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Google Wifi Makes Wireless Internet At Home Suck Less

It’s an easy-to-use router replacement that eliminates Wi-Fi dead zones and works right out of the box.

Posted on December 6, 2016, at 9:01 a.m. ET

On the list of Things That Are Often Annoying, dealing with Wi-Fi definitely makes the top three. This year, several companies pledged their products would make Wi-Fi faster, more reliable, and easier to set up – and the latest is Alphabet’s Google Wifi, which starts shipping to customers through Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and the Google Store today. Three and a half years ago, an internal team at Google started what was known as “Project Kerouac,” an initiative to improve the at-home internet experience. The group surveyed hundreds of households to better understand what kinds of frustrations people had with their wireless connections. Google Wifi is their hardware solution. It’s not Google’s first router. OnHub, aimed at simplicity and created alongside TP-Link and Asus, was launched last year. But Google Wifi is the first networking product designed, marketed, and sold entirely by Google, without the input of a third-party partner. I’ve been reviewing Google Wifi in my one-ish–bedroom apartment for about a week. The router replacement made my bottom-tier internet subscription actually bearable — so far, I’ve experienced both better coverage and faster speeds.Google Wifi isn’t for network tinkerers who are comfortable with highly technical interfaces and prefer granular system controls. But it *is* a great option for those who live in a space with Wi-Fi dead zones or want a low-maintenance router that works right out of the box.
BuzzFeed News; Google

On the list of Things That Are Often Annoying, dealing with Wi-Fi definitely makes the top three. This year, several companies pledged their products would make Wi-Fi faster, more reliable, and easier to set up – and the latest is Alphabet’s Google Wifi, which starts shipping to customers through Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and the Google Store today.

Three and a half years ago, an internal team at Google started what was known as “Project Kerouac,” an initiative to improve the at-home internet experience. The group surveyed hundreds of households to better understand what kinds of frustrations people had with their wireless connections. Google Wifi is their hardware solution.

It’s not Google’s first router. OnHub, aimed at simplicity and created alongside TP-Link and Asus, was launched last year. But Google Wifi is the first networking product designed, marketed, and sold entirely by Google, without the input of a third-party partner.

I’ve been reviewing Google Wifi in my one-ish–bedroom apartment for about a week. The router replacement made my bottom-tier internet subscription actually bearable — so far, I’ve experienced both better coverage and faster speeds.

Google Wifi isn’t for network tinkerers who are comfortable with highly technical interfaces and prefer granular system controls. But it *is* a great option for those who live in a space with Wi-Fi dead zones or want a low-maintenance router that works right out of the box.

What the heck is a mesh network?

Google Wifi, which is sold as a one-pack ($129) or a three-pack ($299), works best as a group. One device is sufficient for smaller, open spaces between 500 and 1,500 square feet, but having multiple devices is ideal for larger homes (between 1,500 and 4,500 sq. ft.) or narrow apartments. When you set up more than one device, Google Wifi creates what’s called a “mesh network,” which, for a lot of people, means better, faster wireless internet.Here’s how it works. Most homes have a single router. Physical obstructions, like walls or large furniture, often interfere with the signals a router emits and signal strength also fades over long distances. But in a mesh network, multiple routers placed around your home work as a sort of relay team that bounces internet from one access point to the next, improving Wi-Fi everywhere, not just the area by the router.A mesh network allows a strong connection to travel farther than a typical single-router system. If you buy a single Google Wifi, you’ll miss out on the mesh network experience, but you’ll still benefit from the device’s network automation features. People usually rely on range extenders (such as this one) to bring Wi-Fi access to hard-to-reach areas, but these often halve internet speeds and, because they create two separate Wi-Fi networks, aren’t effective for moving from one space to the next. Products like Eero, Luma and, now, Google Wifi are bringing mesh networking, a technology typically managed by a fleet of IT professionals in large spaces like airports, to normal humans like you and me.
Google / Via blog.google

Google Wifi, which is sold as a one-pack ($129) or a three-pack ($299), works best as a group. One device is sufficient for smaller, open spaces between 500 and 1,500 square feet, but having multiple devices is ideal for larger homes (between 1,500 and 4,500 sq. ft.) or narrow apartments. When you set up more than one device, Google Wifi creates what’s called a “mesh network,” which, for a lot of people, means better, faster wireless internet.

