Whether you're streaming your favorite yuletide bake-off, setting up smart voice controls for the Christmas lights, or just trying to get through work emails to your bah humbug boss as you sit with Tiny Tim beside a coal-burning stove, the internet is everything this holiday season. And if your family is fed up with spotty Wi-Fi, then you might want to deck the halls with a stronger signal and give your loved ones the gift of a better router.
Between the debut of speedy new Wi-Fi 6 routers and a surge of options in the mesh category, you've certainly got a lot to consider. Here are some of the top picks from our wish lists. Note that while the routers listed are chosen independently by CNET editors, CNET may get a commission from any sales made through the links on this page.
Available for preorder now and shipping this November, Nest Wifi is an updated version of Google Wifi, the search giant's popular mesh router system from a couple of years ago. The rebranded Nest version refreshes the design, with a marshmallowy router and range-extending Wifi Points, which you spread throughout your home to blanket the place with a reliable internet connection.
The other big addition is the Google Assistant, which you can talk to via those Wifi Points thanks to built-in speakers and microphones. Along with asking them to tell you the weather or play a playlist of holiday classics, you can also ask them to run a quick speed test, or pause the Wi-Fi to a device or a group of devices. Google's hope is that if it makes a better-looking mesh system that you'll actually want to interact with, you'll be less tempted to hide the things away on the floor or in the closet, where they don't relay signals nearly as well.
The Nest Wifi Router costs $169, while those range-extending Wifi Points with built-in speakers each cost $149. You can get a the router bundled with a Wifi Point for $269, which Google says will cover a home of up to 3,800 square feet. A bundle with two Wifi Points ups the range to 5,000 square feet, and costs $349. Read more on CNET.
Eero has long been a darling of the mesh category, with well-reviewed, multipoint router systems that automatically receive regular software updates to keep things running smooth and secure. Earlier this year, Amazon bought the company outright, and now, its newest mesh system is the most affordable yet.
At $249, you get three Eero devices -- one to plug into your modem, and another two to place around the house and relay the signal from room to room. That's good enough for homes of up to 5,000 square feet, which is excellent range for a mesh system at this price. Read more on CNET.
I told you it was an interesting time for the mesh category. Netgear Orbi, another longtime favorite, just released a totally refreshed system at a much lower price than before -- $129 for two units, down from $400 for two units just a couple of years ago.
We haven't tested the new hardware out yet, but Netgear's mesh system has performed well for us in the past despite not being quite as simple to set up as some of its competitors. The two-unit starter pack promises to cover up to 3,000 square feet at speeds of up to 1.2 Gbps, which would make it a great pick for small to medium-sized homes with back rooms where the signal tends to drop out. Read more on CNET.
Wi-Fi 6 is the consumer-friendly nickname for 802.11ax, the next-gen version of Wi-Fi that's just starting to roll out to new devices this year. Most of the Wi-Fi 6 routers that have hit the market so far cost hundreds of dollars -- but this guy, the TP-Link Archer AX1500, can be yours for a shockingly reasonable $70.
With combined top speeds of 1,500 Mbps across the router's 2.4 and 5GHz bands, it isn't offering blazing fast internet that takes full advantage of Wi-Fi 6's potential (and remember, you can only connect to one band at a time, so your actual speeds will be much lower). For comparison, TP-Link's own top-of-the-line, dual-band AX model is an AX6000 router with 8 antennas and combined bandwidth of around 6,000 Mbps. TP-Link's Wi-Fi 6 gaming router does even better, with combined, tri-band speeds of up to 11,000 Mbps.
All of that said, it's still early, and you really won't notice much of a difference in your connection with any of these routers unless you've got a speedy ISP connection to begin with, and especially not before you've got at least a couple of Wi-Fi 6 gadgets up and running on your network.
Still, you will get next-gen Wi-Fi 6 features like OFDMA and Target Wake Time that help the router sling its signal more efficiently, and to lots of devices at once. That's a fairly inexpensive way to future-proof your smart home -- or, at the very least, take Wi-Fi 6 for a test drive, especially if you just got a fancy new phone that supports the speedy new standard, like the iPhone 11 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus. Read more on CNET.
It isn't new, but the Norton Core Wi-Fi Router impressed us when we tested it out last year thanks to speedy performance, strong network security features, and yeah, the bonkers design. Looking more like the Epcot ball than a router, Norton's Core is eye-catching enough that you won't mind leaving it out in the open -- which makes it easier for the thing to do its job.
With slight range limitations, it's probably best suited for apartments and small-to-medium sized homes, and it's an especially good gift for anyone with connected home gadgets who might want an extra layer of security, as Norton's software automatically protects them from things like malware and viruses. And hey, it doesn't hurt that the thing can double as a table-top holiday decoration in a pinch. Read more on CNET.