Google OnHub router: A second opinion

Google OnHub
Google OnHub (Image credit: Android Central)

The importance of simplicity cannot be overstated. It's the reason GUI-based Windows 95 was exponentially more popular than command line-based DOS, and why the confusion of early PDA operating systems were subsumed by the confluence of capacitive screens and apps.

In the smart home space, a similar trend has been taking hold, popularized by the powerful simplification of the thermostat through Nest. The home router, too, has been awaiting a similar disruptive force, which we got last summer in the form of Google's OnHub platform, a series of products from TP-Link and Asus that reduce the typically-frustrating workflow of maintaining a router to "download-and-plug-in".

Of course, the above intro is facetious, but there is truth to it: a router is the central nervous system of a home network, and a misbehaving box in the corner can be a constant source of frustration. From buffering streams to dropped Skype calls to interrupted FaceTime sessions, I was desperate for something that just worked. I spent dozens of hours with different routers, loading new software, custom firmware, and more. Eventually, I pegged the problem at the source: my Hitron modem, which is known for poor handoff with routers. But after replacing the Hitron and seeing no relief, my options were thus: change ISPs (and risk the same thing happening again), or try to find a router that would work harmoniously with the demon box. I chose the latter, which led me to OnHub.

After spending years with routers that would require daily reboots, or a monk-like commitment to maintenance, transitioning to an Asus OnHub (opens in new tab) router was nothing short of breathtaking.

A nice Camry

I've tried routers from D-Link, Linksys, Netgear and TP-Link — even Asus — and none of them have been as consistently reliable as the OnHub. While the latter doesn't boast the ultra-powerful tri-antenna compositions of many of its competitors, like a dependable four-door sedan (with a sunroof) it gets the job done, day after day. Would you rather have broken-down Boxster that can't go anywhere over a brand new Camry? Call me old, but I don't think I would.

Don't get me wrong, OnHub is fast: it supports the latest Wireless-AC standard, with 13 antennas for MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) for speeds of up to 1900Mbps, and wonderful whole-home coverage. Even with the aforementioned beastly routers from companies like Netgear and Linksys I was never able to get a reliable signal in my bedroom, two stories above the box. I even tried repeaters, but they too would peter out after a few days, requiring a reset of the entire system — the more links in the chain, the easier it is to break.

Indeed, my ISP gives me 100 megabits down and 10 megabits up, which the OnHub maxes out in all but the farthest reaches of my house. Even in that bedroom my Galaxy S7 gets 25 megabits down and seven or eight megabits up, more than adequate for all but the most onerous of video streams.

The app just works

The OnHub is administered through an app, available on iOS or Android, that just works. It's ultra-simple, perhaps to a fault, but it gets the job done.

One of my favorite things about it is that it maintains a single access point for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz signals, offering the most appropriate one depending on a number of circumstances, including signal quality and potential throughput. Most routers divide their SSIDs between those two networks, forcing devices to cycle between them.

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, those two networks are not always transparent to peripherals; on my Linksys router, I often had to manual revert back to my 2.4Ghz AP because an AirPlay speaker here or connected light there wasn't compatible with 5Ghz. With OnHub, that experience is invisible to the user.

The app experience makes administration particularly easy. Guests to my home have a separate network, the password of which is generated by and can be shared from my smartphone. Features like NAT control, and enabling DHCP, are not entirely hidden from the user, but Google wisely deemphasizes them in favor of a cleaner, more approachable user experience.

Instead, the app lets you do what's necessary to ensure enjoyment; a network map shows the devices connected, along with the option to prioritize a particular one to ensure smooth streaming performance — helpful when up to 30 phones, tablets, laptops, wearables, and smart home accessories are connected at once.

Unspoken potential

For all of its benefits as a router, Google has a nascent connected home platform in OnHub. Not only does the router have an LED light and a speaker, but its USB port can interface with any number of unannounced accessories. As promised with Google Home, OnHub could be included as part of Google's Trojan Horse strategy in the living room, something that Amazon is seeing so much success with in the Echo.

