Google Wifi vs. Netgear Orbi: Which should you buy?

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

Google Wifi

Google Wifi is simple to use, easy to set up, and inexpensive; you can even run a cable to a switch should you need to do it. On the downside, there's no dedicated channel for backhaul and Google does collect some data about how the product is being used.

Google Wifi

The name you know

Whole-house coverage
Easy setup
App-based administration
Google collects data
Can't change settings when the internet is down
No dedicated wireless backhaul

Netgear Orbi

If you want a mesh Wi-Fi system and want or need advanced settings, plenty of LAN ports, or dedicated backhaul, Netgear has what you're looking for. You'll be paying more for the options, however, and the satellites are really big.

Netgear Orbi

Prosumer choice

Whole-house coverage
Advanced settings
Separate backhaul channel
More LAN ports
Units are huge

Both Google Wifi and Netgear's Orbi will give you strong Wi-Fi in most homes, but there are some major differences here. Both systems can be fire-and-forget with a simple setup, but if you want to go beyond the basics, the Netgear Orbi is a much better choice.

Putting the 'pro' in 'prosumer'

You're a long way from the router your internet provider wants to rent you when you invest in a mesh Wi-Fi system. It's easy to get caught up in information overload whenever you're researching new tech like a mesh system and forget the basics — you want good, fast Wi-Fi in your house and you want to do it right the first time.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Netgear OrbiGoogle Wifi
Coverage5,000 sq ft4,500 sq ft
Frequency2.4GHz, 5GHz2.4GHz, 5GHz
Wireless standardsRadio 1: 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz, 256QAM supportRadio 2: 802.11a/n/ac 5GHz, 256QAM supportRadio 3: 802.11a/n/ac 5GHz, 256QAM support802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
ProcessorQualcomm IPQ4019710 MHz Quad-core
Memory4GB Flash512MB RAM4GB Flash512MB RAM
PortsUSB 2.0No USB
EthernetRouter: 1 WAN, 3 LANSatellite: 4 LAN2 Ethernet per unit

You'll quickly notice that Netgear's Orbi is chock full of Ethernet ports and would better fit into a mixed network. Google Wifi does offer a pair of Ethernet ports on each unit and they work well — I'm using them to feed small switches for gear that needs a wired connection — but the Orbi is more like a traditional Wi-Fi router with four LAN ports on each piece. It probably negates the need for a separate switch for most people.

A bigger difference is in the settings. Google Wifi does offer things like a guest account, parental controls, a preferred device mode, and the rest of the basics you expect from any router, but the Orbi uses the same network settings portal that Netgear's high-end routers like the Nighthawk use. That means you'll have standardized port forwarding settings, true QoS settings, a DMZ to keep devices outside of the software firewall, and more. It also has a separate radio for wireless backhaul, which means you're not halving speeds at each hop.

You might not care about any of that. Maybe you don't even know what to do with those settings. That's OK because you can use the Orbi as-is after the fairly simple setup routine and it will work well.

Google Wifi doesn't have most of those settings but it does have something just as good for many folks — it's dead simple and Google updates the firmware for exploits as soon as they are found. In fact, Google is one of the companies that finds a good many of these exploits and is reliable at providing updates across the board. Google Wifi is one of those things you'll never need to adjust or monkey with unless you want to.

A final word about privacy is in order. Both Netgear and Google collect data when you use Google Wifi or the Netgear Orbi system. To see exactly what type of data is collected, the relevant privacy policies, and how to opt-out of collection and analytics, here are the pages about it all for each product:

You know what type of home network you need. If you have any use for advanced features or need to plug in more than a few Ethernet cords, Netgear has the better choice in the Orbi. If you don't need them, save some money and enjoy the simplicity of Google Wifi.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

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.