Here’s how it works. Most homes have a single router. Physical obstructions, like walls or large furniture, often interfere with the signals a router emits and signal strength also fades over long distances. But in a mesh network, multiple routers placed around your home work as a sort of relay team that bounces internet from one access point to the next, improving Wi-Fi everywhere, not just the area by the router.

A mesh network allows a strong connection to travel farther than a typical single-router system. If you buy a single Google Wifi, you’ll miss out on the mesh network experience, but you’ll still benefit from the device’s network automation features.

People usually rely on range extenders (such as this one) to bring Wi-Fi access to hard-to-reach areas, but these often halve internet speeds and, because they create two separate Wi-Fi networks, aren’t effective for moving from one space to the next.

Products like Eero, Luma and, now, Google Wifi are bringing mesh networking, a technology typically managed by a fleet of IT professionals in large spaces like airports, to normal humans like you and me.

Google Wifi doesn't look like a traditional black router.

Each Google Wifi device is small enough to fit in your hand. It doesn’t have a row of flashing icons down its side or unsightly antennas poking out the back. Instead, Google Wifi has a sleek, all-white body, save for a glowing, Tron-esque light strip down the middle. Its look and feel is very similar to that of Google Home, the company’s voice-activated smart speaker. While Google Wifi doesn’t work directly with Home, users will be able to use the IFTTT recipes designed for Google’s older OnHub routers*, to connect the two devices.By giving Google Wifi devices an elegant design, Google hopes that users will keep them out in the open, which alone can improve Wi-Fi performance.*Customers with existing OnHub devices will receive an over-the-air update that adds mesh networking technology to their routers, too. But they’ll need at least one Google Wifi device to create a mesh network.
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Each Google Wifi device is small enough to fit in your hand. It doesn’t have a row of flashing icons down its side or unsightly antennas poking out the back. Instead, Google Wifi has a sleek, all-white body, save for a glowing, Tron-esque light strip down the middle.

Its look and feel is very similar to that of Google Home, the company’s voice-activated smart speaker. While Google Wifi doesn’t work directly with Home, users will be able to use the IFTTT recipes designed for Google’s older OnHub routers*, to connect the two devices.

By giving Google Wifi devices an elegant design, Google hopes that users will keep them out in the open, which alone can improve Wi-Fi performance.

*Customers with existing OnHub devices will receive an over-the-air update that adds mesh networking technology to their routers, too. But they’ll need at least one Google Wifi device to create a mesh network.

Google Wifi is easy to set up.

Installing and maintaining Google Wifi is simple. Out of the box there are two cables (one USB-C power cable and one ethernet cable), the router itself, and a power plug. It’s a pretty simple order of operation. The Google Wifi app (available for both iOS and Android) walks you through setup, step by step. Getting two devices up and running took less than 10 minutes, and it was completely painless.
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Installing and maintaining Google Wifi is simple. Out of the box there are two cables (one USB-C power cable and one ethernet cable), the router itself, and a power plug. It’s a pretty simple order of operation. The Google Wifi app (available for both iOS and Android) walks you through setup, step by step. Getting two devices up and running took less than 10 minutes, and it was completely painless.

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Maintaining the router is easy, too.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Because of the nature of my job, I am often the de-facto tech support person to family and friends. Routers are one of the devices I dread most. I do a great job pretending to know what I’m talking about and just turning the thing on and off until it starts working again.

Google Wifi does a great job at demystifying internet issues, and doing a lot of heavy lifting that would have previously required a strong technical background.

Channel selection, for example, is essential to Wi-Fi performance. Think of each channel as a highway lane. All of your devices and surrounding routers create traffic in those lanes. Google Wifi figures out which channel is the least congested, and switches wireless channels for you (here’s more on WTF a channel is). It also uses machine learning to automatically steer from band to band based on where you are.

