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Google Wifi review: A perfect mesh router for most people

Google Wifi
Google Wifi (Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Google's latest effort to step into your living room comes in the shape of a small puck.

Google Wifi claims to be just what you need to get Wi-Fi to all your devices, no matter how big your home might be. To do this, the company is using mesh networking technology — a cluster of small devices can all carry the same Wi-Fi signal and be extended seamlessly. Mesh networking, whether wireless or hard wired, used to be one of those things people with lots of letters after their name would set up for you, putting it out of reach of most consumers. But all that has changed and Google is the latest of a slew of companies offering inexpensive home mesh networking products.

Router vs Mesh Networking: What's best for your home Wi-Fi network?

Since Google isn't alone in this space — products like the Eero Home Wifi kit (opens in new tab) or the Amplifi HD home system are some serious competition — they'll need to do a great job at a competitive price point to be successful. We might accept quirks and bugs in out phone software, but nobody wants to get up and reset the Wi-Fi router. Ever.

Let's have a look at Google Wifi and see if it's something you need to consider buying.

The design: It looks good

Google Wifi three-pack

The unit itself is designed to not look horrible sitting somewhere it will be seen.

Google sent me a three-pack of Google Wifi units to test and review. You can buy a single Google Wifi, of course, but the three-pack is designed for folks with a bigger place (a single Google Wifi point covers up to 1,500 square feet and the three-pack will cover up to 4,500 sq. ft.) and you can save a few bucks and have everything you need to get started. You can add a network point to an existing setup if you find you need more coverage than one (or three) can provide.

The unit itself is designed to not look horrible sitting somewhere it will be seen. This is important because the network points work best when sitting in the open on a stand or table than they will in a closet. The units themselves are slightly more than four inches in diameter and about three inches tall (4.17 x 2.75 inches). They look a lot like a smoke detector, just a little taller. They're made of polycarbonate plastic and have a slightly textured finish for a matte look instead of a glossy look.

The sidewalls have a seam that almost circles the device, which acts as a window so you can see the LED ring that lets you know if things are on and running properly. The top and the sides are free of buttons, knobs and holes except for a power/reset button above the cutout for cords.

Overall it's fairly nondescript. Nobody will mistake it for an ashtray or coaster, but nobody will see an ugly Wi-Fi router, either. Again — these are designed to be set out in the open, in the places where you need Wi-Fi. If they looked like a Wi-Fi router, some folks wouldn't want them on the end table or the night stand.

Underneath is where everything happens. The unit itself sits on slightly raised rubber feet and the bottom has a recess for the things you need to plug in. You'll find three ports — a USB-C port for power and communications and two plugs for Ethernet cables. The USB-C port is properly wired so you could use a phone charger if you wanted to, but each Google Wifi point comes with its own 5-volt, 3-amp power supply.

The Ethernet ports are proper unkeyed 8P8C jacks, so any standard Ethernet cable will plug right in but devices using a "real" RJ45 connector (like an older VOIP/landline telephony unit) are keyed not to fit. Chances are none of us has any equipment with a proper RJ45 jack, but be warned if you do. Each individual unit or three-pack is supplied with a one-meter Ethernet cable, and no matter how many units you buy you will only ever need one.

Key specifications

  • AC1200 2x2 Wave 2 expandable mesh Wi-Fi
  • MU-MIMO dual-band (2.4GHz / 5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless support
  • 802.15.4 Zigbee TX/RX support
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE support
  • 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • WPA2-PSK

Google Wifi ports

Connections are simple. The center USB-C port is for the power supply or a thumb drive if you need to access the recovery. One of the Ethernet ports is labeled with a globe symbol. Using the provided cable (or your own cable) connect this port to your modem. The other is a LAN port for a piece of wired equipment like a switched hub. If you don't have any wired equipment, this port will go unused. Additional Google Wifi mesh points will only need the power connection and are wireless. For these, both Ethernet ports are available for wired connections. This is extremely handy and makes connecting something like a wired switch for your TV cabinet a breeze. You can also wire the connection between mesh points with CAT 5e/CAT 6 Ethernet cables and Google's Network Assist feature will seamlessly integrate them into the mesh the same way as a wireless mesh point.