A connected home is a happy home

Most people don't realize how many devices connect to their network. Even as someone who does what I do I was surprised to see 29 active devices, each requiring cycles of bandwidth at different times. That the OnHub obviates the need to constantly oversee the process is not only appreciated, but worth the $199 or so investment.

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

53 Comments
  • Whenever the OnHub is discussed, it seems like there's a lot of throat-clearing over it's untapped potential as a smart home hub. And maybe that's fair. But for my money, I've spent years of buying new routers, hoping that they solve my home networking problems, eliminate deadspots, etc. I could potentially have bought a more powerful pro-sumer router, but I don't know that it would have been any cheaper, and the OnHub is certainly the simplest and most attractive, and it picks up novel new features every couple of months that are actually easy to configure/use. I've been very happy with it just as a router.
  • When we moved to a house I decided to use my own equipment, a Motorola Surfboard Modem/Router combo. The modem portion worked great - I was able to verify that my provider was pushing 100 megabits to the modem, but I couldn't get a reliable connection one room over. We tried range extenders and various settings.
    Finally I returned the extenders and threw the Surfboard into bridge mode and bought the TP-Link version of the onhub. The thing has been AMAZING. Now we get 100 megabits in every room and I can pick up our wifi outside.
  • Same experience here. I wanted to get a sexier router, one with taller antennas and a more robust GUI, but really a dual core 1.4ghz cpu, 4gb of memory, and 13 antennas, along with a constantly adjusting channel bandwidth...has been steady and strong.
    I have between 13-17 devices always on, and the bandwidth history per device is awesome and very telling! Posted via the Android Central App
  • You guys must have really bad luck with routers. I have had two routers in the last 10 or 12 years I think and the only reason I got rid of the first was because my internet became too fast for it. They were both plug and play and never had any issues. One was the legendary WRT54G and the other is an Asus AC1900 or something.
  • It's true you don't know what you don't know.
  • I think most people buy routers based on how cool the box they come in looks. Another thing that kills people is brand loyalty. Just because the last router you had was made by X company doesn't mean the next one you buy from them is going to be any good. If you do a little research before purchasing you can easily find a router that will do what you want without breaking for cheaper than an OnHub. Plus you get a built in switch.
  • Agreed. We've had the same Linksys router for at least 10 years, never had a single issue. Posted via the Android Central App
  • In terms of longevity and value for the price, that WRT54G is one of the best consumer tech products of all time.
  • Mine is still in use!
  • My WRT54G was a BEAST! LOVED IT! It lasted over 10-15 years and finally bit the dust. Went with the Netgear (something or other, best at the time N router) and the signal is so-so. I finally just bought a Netgear extender and it seems to be doing the job quite well. MY next router might actually be the next version of the Google OnHub as it will be a few more years before I need another router.
  • Pardon my ignorance but I have been considering getting rid of the horrible xFinity home gateway that I currently have and after reading several great reviews for the OnHub I'm very interested. Just so I understand, this is just a router, right? If I were to get rid of the xfinity box I would need to get a modem in addition to the OnHub? If anyone has any suggestions I would appreciate hearing them. Thanks
  • That's correct. Modem and then the OnHub.
  • We use this guy and get the 100 down 15 up we pay for. Not using an OnHub but it has been a good modem. http://www.amazon.com/SURFboard-SB6121-DOCSIS-Retail-Packaging/dp/B00AJH...
  • Many thanks. I appreciate it
  • I have the same modem and use it with the OnHub. The modem paid for itself in 5 months by not having to pay Xfinity for their less than reliable modem/router combo.
  • Me too, with a TP-Link AC7 (I think - it's been a couple of years on the router). The modem is rock solid. OnHub is really tempting, but I'd still have to route through another router - I've still got a lot of cables running to things (plus the external drive that feeds my Plex server).
  • That's a good modem but it's not a router. The OnHub is a router. Most modems are not routers.
  • I dunno anything about the xfinity gateway (I presume it's something provided by an American cable company) but it might be worth looking at the settings to see if it has modem mode. If it does it'll basically turn the router off and convert the first LAN port into a WAN port so you can use whatever router you want. It's best to assume I'm being sarcastic. if I'm ever serious I'll type "/s" to make it clear.
