Google Wifi Review

27 October 2017

Google Wifi
Google Wifi Review: The Verdict

Google Wifi is essentially the solution to your Wi-Fi problems, in a box. If you're suffering from poor or patchy wireless network at home, Google Wifi is an easy to setup system that will make your Wi-Fi "just work".

What we love
  • Incredibly easy to setup
  • Great wireless performance and coverage
  • Clean design
What could be improved
  • Doesn't double as a modem
  • Limited number of Ethernet ports
  • A little expensive
RRP: From $199

What's Google Wifi?

Google Wifi is one of those rare situations where throwing money at a problem fixes it. It's essentially an easy to setup solution to your Wi-Fi woes, which is rare, because wireless networks are rarely easy.

In short, Google Wifi is Google's take on a mesh router solution; each Google Wifi unit works as a standalone solution, but the idea is that you'll get a stronger, stable, longer-reaching wireless network if you setup up two or more. And given that a single unit costs $199 and a three-pack is $499, buying more is the bang-for-buck option.

What's good about Google Wifi?

Google Wifi is hands down the easiest piece of networking kit I've setup in my life. I've configured far too many modems and routers - far more than any one person should - and none have come anywhere close to being as effortless as Google Wifi.

The steps are as follows:

  • Download the Google Wifi app to your phone or tablet
  • Plug your first Google Wifi unit into the power and modem
  • Scan the your Google Wifi's QR code using the app and give your Wi-Fi a name and password
  • Plug in the second Google Wifi unit, press next and wait a minute or two
  • Repeat for each remaining Google Wifi unit
  • Wait for the firmware to install

It genuinely felt too good to be true. I had all three Google Wifi units setup and upgraded to the latest software within 15 minutes. At the end of the installation, I had an overwhelming feeling of "is this it?". While I wish this wasn't surprising, the super simple setup puts Google Wifi into a league of its own when it comes to consumer friendly networking hardware.

As easy as Google Wifi was to get going, a seamless setup process means nothing if the end result isn't good. Thankfully, Google Wifi has been among the most reliable wireless solutions I've tested. I've been using Google Wifi as my primary wireless network for roughly three months now, and it's been a frictionless experience. I haven't experienced drop outs, handing off between access points is seamless, speeds are great, and my apartment is literally smothered in Wi-Fi.

Three Google Wifi units is probably overkill for an apartment, but I have dealt with Wi-Fi dead spots thanks to an "appliance wall" that just destroys signal. Most of the routers I've tested haven't been able to get through it, and even if they have, I've gotten minimal coverage past the kitchen. Google Wifi has made it a non-issue; I finally have Wi-Fi that covers my entire place.

Google says a single unit can cover about 110 square metres, which increases to around 360 with a three-pack. The construction and layout of your place means this will vary. For the best effect, Google Wifi units should be placed one or two rooms away, but if the companion app will help you get this right during setup.

It's worth noting that mesh networks can result in some speed loss because your secondary Google Wifi units have to essentially do two jobs at once; receiving the signal from the base station and then rebroadcasting it. This won't matter if you're predominantly using your wireless network for internet related tasks (I only noticed a marginal speed loss on the satellite units), but this could have more of an impact for bandwidth intense local tasks, like transferring big files wirelessly. There's plenty of ways to work around this though, and it shouldn't be an issue for most users.

On top of working well and being simple to setup, the Google Wifi units also look pretty great. Well, for networking hardware. The stout cylinders are clean and unobtrusive, and won't raise eyebrows if left out in the open. Google Wifi's design is a nice change from hyper-aggressive-spider-aesthetic that's become all too common among high-end routers.

While there's a small glowing strip that lets you know each unit is on, this can be turned off using the companion app, just in case you want to keep one in a bedroom. Or just don't want the light on.

Google Wifi companion app

The Google Wifi companion app completely replaces the traditional web interface that we've become accustomed to with most modems and routers, and in addition to the typical functionality, offers some cool extras. You're able to use it to:

  • Setup a secondary guest Wi-Fi with a unique password, and then share this password with friends
  • Prioritise devices such as gaming consoles or smart TVs
  • Set time limits for internet access on individual devices, if you're the kind of parent who rules over internet access with an iron fist
  • Troubleshoot your network

You're also able to check in on your network remotely, which is a nice touch.

What's not so good about Google Wifi?

Google Wifi's biggest shortcoming is that you still need to plug it into a modem (well, unless you have an FTTP NBN connection, in which case you simply plug your Google Wifi into your network termination device). While I get the simplicity of Google Wifi, I would have loved to see an optional / alternative base station that also functioned as a modem too. After all, the less you have to plug in, the better.

Ports on a Google Wifi puck

If you are still plugging devices into your network using Ethernet cables, it's worth noting that each Google Wfi unit only has two Ethernet ports. You'll need to use one of these to connect your primary Google Wifi unit to your modem, so you might need to invest in an extra switch if you've got a few wired Wi-Fi-less devices floating around home.

If you're a power user, you might find Google Wifi's advanced functionality a tad limited. For example, there's no dynamic DNS, no MAC filtering, and no option to split your network into 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. These omissions won't be an issue for most, but could be a deal breaker if you're the kind of person who loves to deep dive into the darkest parts of your home network configuration.

Google Wifi also won't work as a bridge (at least when using it as a mesh network), so you'll essentially have to let you run your entire network off Google Wifi. This means devices connected to your Google Wifi can't talk to anything you have connected directly to your broadband modem. This again won't matter for most, but there are a couple of edge cases where it could end up being a pain in the ass (telco provided VoIP in a FTTP household, for example).

At $200 for a single unit, or $500 for a three-pack, Google Wifi isn't exactly cheap, especially given that you still need a modem - and possibly a switch. That being said, mesh Wi-Fi alternatives from Linksys and Netgear tend to be at least $250 more expensive if you're looking at three units.

Google Wifi

Who's Google Wifi for?

If you're not happy with the performance of your home wireless network, there's a good chance that Google Wifi could be the solution you're looking for. The ease of setup, the strong performance, and potential for huge coverage make Google Wifi the ideal blackspot buster.

That being said, Google Wifi is probably better for bigger households that can actually take advantage of the mesh setup; three Wifi pucks in a smallish place is kinda overkill, and a single Google Wifi unit means you're not really getting full value.

But unless you've got heaps of wired devices or want deep customisation options, Google Wifi is an easy to recommend, easy to use wireless networking solution that's proved to be very reliable.

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