Nest WifiSource: Android Central

Most people don't put enough thought into their wireless router. Things like the layout of your house, the materials, and how many stories it is all matter when you want good Wi-Fi from one end to the other. Or maybe you need to plug something into a router with a network cable in one room but still want great Wi-Fi everywhere else. Finding a networking solution that's flexible enough to meet your current and future needs can be a challenge and it can be a huge pain to change your router every time you need some more coverage.

This is where wireless mesh networking makes the most sense. Sometimes one central wireless access point that sends out a powerful omnidirectional signal is perfect but often a mesh system delivers a better experience without giving up anything you need. There's a big difference between Wi-Fi in your house that works and Wi-Fi in your house that works well.

If you've decided to go with a mesh system, you're then faced with the question of which you should buy. We're going to look at four popular models and give you some information so you can make the right choice.

Nest Wifi

Nest Wi-FiSource: Android Central

Google has a vested interest in everyone being on the internet, and it's made a great wireless mesh system to help make it happen no matter where in your house you happen to be sitting. Nest Wifi is fast, easy to set up, and even easier to get into the settings thanks to its robust smartphone app for first time setup and adding more mesh points.

Pros

  • It looks good — this matters because ideally, you'll have the satellites out in the open where everyone can see them.
  • Constant updates
  • Setup is so easy it's almost automatic
  • Expand with Nest Wifi points, routers or Google Wifi

Cons

  • Few advanced features
  • Requires a Google account and a smartphone to set up and use
  • If you lose a connection to the internet, settings and options are very limited

Nest Wifi is the newest addition to the Google Wifi family, increasing the number of compatible Wi-Fi devices to three, which all fill different needs. The Nest Wifi router is the fastest with the most coverage while the Nest Wifi point and Google Wifi routers are slower with less coverage. Even so, the lower cost on these other devices makes them a great option for mesh expansion.

If you use Google products, you'll probably love Nest Wifi. Everything about the product will be familiar, from the way it looks to the way the app works.

Setup is simple. Power up one of the units and connect it to your modem, then download the app. You'll get a notification that starts the process with a single tap, then walks you through setting up the other two and gives performance tips.

Each Nest Wifi router covers about 2,200 square feet with a strong signal and moving through your house switches you from one to the next seamlessly. The Nest Wifi points add 1,600 square feet while Google Wifi routers add 1,500 square feet. The app has some extra features like being able to prioritize one device over the others for a set amount of time (perfect for streaming HD video) or parental controls, It, however, lacks advanced networking features like dedicated port forwarding. The biggest drawback is what happens if you lose your internet connection — you have limited access to the settings as they are hosted on your online Google account.

Perhaps the biggest draw of Nest Wifi is the prompt updates. They're seamless and a proper update schedule means your network is more secure even if they aren't always filled with new features.

Our pick

Nest Wifi router and point

The Nest Wifi router is the newest addition to the Google Wifi family with faster speeds and greater coverage. It's also compatible with Nest Wifi points as well as Google Wifi for easy and cheap expansion.

Orbi Tri-Band

Netgear Orbi RBK50Source: Netgear

Netgear's Orbi isn't a mesh wireless system, but it acts the same way and extends your network by using satellite units. Those satellites just aren't connected to each other, only the base. It's still a tri-band system that will give you fast network speeds everywhere in your house, which is what really matters.

Pros

  • No account required
  • No speed loss from mesh forwarding
  • The base and satellite are pre-programmed to work together

Cons

  • It's big
  • It's expensive if you need a second satellite
  • Setup can be confusing because there are so many options

First things first — if you need advanced settings on your Wi-Fi network and want a mesh(-like) system, Orbi is the one you want to buy, no questions asked. Using your web browser to log into the router brings you to the familiar Netgear setup and admin page that you're probably already familiar with, including options that no other consumer mesh product offers like advanced QoS and forwarding.

With that out of the way, the Orbi system has one other thing going for it that might make a difference — no speed loss because of bi-directional communication. Orbi uses a dedicated band for communication between the units, while some other consumer mesh products use the same band your network data does, which causes a 50% loss in throughput for each "hop." This isn't noticeable for most of us as it's still faster than data can be processed after the loss, but it could make a difference when transferring large files or streaming data inside your network.

Two things aren't great — the sheer size of each unit (easily three times bigger than the others on this list) and the price. It can be more difficult to hide an Orbi satellite and adding more can be more expensive than its competition. Still, the Orbi line has a lot of options so a cheaper and slower unit can be added to parts of the home where speed isn't a big deal.

Prosumer Choice

Netgear Orbi RBK50

Netgear's Orbi system isn't the smallest or most elegant solution when it comes to mesh Wi-Fi, but it does offer more advanced controls and a long-range. It's the best choice for prosumers and enthusiasts.

eero Pro

Eero ProSource: Samuel Contreras / Android Central

Eero was one of the first consumer-grade mesh wireless systems, and the newest versions are even better. Like the Orbi, it's a true tri-band mesh system with a dedicated band for communication between devices, but the units themselves are small and look good.