From a hardware perspective, Google Wifi is simple and unobtrusive — both in regard to design and operation.

Installation: There's an app for that

Google Wifi setup card

It takes more time to write about the installation procedure that it does to actually do it. Google has made setting up a complicated wireless mesh network dead simple with 802.15.4 (Zigbee) support. Doing that is the important part of the equation, and having inexpensive equipment that still would require someone with network engineering training to setup would prevent consumer adoption. This is a common theme from companies who are building wireless mesh network gear for home users, and Google's approach is logical and effective.

You have to use an Android or iOS device to set things up — no exceptions.

An included setup card tells you how to plug things in and points you to Google Play (opens in new tab) or Apple's App Store to install the Google Wifi app to continue. Setup must be done through the Google Wifi app and any visit to the DNS gateway from a web browser returns the same page you see when trying the same from a Google OnHub router — it just tells you to install the app. That's important — you can't set things up without an Android or iOS device.

The app will find your Google Wifi unit (fun fact — the Bluetooth radio in Google Wifi acts as a standard BLE Beacon — and let you know it's going to connect you to it). It verifies an internet connection at the modem (you'll be prompted to restart the modem if needed) and walks you through the initial pairing and connection. Each step waits for user input (there is a next link at the bottom of every page) so you know exactly what is happening even if you don't know how it's happening. After a minute or two network handshaking and setup, you're prompted for a network SSID and password. Enter those and you're connected to your new Wi-Fi network. If you don't have additional mesh points, you're done at this point.

BTLE Beacon

If you have more Google Wifi mesh points to install, the app tells you to find a good spot for one (two rooms away and out in the open is the suggested placement), then tells you to plug it in and continue. Give things 30 seconds or so, and you're done here. You can continue if you have additional mesh points or say no when prompted and setup is finished.

One snag I found while testing: If you unhook everything without factory resetting the individual mesh points, setting things up again but using a different unit as the connection to your modem is a bit more difficult. I was eventually directed to scan a QR code on the bottom of the unit I was trying to connect with and still had several "false starts" before things were connected. Setting up additional mesh points went smoother, but still required multiple device restarts. Resetting the devices is simple in the app and something you should do if you need to move things around.

The app: Simple and easy

Google Wifi

As mentioned, Google Wifi is dependent on its app to do anything. If you're familiar with the OnHub app you'll find a lot of similarities and some changes to make things easier.

The app is divided into three tabs on its main screen and a settings menu through the Android "hamburger" that slides in from the left. The tabs are (from left to right) messages from Google's Network Assist, information about the devices connected to your network, and quick shortcuts to the tools and settings you might need more often that others.

The Google Wifi app is easy to navigate and everything makes sense.

The Messages tab shows information from Google Network Assist will let you know about setting up a Phillips Hue bridge so folks can access it through the On.Here server running on your internal network, tell you what features of the Google Wifi you haven't set up yet (like your guest network or family settings), or just let you know that everything is OK. If your internet service drops out or you unplug your modem, it lets you know about that, too.

The Devices tab tells you about your internet connection, your network devices and anything that's connected to the network itself. A tap on the internet icon allows you to check your internet speeds and see how much data you've used in a certain time period. Tapping the Wifi points icon brings you to an overview where you can see each node and the results of the last network test or perform a new test and a tap on the gear icon opens a page with more information and places where you can make adjustments like setting the LED brightness or changing the location of the node point. This is also where you factory reset things if you need to.

