If you want to extend fast internet to every corner of your home, the Google Wifi is the best device to do it. You just need two things:
- An internet-connected iOS or Android mobile device, like a phone or a tablet
- A Google account, which you can get for free
This is because, unlike most routers, there's no web-based interface and the new Wi-Fi system can only be set up and controlled via the new Google Wifi mobile application. Once set up, the Google Wifi will stay connected to Google at all times and will log into your Google account each time you want to manage it.
Google says the Wifi doesn't collect user activity data, like what sites you're visiting. By default, it appears to collect only hardware-, app- and network-related information. However, you can turn this off in the Privacy section of the settings.
Still, a constant connection to Google is required. That's a dealbreaker for some. Not all home mesh Wi-Fi systems, which use several "satellite" devices to extend the Wi-Fi signal, require a connection to the vendor in order to work -- the Eero does while the Netgear Orbi doesn't. Most home routers don't require this at all.
But that's not something most people will care about, plus it will keep the device secure from hacking via regular automatic updates. So if you're cool with this setup, Google Wifi has the best balance of ease-of-use, performance and price yet.
What I love about Google Wifi
The price: At just $129 for a single unit or $299 for a set of three, the Google Wifi is cheaper than other Wi-Fi systems like the Eero or Orbi. (Google hasn't said whether the Wifi will go on sale in the UK or Australia, but those prices convert to around £100 or AU$170 and £235 or AU$400.)
It's really easy to use: It took me about 15 minutes to set up all three units using an Android phone. The whole process was self-explanatory, and dare I say, fun.
And fast. In terms of data throughput it tested well for a dual-stream AC1200 router, with a top sustained Wi-Fi speed of more than 470 megabits per second.
The nature of Wi-Fi, however, means that each time you extend the signal wirelessly, signal loss will occur, which basically means slower speed. You can mitigate this by placing the satellite units around the first router unit. To avoid this completely you can connect the units together using network cables.
Coverage and reliability is great: As a single unit or as a system of three units, the Google Wifi passed my 48-hour stress test with flying colors. During the test I set it to transfer lots of data between multiple wireless clients (four laptops in this case). The Wifi did this without any disconnections. The system also had excellent signal hand off, allowing you to walk around your house, seamlessly connecting from one unit to another without getting disconnected from the internet. I tried this while making a call over Wi-Fi and the conversation wasn't affected at all.
Google claims the system is constantly analyzing the air space to figure out the cleanest channel and the best Wi-Fi band (5GHz or 2.4GHz) for a client to connect to. I used it in a home with many other routers and the Google Wifi network remained stable, which definitely adds credence to its claim.
OK, so how exactly does this work?
In many ways the Google Wifi is the evolution of the company's previous home routers, the OnHubs. The difference with the Wifi is that instead of just a single unit, you can have up to three. Each hardware unit is called a Wifi point. If you get a single unit, you have just one point, which can cover about 1,200 square feet, which is suitable for a small home or average-sized apartment. More points (up to six) scattered around the house will increase the area of coverage accordingly. A set of three units can easily cover a 4,000 square-foot or even larger home.
All Google Wifi units are identical. When multiple units are used in a home, the first unit works as the main router that connects to an internet source, like a broadband modem. The additional units extend the Wi-Fi coverage to create a single Wi-Fi mesh network. Depending on the layout of your home, you can put the Wifi points one or two rooms away from one another to maximize the Wi-Fi coverage. The Google Wifi app can help determine the best location by measuring the connection between units.
The app displays your entire home network in an easy to understand layout. You can use it to visualize your entire home network, quickly prioritize the broadband connection to any particular device, and pause the internet to one or a group of devices. You can also use it to find out which Wifi point a particular client is connected to and customize a few network settings that the Google Wifi has to offer, including guest network, IP reservation and port forwarding. Everything can be done via a few taps on your phone's screen. Google says it will continue to update the Wifi with more features, such as voice control (via your phone, Google Home and Amazon Alexa) and support for other appliances, like the Nest thermostat. Be sure to check back to find out how these features pan out.
