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There's a mesh router renaissance underway, with lots of new options that cost a lot less than before. That's thanks in no small part to the sheer volume of connected home gadgets we're spreading throughout our homes. After all, signal strength on your back porch might not have mattered very much five years ago, but it's a point of some concern once you equip that back door with a Wi-Fi smart lock, or install a Wi-Fi security camera to keep watch while you're away.
Mesh routers promise to help by using multiple, range-extending units to spread a speedy signal to all corners of your home. Eero was the first to popularize the approach back in 2016, and earlier this year, the company was acquired by Amazon. Some months after that, it released a new version of its three-piece mesh Wi-Fi system for an asking price of $249 -- half the cost of the previous Eero Pro system.
$249 for a three-piece mesh setup is a very good deal -- $100 less than a three-piece Nest Wifi setup, and less expensive than the two-piece Nest Wifi system, too. With that third device, you'll be better equipped to spread a steady internet connection across your home (up to 5,000 square feet, according to Eero). If you need more coverage than that, additional satellites cost $99 each.
Eero also performed well in our battery of tests. It doesn't support next-gen Wi-Fi 6 speeds (and it doesn't boast the fastest top speeds by current-gen, Wi-Fi 5 standards, either), but it's certainly fast enough to take full advantage of an above-average internet connection. More importantly, Eero's algorithm for steering users from band to band and satellite to satellite as they move throughout the home was among the most stable we tested, never once dropping me as I moved from room to room conducting speed tests. That, along with easy-to-use app controls and regular, automatic security updates, makes Eero an easy system to recommend.
Each of the three devices that come in an Eero starter kit is identical. Just pick one, connect it to your modem with an Ethernet cable, plug it in and then follow the instructions in Eero's app to get your network up and running. Those instructions are among the most helpful and easy to follow that I've seen from a mesh system, with handy illustrations and quick signal strength tests to ensure that you've picked good spots for the satellite devices.
As for the Eeros themselves, each one is an inoffensive hunk of white plastic that's about as big as a really impressive cupcake. The design is a bit bland, perhaps, and despite the Amazon ownership, Eero devices don't include built-in Alexa speakers to match the Google Assistant speakers that come built into Nest Wifi. You can ask a separate Echo speaker to turn on the Eero's guest Wi-Fi network, but there are plenty of routers that support basic voice controls like those at this point. Eero can also enable Amazon's Wi-Fi Simple Setup feature, which makes it nearly automatic to connect Wi-Fi devices with Alexa -- but you already get that feature with most current-gen Echo devices, so it's superfluous for most Alexa users.
Still, they don't take up too much space, they aren't eyesores and I appreciate that each one includes multiple Ethernet jacks for users who want direct, wired connections for things like media streamers, desktop PCs, smart home hubs and other Eero units. Neither Nest Wifi nor the new, dual-band Netgear Orbi included Ethernet jacks on the satellite devices at all.
Like most mesh systems, Eero doesn't split your internet into separate networks for the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. Instead, you'll connect to a single, unified network. As you move through your home and Eero figures out how best to route your signal back to the router via the satellites, it will also automatically hand you off from band to band to ensure the best signal strength.
This all worked perfectly during my speed tests, where I move from room to room with a laptop to track the network's performance throughout a typical home environment. Eero didn't drop my connection once, which is the same high level of mesh reliability that I saw from the costlier Nest Wifi, and better than what I saw from Netgear Orbi.
All of it makes Eero one of the least intimidating routers you can buy. The hardware is simple, the setup is simple, and once it's up and running, you practically won't even need to think about it. Users who want lots of advanced features and controls over how their network operates will likely want to look elsewhere, but for most, I think "internet that just works" is a pretty appealing pitch.
Eero didn't ace our speed tests. In fact, in our first speed test, where we measure the top wireless transfer rate of a single device from each system at various distances, Eero finished dead last. It's clear as day in that graph up above. Wired to a local server, a single Eero device transferred data over Wi-Fi to a laptop 5 feet away at a respectable rate of 488Mbps -- but the speed dropped off a cliff once we were more than 30 feet away.
That's not a great look, but keep in mind that Eero's system doesn't feature a dedicated router the way that most other mesh systems do. It's designed for multi-point, mesh internet, and not for single-point, standalone connections. Still, the data suggests that you don't want to put your satellites any more than 30 feet away from the router, or each other. I think most users wouldn't have a problem keeping things within that range, but it's definitely something to think about before buying in.