Best of all, if you have no idea what any of that means, it doesn’t matter! All of that optimization happens in the background.

The Google Wifi app is easy to understand right away, and you can use it do all of your Wi-Fi management, from setting up a guest network to seeing what devices are online. From your phone, you can change the network name and password. You can also check internet speeds, the quality of the mesh connection between points, and the Wi-Fi strength to a particular device right from the app. And when the internet is down, you’ll get a push notification on the phone and the app will make a suggestion to help you troubleshoot the issue.

Two killer features are device priority and the ability to adjust the device’s light brightness.

Google Wifi has a few features that neither of its main competitors, Eero or Luma, offer. You can set a “Priority Device” on the app, which will show you a list of all devices currently connected to the network. From the list, simply tap on a device to direct the majority of your home’s Wi-Fi traffic to the laptop you’re streaming Netflix on, for example. This feature is especially useful if you share a network with multiple devices. You can also give app access to additional managers (roommate, spouse, etc.), which Luma and Eero don’t allow right now. Managers can override each other’s Priority Devices, so settle that before you select.The ability to turn down the router’s light brightness is something I was personally thankful for, since one of the Google Wifi routers I set up was right by my bedroom. Eero also allows you to turn down system lights. Luma, on the other hand, shows no lights at all. And there are user-friendly settings like Family Wi-Fi, through which a manager can pause internet access for any device connected to the Wi-Fi network. If you run into any trouble, you can also contact the Google Wifi support number or email address directly from the app.
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

Google Wifi has a few features that neither of its main competitors, Eero or Luma, offer. You can set a “Priority Device” on the app, which will show you a list of all devices currently connected to the network. From the list, simply tap on a device to direct the majority of your home’s Wi-Fi traffic to the laptop you’re streaming Netflix on, for example. This feature is especially useful if you share a network with multiple devices. You can also give app access to additional managers (roommate, spouse, etc.), which Luma and Eero don’t allow right now. Managers can override each other’s Priority Devices, so settle that before you select.

The ability to turn down the router’s light brightness is something I was personally thankful for, since one of the Google Wifi routers I set up was right by my bedroom. Eero also allows you to turn down system lights. Luma, on the other hand, shows no lights at all.

And there are user-friendly settings like Family Wi-Fi, through which a manager can pause internet access for any device connected to the Wi-Fi network. If you run into any trouble, you can also contact the Google Wifi support number or email address directly from the app.

My internet was so much faster after setting up Google Wifi.

I have terrible internet at home. Like, a bottom-of-the-barrel, super cheap “Performance 25 Internet” plan from Comcast (that’s 25 mbps max speed). My roommate/boyfriend and I also, admittedly, connect way too many mobile devices to the internet. We’re talking two Kindles, two phones, two laptops, a smart speaker, a Chromecast Audio – all crammed into one 420 sq. ft. apartment.

On top of all those connected gadgets, the apartment is narrow. There's a slim hallway between the living room and kitchen, and a chest-high wall that separates the living room from the bed area. The lack of open space makes the apartment a Wi-Fi nightmare, and we’ve done a ton of finagling to get the router and its antennas in exactly the right place.

My personal router is a glossy, black mammoth called the TP-Link Archer C7, which got amazing reviews from sites like The Wirecutter and PC Mag and costs $90. But my internet speeds are very dependent on what time of day it is. On weekday evenings, the worst time to be online, I’ll get about 6 megabytes per second for both uploads and downloads. On the weekends, the least congested time, I’ll get 27 mbps down and 6 mbps up if I’m close to the router.In human words, ~27 to 29 mbps is usually fast enough to stream high-definition 4k video from a site like YouTube or Netflix, but it’s still pretty average in terms of how fast home internet can be. Comcast offers up to 200 mbps.
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

My personal router is a glossy, black mammoth called the TP-Link Archer C7, which got amazing reviews from sites like The Wirecutter and PC Mag and costs $90. But my internet speeds are very dependent on what time of day it is. On weekday evenings, the worst time to be online, I’ll get about 6 megabytes per second for both uploads and downloads. On the weekends, the least congested time, I’ll get 27 mbps down and 6 mbps up if I’m close to the router.

