, courtesy of the accompanying app (iOS and Android supported). The experience is practically the same as we saw with Google OnHub – however, as the new device does not have an integrated speaker, identifying your hardware during setup requires you to scan a QR code (rather than the bleepy tune you enjoy with OnHub). The Google Wifi app is intelligent enough to know the model of device you’re installing, so you’ll be directed to scan the code with your phone or listen for a tune accordingly.
Google Wifi, like its peers, also does a great job of helping you troubleshoot connectivity issues between your modem and router. Should an Internet connection not be detected, you’ll be directed to power cycle both the modem and router to ensure an IP address is passed through to the device. Most, if not all modern routers now offer this guidance, but the Google Wifi app includes countdown timers once devices are powered on that provide no goal other than to manage the configuration experience and reduce stress. Simple, but effective.
Using Google Wifi
I’ve covered the Google Wifi app (previously known as Google On) in my previous reviews of the TP-Link (see the review) and ASUS (see the review) Google OnHub routers as well as an update in Part 1 of this review.
I’m not going to repeat myself in this review, other than to say that last year, Google really changed the game with the simplicity and quality of their controller app with the Google OnHub. While the Google Wifi/OnHub feature set is much smaller than traditional routers – there’s no IPv6 support, VPN server, limited QoS features and subnet management, for example – there’s just enough included that mainstream households need.
So, you have basic guest networking support, port forwarding, NAT Loopback (finally) and a new Family Wifi parental control feature that allows you to block access to individual devices or device groups. There’s nascent support for smart home devices with connectivity to Philips Hue bulbs and IFTTT, but if you’re looking for more advanced features, a Home WiFi System probably isn’t for you.
While I love the simplicity of the Google Wifi app, competitors are quickly building out controller apps for their devices which offer that same beautiful and simple experience with a greater range of features. AmpliFi HD, in particular, has the edge over Google WiFi here.
I repeat, Google really changed the game in 2015, but simplicity is more of an expectation than a competitive advantage nowadays. I hope that Google is able to accelerate development of their router platform to build out features more rapidly than they did through 2016.
If you’ve read Part 1 of this review, where I tested the performance of Google OnHubs in the new mesh configuration, then you’ll know how this section is going to work. I’ll be repeating the same tests with the new Google Wifi devices that I conducted on Google OnHub. Feel free to skip ahead. Everyone else, listen up!
We test real world network speeds using a range of client devices, from humble 1×1 802.11n smartphones up to mighty 4×4 desktop adapters. It provides a clearer view of performance variations with mobile and fixed wireless devices.
We’ll test a single Google Wifi point to understand its routing performance, then move on to configuring a mesh network to see how well speeds are maintained around a typical home.
Ethernet Performance (Standalone)
We test router performance using the industry standard iperf3 app, which is available for a wide range of fixed and mobile operating systems. All tests are performed with an Intel NUC Core i5 PC connected to the router via Ethernet (acting as a “server”) with a range of client devices connected to the router wirelessly. We then run three upstream and three downstream tests and calculate the average speed for each client.
For the Ethernet benchmark, we connect a second Intel NUC Core i5 PC to the router via Ethernet. Obviously, as Google WiFi only has a single LAN port free on the first Wi-fi point (the second being used for the modem connection), I had to use a switch for this test – the trusty NETGEAR GS108.
So far, none of the home Wi-fi systems I’ve reviewed have been able to deliver the advertised Gigabit Ethernet speeds and Goolge Wifi is no exception. An average speed of just 754 Mbps isn’t the worst we’ve seen, but it isn’t far off. A disappointing start for Google’s new router.
5 GHz Wireless Performance (Standalone)
We usually test wireless connections on both the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands. However, like most home Wi-fi systems, Google Wifi only transmits a single SSID and automatically steers your wireless clients to the appropriate band. That means there’s no need for users to fiddle around with their wireless settings to ensure they have the best connection – you just have to trust the system.
When testing direct connections to the first Google Wifi point, I did find the system to be a little more fussy than others with regard to band steering. My experience to date has been that home WiFi systems immediately connect our test clients to the highest speed 5 GHz band. However, with a few clients (three, in fact), I had to disconnect and reconnect the clients to ensure they weren’t connected on the slower 2.4 GHz band. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it’s worth mentioning.
In tests, I was able to muster speeds of almost 480 Mbps with Google Wifi – a little behind Google OnHub’s best (as you’d expect, being an AC1900-class device) but decent enough. Digging down into the results, you’ll see some variation in Google Wifi’s performance versus its peers, but having now tested six of these home Wi-fi systems, I can see that the margins between them overall are reasonably small.
If you’re deciding between Google OnHub and Google Wifi, you will get a little extra performance from the former when connecting more powerful wireless clients. Otherwise, there’s little to split this current crop of home Wi-fi systems, when it comes to short-range, single device performance.