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.
The name you know
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.
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.
|Header Cell - Column 0||Netgear Orbi||Google Wifi|
|Coverage||5,000 sq ft||4,500 sq ft|
|Frequency||2.4GHz, 5GHz||2.4GHz, 5GHz|
|Wireless standards||Radio 1: 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz, 256QAM support|
Radio 2: 802.11a/n/ac 5GHz, 256QAM support
Radio 3: 802.11a/n/ac 5GHz, 256QAM support
|Processor||Qualcomm IPQ4019||710 MHz Quad-core|
|Ports||USB 2.0||No USB|
|Ethernet||Router: 1 WAN, 3 LAN|
Satellite: 4 LAN
|2 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:
- What router analytics data is collected and how is the data being used by NETGEAR?
- Google Wifi and your privacy
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.
Inexpensive and works great
The simple solution from a familiar name
Google Wifi is a great product for almost every home. It doesn't offer the better speeds you see from a mesh system with wireless backhaul and tri-band radios, but most users will never notice and even stressful applications like Netflix binging work great.
For advanced users
The settings you need
Plenty of LAN ports, advanced settings, and a dedicated backhaul channel make the Orbi the best choice for a home with a more advanced network.
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