So yes, Google Wifi has a lot to love. It delivers both in ease of use and Wi-Fi coverage. It has great performance, too. And there's more: If you already own one of the Google OnHubs, starting today, it will be automatically updated to be part of the Wifi ecosystem, and use the same Google Wifi app. This means, apart from being a standalone router like it has always been, any OnHub can also work as a Wifi point, the same as a unit of Google Wifi.
Ideal use case
Before you decide to get the Google Wifi, make sure your current internet setup is ready for it. Ideally you'll want it as the sole router in the house, directly connected to your broadband modem.
If you already have a router, remove it and use the Google Wifi in its place. If you have a combo box -- one that includes both a modem and a Wi-Fi router in a single package -- provided by your service provider, you should first return that box and get just a modem.
While you can connect the Google Wifi to an existing router and share the internet that way, certain advanced features, such as port-forwarding, won't work. Also in this case, devices connected to the network of the original router and those connected to the Wifi will not be able to communicate with each other -- you might not be able to beam your phone screen to an Apple TV or a Chromecast, for instance -- so make sure all of your devices are connected to Google Wifi.
You can also use Google Wifi in bridge mode, allowing devices connected to it to be part of the existing network. However, in this case, all of the features that make it cool and unique would be disabled.
A word of warning to advanced users
If you typically break out in hives at the thought of setting up a router, skip this section. This one's for those who feel at home with terms like "port forwarding" and "DDNS."
That said, Google Wifi has two major shortcomings that make it less than suitable for advanced, savvy users.
First is signal loss. Wirelessly extending a Wi-Fi signal always results in some 50 percent signal loss because the extender has to do two jobs at once: receiving the Wi-Fi signal from the original router and rebroadcasting.
That said, if you use two units of the Google Wifi, devices connect to the satellite unit will need twice the amount of time compared with those connected to the main router unit to receive the same amount of data. And if you use three units, this could get even worse.
If you just want to use the internet, the signal loss won't matter much since Wi-Fi is so much faster than most residential broadband connections (if your internet speed is faster than 200Mbps, and you want to use that at full speed, you definitely don't want to use the Google Wifi or any wireless Wi-Fi systems). However, if you want to do heavy local tasks, such as backing up your Mac to a Time Machine server, or transfer a large file from one computer to another, the Wifi isn't the best choice.
The second shortcoming is the frustrating lack of customization and features. You can't do as much with the Wifi as you can with a regular router. To name a few, there's no MAC filtering, content filtering, or even support for Dynamic DNS (DDNS) which would allow you to map your internet address to an easy-to-remember name. DDNS is a must if you want to run any kind of online service at home, such as a VPN server or remote desktop. I couldn't even change the router's default IP address to match my existing network's IP pool. Basically, if you enjoy doing deep network setting customization on your routers, prepare to be frustrated by the simple but shallow options the Wifi has.
Also, the Wifi has just one LAN port. This means if you want to add more wired clients to your home, you will definitely need to get a switch.
Should you buy it?
Thanks to the price alone, it's easy to recommend the Google Wifi over other home mesh systems. That said you should definitely get it if:
- Your internet speed is slower than 250Mbps, and most residential connections are slower than half of that (here's how to find out your true internet speed)
- You have a large home (up to 5,000 square feet) and want to easily bring internet to every corner
- You don't want to deal with setting up a network or trying to understand weird networking terms
- You're only planning to stream movies and do other normal everyday internet stuff
Don't get Google Wifi if:
- You want to deeply customize your home network
- You have ultrafast internet speed (200Mbps or faster) or need fast local network speed (in this case, due to signal loss you might not get your full internet speed at far corners)
- You don't want your home network to be connected to Google at all times
- You have a lot of wired clients (servers, desktop computers and so on)
If you fall into the second category, consider something else, such as the Netgear Orbi, which will give you both speed and customization, albeit at a higher price, or a regular router like the Asus RT-AC88U, which will also give you more network ports.