Google Wifi app

The Shortcuts tab is where you'll set a priority device or check your network speeds and connections, as well as access all your settings. The Advanced networking section has settings and options for the following:

  • Network DNS
  • WAN settings (DHCP, PPPoE, and Static are supported)
  • DHCP IP reservations
  • Port forwarding (TCP and UDP in and out)
  • UPnP on/off
  • Network mode settings (read-only) for NAT or Bridge modes

The adjustments are simplified and if you're running a complicated setup with multiple bridges and subnets Google Wifi is not going to be robust enough. But it wasn't designed for anything like that and I'll be the first to tell you not to buy it in that case. For more simple needs that still fall in the advanced category, it's fine. I'm running an SSH server complete with X forwarding (great read and how-to on that here) and an FTP server, each connected to the outside world through Google Wifi and the setup was simple for both of them via the Google Wifi app. Your needs might not be served as well. Remember, this is a consumer device.

Network testing: Rock-solid performer

Speed test

Google Wifi isn't designed for long-range networking, and that was easy to see when trying to duplicate the tests we did with the Amplifi HD from zero to 100 yards. What I did see while using iPerf — a MacBook Pro running the iPerf tool next to the NAT mesh point and a second MacBook (iPerf needs a PC so I couldn't use my phone) moving through the testing field — was a solid ~200Mbps connection right until the end-of-line for the network.

Google Wifi isn't designed for long-range networking, but it still works great in most big houses.

With the Amplifi HD, you could see when the network needed a boost but you weren't yet connected to a newer, closer mesh point but once connected to the right node the speeds were faster. Google Wifi was a constant speed with seamless handoff until we reached the edge of coverage, about 150 feet from the source. Acceptable performance (<30Mbps) continued until we reached a point 177 feet away from the NAT node and modem. The node layout, as calculated using 1500 sq. ft as a coverage sphere looked like this.

Network node layout

This isn't how Google Wifi is supposed to be set up, but it works.

While long distance testing satisfies our curiosity, a better test was just using Google Wifi for a week while trying to do things that would strain the network. I was able to reach what I feel was network capacity by downloading four simultaneous Netflix streams (three at 1080p and one at 4K). At this point, downloading content from the internet via a computer would cause the 4K Netflix stream to stutter and pixelate and eventually buffer. My house is about 3200 square feet across two floors (1600 sq. ft per floor) and I have solid and fast Wi-Fi with exceptional ping times everywhere.

I have a great Wi-Fi network at the table on my back porch where I spend my summer evenings, and my phone will connect when I turn into my driveway. The TV can stream Netflix or a PC game through my Shield TV as well as it did when things were wired, and my outside connections perform exactly the way I expected and need them to work. While Google Wifi doesn't deliver blazing linear distance performance, it makes up for it with exceptional networking that's consistent in the whole network footprint.

I'm impressed.

The verdict: A great product

Google Wifi

Eventually, you're going to need a new Wi-Fi router. Chances are you don't have a bank of servers set up and won't need to clone MAC addresses or do any traffic steering. In that case, Google Wifi will be perfect for you.

But Google Wifi doesn't exist in a Vacuum. The Amplifi HD home system is as easy to set up, offers more advanced networking controls and better long-distance performance (as well as a dedicated long distance version with additional directional antennas) at a slightly higher price and more performance variability between nodes. Other systems from eero, Orbi, and Luma all have similar features. Each of these systems can be picked up at a price that's within $100 or so of Google Wifi and each has their fans. All of these choices are good, and the days of using wall-plug network extenders are, thankfully, about to disappear.

Google Wifi is a great buy, but so is its competition.

I heartily recommend Google Wifi to anyone looking for a way to cover their whole house with a network connection. But I also can recommend the Amplifi system and have plans to look at what Eero and Luma have to offer. I can't say one is any better than the other, but I can tell you that each is a good choice. This is a good place to be, where we have a choice of products that work the way we expect them to work. If you're deeply tied into the Google ecosystem, go with Google Wifi for a multi-device setup. You'll like the On.Here integration for connected devices, and the Zigbee and BLE radios mean more functionality may be coming, though we heard that before with OnHub and it didn't materialize.