For our next test, I take the systems home to my 1,300-square-foot shotgun-style house and I set them up on my 300Mbps fiber internet plan with one router and one satellite. Once the network is up, I start taking speed tests across various spots in the house ranging from the living room where the router sits to a back bathroom on the other end of the house where most routers I test struggle to maintain the connection. After a few days, I average everything together to get a good, comparative look at how these mesh systems perform in a real-world setting.
Eero did well in this test. At close and close-ish distances, it returned faster average speeds than Nest, faster average speeds than both the dual-band Netgear Orbi and the fancier, tri-band Netgear Orbi Voice and faster average speeds than two of the three mesh systems I've tested that support Wi-Fi 6. Like we saw in the top speed test, those speeds dropped off at range, but not by nearly as much. In fact, they held steady at about 150Mbps -- half as fast as my home's internet plan allows, and half as fast as what I saw from Eero at close range. That's exactly what you'd expect to see once you start connecting through the satellite, because you'll typically lose half of your bandwidth when you relay the signal from the satellite back to the router.
Those speeds in the back bathroom were also telling. When I ran my tests using just a single Eero as a router, the average speed back there was about 70Mbps. When I added the satellite, that number jumped to 135Mbps.
It's also worth noting that the first three routers in that graph above -- Linksys Velop, the Arris SURFboard mAX and the Asus RT-AX92U, represented by blue, red and yellow, respectively -- all support Wi-Fi 6 (Eero doesn't). I didn't see much of a difference in their speeds until I ran those back bathroom tests. At that point, all three were notably faster than the rest of the field, which is likely because the router and satellite in each of those setups were able to use next-gen Wi-Fi 6 features to transmit data back and forth faster and more efficiently.
Those systems all cost between $400 and $700, mind you, but if you can hold out for a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system that fits your budget, then you can expect to see faster speeds at range. More systems like those are slated to arrive next year.
The last thing we look at in our performance tests is each system's respective signal strength. Rather than telling you how fast a router is, per se, signal strength gives you a visual sense of how strong your connection to the network will be at various distances. A good mesh system should literally blanket your home with a strong signal.
To test this, we head to the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home. There, we set each system up with routers and satellites in the same fixed locations and then test the signal strength using NetSpot software from dozens of spots throughout the home. The result is a handy heatmap -- yellow is great, green is good enough and blue is bad.
As that GIF above indicates, Eero's three-piece setup did a great job here, with barely any "blue zones" indicating a spot with a weak connection. The one slight spot of note is that cross-shaped room at the bottom of the basement map -- that's the Smart Home's bourbon room (yeah, we have a bourbon room), and it sits directly underneath the giant slab of cement that makes up the home's front porch. The connection in there was weak with two Eero units up and running upstairs, but placing the third device down in the basement took care of things just fine.
The other systems we've mapped out thus far -- Nest Wifi and the dual-band Netgear Orbi -- are both two-piece setups, so in addition to mapping out the full three-piece Eero setup, we made sure to make a two-piece Eero map, too. To my eye, it's right on par with Nest Wifi, but not as strong as the surprisingly impressive Netgear Orbi. At $129, it's the much better value if you only need a two-piece mesh setup, but the three-piece setup costs $229, which is only $20 less than Eero. For my money, Eero's worth the extra cash for its mesh reliability and superior app.
We'll be sure to test out three-piece Nest and Orbi setups in the coming months, and I'll update this space with those comparisons when that happens.
Eero was the first popularize a multi-point mesh Wi-Fi system, and it shows. The system boasts lots of polish with its easy-to-use app and its ultra-reliable mesh connections. It's a well-designed, well-thought-out system that you won't have to fuss over too much.
At $249 -- half the cost of its original three-piece system from just three years ago -- Eero is also more affordable than it ever has been before. That's because there's a lot more competition now. Shop around, and you might ultimately prefer the fancier Nest Wifi for high-end features like WPA3 security support, 4x4 MU-MIMO connections and the built-in Google Assistant speakers, none of which Eero can match. Or, if your home isn't too big, you might decide to save some money and go with the new dual-band Netgear Orbi, which costs just $129 for a two-pack. If you aren't in a rush, it might also be worthwhile to wait and see if 2020 brings us some less expensive Wi-Fi 6 mesh setups, as those should offer performance that's faster and more future-proofed.
But maybe your current router just isn't cutting it, and you just want something simple that can spread a reliable connection to all corners of your home. In that case, there's no need to overthink it here -- Eero is a very safe pick, and maybe even a terrific one, since you're getting three devices for less than Nest charges for two.