Pros

  • Can use an unlimited amount of beacons
  • Each beacon looks great
  • Easy and secure setup
  • Expands with any eero

Cons

  • Beacons have no Ethernet ports
  • Requires a smartphone to set up
  • Limited settings

With that out of the way, there is a lot to like about eero. The Pro delivers a fast network even at an extreme distance due to it's dedicated communication band and ability to use as many beacons as you need, and it still looks great with a wonderful smartphone app. Though we do need to mention (once again) that the potential speed loss of not having a tri-band system isn't something you're ever likely to notice. But you will notice a great app.

Set up is also a breeze, and almost as easy as Nest Wifi's method. Install the app (and you have to use an app) and it walks you through the entire process in user-friendly, easy to understand language. If you aren't familiar with networking terms you'll appreciate the friendly touch, and if you are, you'll appreciate how well the company breaks it down for those that aren't.

An Eero system is a little more expensive than many of its competitors but with an option between the tri-band eero Pro and dual-band eero as the base, there is an option for most people. And like Nest Wifi, there aren't enough settings to satisfy extreme users.

One other thing — the beacons don't have any Ethernet ports, so if you were planning to run a cable to your entertainment stand or game console, you'll need to connect to a base unit. If you need ethernet ports, consider a standard eero for expansion.

Looking good

eero Pro and Beacon

Eero brings the cleanest look of any mesh router available with small satellites that don't look too out of place once plugged in. You'll need to spend more if you want LAN ports, though.

AmpliFi HD

AmpliFi HD routerSource: Android Central

The AmpliFi HD, from Wi-Fi legends Ubiquiti, looks different from the other products on this list. Each satellite plugs directly into a wall outlet like the Eero beacons, but each AmpliFi satellite has a large antenna. This makes it easier to find a place for them or harder, depending on where you need them. It delivers good, strong whole-house Wi-Fi like the other products on this list.

Pros

  • Five Gigabit Ethernet ports on the base like a traditional router
  • Smartphone app or account not required
  • More advanced settings than Eero or Google Wifi

Cons

  • Satellites are large and require mounting on a wall outlet
  • Satellites have no Ethernet ports
  • Satellites aren't as attractive as the competition (but are interesting to some)

The AmpliFi HD boasts a 20,000-square-foot coverage area from a single base and two satellites. Our testing leads us to believe it, as a usable signal extended further down the street than we thought possible. That's enough reason for some of us to buy it — you might also be able to have great Wi-Fi in your workshop or any outbuilding (or share Wi-Fi with your neighbor). Part of this is because of the unique satellite configuration. Rather than a smallish puck designed to sit on a table somewhere, each is a tall, two-piece wand that needs to be plugged directly into an outlet.

There's also a coolness factor missing from the others on our list with AmpliFi's touchscreen display on the base that can monitor network speeds or show the time (it can also be shut off). This can be quite handy if the base is set somewhere like a desk in a home office and can double as a clock, besides having access to some user settings. Speaking of settings, you'll find more advanced ones on the AmpliFi HD than you will on Google Wifi or Eero, but not as many as the Orbi. It's a good balance for the average home user with something like a dedicated media server.

One thing to consider here is that the AmpliFi HD isn't exactly childproof. The satellites will be plugged in where a curious little one can reach them and look interesting enough to make sure they notice them. The newest version of the AmpliFi HD ditched the swiveling antenna of the original beacons making them a bit less flexible but probably more robust.

Long range king

AmpliFi HD WiFi System

Ubiquiti's Amplifi HD system delivers the most coverage of the mesh routers we've tested and delivered a fast and dependable Wi-Fi network without any fuss or a tedious setup. It does have some really big satellites though, so know that before you buy.

Our verdict

Which is best depends a lot on what you're looking for. If you want the most plug-and-play model, Nest Wifi is one of those gems that anyone can install. Nest Wifi does require a Google account and internet access is almost a must (and absolutely required for setup).

Eero Pro is a very straightforward option that spends less time on stats like speed and more on the experience. Eero is also compatible with the smaller eero routers and Beacons for plenty of expansion options. Orbi is great for someone running a server or has other needs for advanced QoS and forwarding options, but is big, bulky and expensive. A smaller and slower Orbi is available. Finally, AmpliFi covers your house, yard, and maybe even your neighbor but isn't perfect for homes with small children.

In the end, I choose Nest Wifi even though the requirement of having a Google account and losing features if you aren't connected to the internet are things I don't care for. I'm OK with the information Google collects and the methods they use to do it (you can read that right here) but I disagree with it in principle. The "good" outweighs the "bad" or me, though.

  • Nest Wifi is cheap and expansion is easy. And also cheap.
  • Nest Wifi routers have a network port for a Cat 5/Cat 6 cable.

I was able to extend my network out to an outbuilding area by running a cable underground in some conduit and plugging each end into a Nest Wifi or Google Wifi unit. The two "meshes" work seamlessly this way and I saved a good bit of money. Most people won't need anything like this, but the same idea applies if you want a wired connection to something like an Xbox or television and still extend the mesh network in the room it's in.

But really, you can't go wrong with any of these choices. Each has one or two drawbacks as well as a few strong points but they all deliver where it counts: providing a strong, fast network connection.

Our pick

Nest Wifi router and point

The Nest Wifi router is the newest addition to the Google Wifi family with faster speeds and greater coverage. It's also compatible with Nest Wifi points as well as Google Wifi for easy and cheap expansion.

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