If you just need one Wi-Fi router and want something expandable (and pretty cool to use through the app) definitely go with Google Wifi here. The price is comparable to any good Wi-Fi router and you'll appreciate both the network performance and ease of use.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

46 Comments
  • You should add Plume (https://www.plumewifi.com/) to your list of consumer mesh networks. They supposedly are higher performance that other solutions.
  • They don't care enough to make an Android app. I don't care about their products.
  • Uh... https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.anrdoezrs.net%2F...
  • Ha! They didn't bother to tell me one was coming when I asked last week.
  • Exactly the review I was looking for.. Well done Jerry, thank you.
  • +1
  • Would like to try these. I've tried range extenders and power outlet adapters. Even Wifi routers with big antennas. Still cannot find anything to cover my 5600 sq ft home. Any other suggestions?
  • Buy an on hub on the cheap, and buy the 3 pack of these. OR even just buy the 3 pack. This is exactly what you need.
  • According to google tech help on their forums you can add up to 6 wifi units in total, so you should be able to cover your house with enough coverage at some point.
  • That's a good idea. Just hate from experience how the signal strength in the extenders a so weak
  • Since Google has a history of abandoning products after a couple years I'm going to steer clear of any of their hardware products for now. If they would only get a better track record then I might consider.
    I'll stick with companies that are focused on WiFi products (Asus, Linksys, TP Link, Netgear, etc).
  • Great read Jerry! csiemers, why post or even read the review if that's the mindset you are going to have. You came on here to specifically say that and don't care about the product. That is counter intuitive to the whole reason for this piece.
  • He didn't say that he doesn't care about the product. He said that he has significant concerns about Google's history with consumer hardware, and that those concerns keep him from buying this. That's a legitimate contribution to the discussion, as far as I'm concerned.
  • How long do those other companies support their products with firmware updates? I did a quick spot check on the Asus RT-AC68u and see that the initial firmware on their site is from 11-14-2014, and the latest is from 9-8-2016. That's a consistent trend across a few of their routers. Two years seems about average. So how long do you WANT them to support it for? Asus seems to "abandon" their products after two years, but that doesn't mean they stop working. It will be the same with this. If firmware updates stop the units will still work.
  • +1
  • Would you recommend this for a gamer? We tend to run 3 xbox ones at one time. Of course the smart tv playing in another room. I currently have a nighthawk but with our house being as old as it is, the walls are super thick and i tend to lose signal in my room. As well as my brother in his room, in the opposite side of the house. I know extenders would help but curious if google wifi would be the better option since the extenders are about what this 3 piece set would cost.
  • So many wires.
  • Are on hubs worthless now?
  • No, they still get updated and they use a similar app that makes them easy to use.
  • And they can join in on the mesh network created with these Google WiFi units.
  • Would one of these or an On-hub be better to start with?
  • Probably 98% the same (and 100% compatible), but wouldn't you want to get the latest hardware when given a choice and a difference of just $20-30?
  • So this has superior hardware compared to the Onhub. That was my question. I will probably get one of these. It should cover my whole house on its own.
  • Great review, Jerry! I'm considering doing a combination of OnHub and one of the Wifi pucks to cover my house. Three Wifi pucks is a bit overkill for my roughly 2000 sq. ft. house, but having the OnHub at the basement (with the modem), then the Wifi on the main floor should cover it I think.
  • Is there any performance difference between wiring up all of these, or just one and running the rest wirelessly?
  • According to the techs, if you wire them up the back hauling will be done on Ethernet, which is always more reliable than wireless...but I was told to setup them up wirelessly, then once completed, plug them in and the system would recognize and switch to an Ethernet back haul.
  • same question. are you able to test this somehow with all devices connected via cable? i'm wondering if it would give the performance edge to google wifi over the Amplifi HD home system as that system can only connect via wireless
  • I know mesh wireless systems are great but I went a different direction. I grabbed a netgear nighthawk x6 r8000 for the antenna power. This was 2 years ago? Anyways...I have near full signal across 2400sqft with it hidden in a closet. Matter of fact I can go for a walk in my neighborhood and receive signal for almost 1/8th of a mile in all directions. I can sit at the park and work while my kids play even. Does anybody else go with the brute force method? I picked up the router for about $210 with some best buy promotion when it first came out. I think this works just fine if you don't need the Google assistant integration