  • So let me get this straight, you were having issues with your home wifi and considered changing ISPs because of it? That isn't how that works, not at all. Posted via the Android Central App
  • In my particular case, Rogers (my ISP) doesn't allow you to change modems, so I would either be stuck with their terrible Hitron modem or be forced to seek out alternatives. Thankfully, the OnHub solved that problem.
  • Big fan of my onhub as well. I tried all of the top rated $100-200 routers over the 24 months prior to buying my onhub, all with some problems. All i need is a very simple setup; rock solid wifi and a few devices on ethernet. Onhub has enabled me to stop thinking about my network at all.
  • I was really hoping the "Google home" speaker would be combined with this. I would be very happy to have that combo in my home Posted via the Android Central App
  • If the Google Home speaker sells well, I'm sure we'll see a combo product in a year or so.
  • Wish it had VPN support.
  • Any thoughts on the pros and cons to the TPLink vs the Asus models? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Looks light slight variation between the two. Head to the link below and scroll to bottom. The former has one of the 13 antennas beam Wi-Fi in a particular direction to help with range. The later with the wave of a hand can help give preferred treatment to one device if multiple devices are using the internet.
  • Quote from a Google employee who works on the OnHub team: "As for the devices themselves, the biggest functional difference is that the TP-Link OnHub has a directional antenna reflector that extends range in one main direction while the ASUS OnHub introduces gesture controls for setting a priority device.
    The underlying Wi-Fi radios in both are the same as are the CPU, memory and software stack. The antennas themselves were designed using different techniques, but both include a switching element that helps with MIMO diversity at the edge of the band. The ASUS antennas are made of stamped metal whereas the TP-Link antennas (most of them at least) are PCB antennas. Generally stamped metal works marginally better than PCB, but for the size of the space you're dealing with it should work quite well.
    I use the TP-Link OnHub in my house, mainly because I like the way it looks better :)" In benchmarks, the Asus performs a bit better according to this site: http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/wireless/wireless-reviews/32889-asus-goog...
  • As far as reliability is concerned, Camry wins it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I agree the router looks great. Asus routers are fantastic. I have a AC-68u, running Merlin firmware. At times over 30 devices connected, I literally have never had a issue. The range is incredible. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I've looked at some of the reviews on Amazon and people complain that the range isn't that good. I am interested in the OnHub router but I don't want to be disappointed if I can't get it to work at a certain distance in my home.
  • You need a router with external radial antennas. The OnHub has built-in directional antennas, which are never going to give you the range and coverage of the externals.
  • For the TP-Link or Asus? I looked at reviews for the Asus OnHub before buying it a few days ago and most reviews on Amazon and Best Buy said the range was the best they had ever had.
  • Great and everything... With one caveat... You have to live in the USA, I'm sure the Google home stuff will be the same, it's the biggest mistake Google constantly makes, and apple (to my annoyance gets right) multiple territory launch, even Canadians get shunned, and as for the UK, we almost get forgotten for most stuff, even though tech adoption for most things is much higher here (Android pay for example, pretty much highest usage of contact less card systems around! And only just got the launch) Posted via the Android Central App
  • I believe you are wrong. Mr. Bader, the author, is Canadian. He mentioned he's on Rogers. Posted via the Android Central App with a Nexus 6
  • I didn't necessarily mean that this product was unavailable in Canada, just that most Google products aren't (I'm not Canadian, I'm from UK) just annoys me how USA centric Google can be, drop products into USA whether that's the right territory to pioneer the project or not (take pay for example, most Americans don't even know what chip/pin is let alone use contact less etc) and would have been a lot better tested in Europe /UK where the required shop technology is already very widely installed and used. On Hub is something that could easily be used outside of North America but isn't, why? All that's needed for wireless approval is the right channels to be enabled/disabled depending on territory. Just annoys me a bit, I love Google and all, just it winds me up that Apple (who I don't really jell with and never have) seem to get product launches so much better and better thought out. Hey now we have pay in the UK at least, perhaps Google might start launching products here too. Google aren't the only ones though I know (Amazon Alexa stuff ain't here either, and we both speak the same language) so, hey I suppose I'm just moaning.... ;) Posted via the Android Central App