In human words, ~27 to 29 mbps is usually fast enough to stream high-definition 4k video from a site like YouTube or Netflix, but it’s still pretty average in terms of how fast home internet can be. Comcast offers up to 200 mbps.

Google Wifi made my internet much more bearable. Between Google Wifi and my TP-Link, speeds close to the router were essentially the same, but the area farthest from the source, the far right corner of my patio, saw the biggest improvement. With Google Wifi, I got 30.06 mbps down, and 6.27 mbps up on my mobile device. For comparison, while connected to my TP-Link router, I only got 1.88 mbps down and 4.32 mbps up from the same spot.Google Wifi improved another infamous dead zone: my bedroom. It delivered 30.08 mbps down and 6.12 mbps up, in comparison with the 15.11 mbps down and 6.14 mbps up that the TP-Link router was capable of. I walked down a flight of stairs to the laundry room level and was still getting fantastic speeds (30.01 mbps down, 5.73 mbps up). Even down two more flights of stairs, on the street level, I was getting decent streaming speeds (21.50 mbps down and 6.24 mbps up).Many users boasted increased speeds with Eero as well — but in my testing, I actually received worse performance (like this user), which may be because the device is more optimized for larger homes and much faster connections.
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Google Wifi made my internet much more bearable. Between Google Wifi and my TP-Link, speeds close to the router were essentially the same, but the area farthest from the source, the far right corner of my patio, saw the biggest improvement. With Google Wifi, I got 30.06 mbps down, and 6.27 mbps up on my mobile device. For comparison, while connected to my TP-Link router, I only got 1.88 mbps down and 4.32 mbps up from the same spot.

Google Wifi improved another infamous dead zone: my bedroom. It delivered 30.08 mbps down and 6.12 mbps up, in comparison with the 15.11 mbps down and 6.14 mbps up that the TP-Link router was capable of.

I walked down a flight of stairs to the laundry room level and was still getting fantastic speeds (30.01 mbps down, 5.73 mbps up). Even down two more flights of stairs, on the street level, I was getting decent streaming speeds (21.50 mbps down and 6.24 mbps up).

Many users boasted increased speeds with Eero as well — but in my testing, I actually received worse performance (like this user), which may be because the device is more optimized for larger homes and much faster connections.

Final Thoughts

If you, like me, have a cheap, entry-level internet connection, live in a small space, and value products with interfaces that are easy to use and understand, then Google Wifi is a great way to make your home internet suck less.In my testing, Google Wifi improved coverage and unlocked faster speeds. It also delivered more consistent performance than other mesh networking kits I’ve tried, but that’s something I’ll need more time to fully evaluate. At $129 for one and $299 for three, Google Wifi is also cheaper than most of the mesh networking competition. Netgear Orbi ($380 for two), Luma ($149 for one, $299 for three), and Eero ($199 for one, $499 for three) are all more expensive. The combination of impressive coverage, performance, and affordability makes Google Wifi my router pick for now. But if you don’t need an immediate solution, it may be worth waiting for the mesh networking kits on the horizon, including Plume, the first “self-optimizing Wi-Fi” and Amped Ally, which provides a number of content-control options for parents.
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

If you, like me, have a cheap, entry-level internet connection, live in a small space, and value products with interfaces that are easy to use and understand, then Google Wifi is a great way to make your home internet suck less.

In my testing, Google Wifi improved coverage and unlocked faster speeds. It also delivered more consistent performance than other mesh networking kits I’ve tried, but that’s something I’ll need more time to fully evaluate. At $129 for one and $299 for three, Google Wifi is also cheaper than most of the mesh networking competition. Netgear Orbi ($380 for two), Luma ($149 for one, $299 for three), and Eero ($199 for one, $499 for three) are all more expensive.

The combination of impressive coverage, performance, and affordability makes Google Wifi my router pick for now. But if you don’t need an immediate solution, it may be worth waiting for the mesh networking kits on the horizon, including Plume, the first “self-optimizing Wi-Fi” and Amped Ally, which provides a number of content-control options for parents.

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