  • The brute force way is outdated and also does hell on the neighbors wifi. It will take many years before we have moved to the smaller but more coverage theory...
  • Holy crap, 130 for ONE of them. The three pack is $520! I doooon't think I'll be trying this out any time soon.
  • The 3 pack is $299.
  • Hm, interesting. It said $520 when I looked. They must have fixed it because yeah now it says $299. That makes way more sense.
  • Great review, Jerry! I'm glad to see that this works well. I don't need it for myself (my little Philadelphia row house isn't big enough to require mesh networking), but this might be a good fit for my cousin, who's been having a hard time getting his enormous country house properly covered with wifi.
  • Silly question for you all. I have a FiOS Quantum Gateway wireless router. Would I still be able to use these? Is there a point if I already have that? Sorry if this sounds really silly.
  • Are you paying more per month for the FiOS gateway+WiFi capabilities than you would for a plain gateway from FiOS? If so, just return their wireless gateway and get their plain gateway and use the money you're saving to pay towards the Google WiFi. If FiOS only has the one gateway option that you already have, you don't have to use their WiFi, just plug a Google WiFi into the gateway and ignore the FiOS WiFi network.
  • I would like to know if an existing OnHub integrates seamlessly. I already have one and am just looking to add 1-2 of these on to that.
  • Embargo is up :) What people are saying matches what Google told me. OnHub is to get an update that will make it "seamlessly integrate" with Google Wifi. I haven't received it yet, but plan on using my onhub for a NAT connection and 3 G wifi units (2 wireless one one a 250' cat5 cable) to bring Wi-Fi out to the pool.
  • Did they give a time frame for that update? Edit: Note: As with all software releases, updates are rolled out over the course of a week. All OnHubs should be ready to add Google Wifi points by December 7. We'll update this page if any delays occur.
  • Yes, it will. https://support.google.com/wifi/answer/7168220
  • Though i understand the point here at 300 It would be just as cost effective to probably look at a MOCA Bridge and Extenders. MOCA can far exceed the speed of Wireless AC Bridging for speed and reliability. The home automation aspects of this are interesting though.
  • @Jerry, I've asked others and they said "no" but I want to ask someone i trust more, you. Does this render my Cisco router useless? If it plugs directly into my modem from my internet provider, and the other into a piece of equipment, where does my current Cisco router fall into the mix? Thanks Jerry! Great article.
  • I really really want to see a review where the 3 pack option is replaced with one OnHub and one Google wifi. This is the scenario that will likely apply to me (I already own an OnHub), and I want to see reviews before buying. @Jerry please do a test like this. Please.
  • Does the setup app, work for anyone? Or can i password protect that. This has been a nightmare with chromecasts and continues to be so. Basically can any device access/change the settings or is there some way to stop other connected users from being able to do so. Given I already have an existing wifi router, can this be setup as a range extender / repeater, without connecting it via ethernet?
  • Do they support IPv6?
  • I currently have a Wide Open West (WOWWay) Ultra TV gateway which is a whole home DVR along with integrated router and wireless access point. Because the built in wireless in it is rather weak and I have a large house (~5000 square feet over 2 floors and a finished basement) I have it disabled and instead use 3 Netgear N900 routers configured and wireless access points. These are all hardwired to the gateway and arranged through my house to give me good coverage on all floors as well as in my backyard. This works pretty well for me though handoff between the access points is not always as clean as I would like it to be. The only thing that I can disable in the Ultra TV gateway is the wireless. I can not disable the router (or put it in bridge mode) as the whole home DVR requires it to function. Will switching over to these in the place of my N900 routers (being used as wireless access points) give me any benefit? It seems like the range on them may not be as good as what I have so I may need more of them to get the same area coverage. Also, I don’t want to use the router functions in these as I am forced to keep using my Ultra TV gateway router and don’t want to deal with a double NAT condition (doesn’t work well with some gaming and VPN). Does the mesh networking even work without using the router function in these?
  • Does the network assist also have a setup for the Smartthings Hub?