  • Why on earth would anyone want poor, enclosed DIRECTIONAL antennae over something good like an Asus RT-AC68R? External radial antennae are always a better bet, and the 68R can be had for less money. You can get the AC87U for the same price, and have a much better, more future-proof router without the built-in data miner. If you absolutely need your router to be consuming electricity doing things other than routing your network traffic like the OnHub does, buy some Bitcoin ASICs and plug into the Gigabit ports on the 87U. At least the router will be paying you, instead of you paying Google to use their overpriced router.
  • Really? Because in range and performance benchmarks the Asus OnHub nearly matches the Asus R7000 Nighthawk, which is better than both of the routers you mentioned. http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/wireless/wireless-reviews/32889-asus-goog... Also, I think you missed the whole point of the article. OnHub is great for the simplicity and reliability. The very first review on Amazon for your AC87U is titled "5ghz Drops - Connectivity Issues - Buggy Firmware and GUI". The first review for the AC68R says "I do IT for a living and until I received the newer firmware this was a nightmare." THOSE reviews are the exact reasons people want OnHub. Some people are of the opinion that simplicity and reliability trump a beefed up spec sheet and buggy, complicated software any day.
  • This product isn't for me, because I have a couple of devices in my entertainment center that I want to have connected via ethernet cable rather than wifi. I love the idea that someone other than Apple is making an access point that looks nice enough that you don't want to hide it, though.
  • a switch?
  • And boom, the point of the OnHub is defeated. It's really for people who only use Wi-Fi as far as I can tell, no fuss and all that... If you start adding hardware to build out your network you may as well have just bought a "better" router. It's best to assume I'm being sarcastic. if I'm ever serious I'll type "/s" to make it clear.
  • And boom, the point of the OnHub is not to exclusively use wifi. Fast, simple wifi is a feature of the product, but there's an ethernet port for a reason.
  • I stand by my point of view, it seems good at what it is, but it looks as though you're mostly paying for convenience. If you want a more robust network, you're better off starting with a more robust router. It's best to assume I'm being sarcastic. if I'm ever serious I'll type "/s" to make it clear.
  • It's kind of Apple-ish, I think. You get a product that is slightly limited in scope but performs the functions it has extremely well and very easily, and you're paying a bit of a premium for high quality design. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Here's a third opinion: http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2015/08/google-onhub-review-googles-smart...
  • https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2Flink... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Everyone that knocks the router forgets what is best about it, but could actually happen to other brands if they spent any money on their software...the router is controlled by an app, easy to setup.
    Even easier that the Apple routers I used to recommend.
    Simplicity is essential to average users, not the power users... Posted via the Android Central App
  • So I have a basic internet only with Time Warner Cable... 20mbps download and 2mbps upload (or something like that). I have my own modem and router and speed tests via speedtest.net show me ussually pretty close to 18-20 mbps down. Would OnHub boost me over 20mbps down somehow?
  • No. You will still be limited to the speed cap of your ISP.
  • FYI the Asus OnHub router is on sale right now at B&H for $150, free shipping. Posted via the Android Central App
  • "I was never able to get a reliable signal in my bedroom, two stories above the box."
    This is an unreasonable expectation of any WAP. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I recommended the Asus OnHub router for my folks...and I'm very happy I did. Everything just works, and works fast! They set it up themselves, and have gone so far as to recommend it to other non tech savvy friends who need a router upgrade. My previous not particularly tech savvy family member router recommendation was for the Asus RT-AC68P...and it's been very good, but it is not as simple to setup (aka I had to set it up)...and one of the firmware versions was kinda slow...and it doesn't reliably auto update. Fortunately, it's been great since then. But if the OnHub was available then, it would have been my choice. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I found it marked down at Wal-Mart to $99 Look like they did not update the website or maybe it is just store specific https://twitter.com/johnwfmak/status/734366053531328512
  • As a verizon customer, I really like to keep my VZ router as the "router" Especially since it offers Moca built in which I use. I really want to disable Vz's wifi and use boxes as my own wifi access points. Would this "router" work just as good as a network extender?