Google Wifi First Impressions

Posted on July 6, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, iOS, Mobile with 58 Comments

Google Wifi First Impressions

As you may have heard, I’m going to experiment with mesh wireless networking when we move to Pennsylvania. And the Google Wifi three-pack I’ll be using arrived today.

This one will be brief since I can’t actually install it until we are in Pennsylvania next week: We’re getting a cable modem installed next Thursday, so I should be able to get the Google Wifi system going then as well, and it will be ready for us when we move.

In any event, Google Wifi—yes, it’s written as Wifi and not the more correct Wi-Fi, hooray for product names—is a modular, mesh-based wireless networking solution. That is, you can buy a single access point for smaller homes or a three-pack for larger places. And they should just work seamlessly together in the latter case.

One thing to know up front is that Google Wifi doesn’t provide modem capabilities. So if you’re using a traditional cable modem-type solution as I will be, via RCN, then you will still need your provider’s cable modem or will need to buy a compatible unit yourself. Indeed, you may also need a switch of some kind, depending on your needs, as each Google Wifi access point only includes a single Ethernet port.

Another thing to know up front is that Wifi, as a Google product, isn’t set up, configured, or maintained like other Wi-Fi access points or networking hardware. That is, there’s no web interface at some arcane URL like 192.168.1.1 (or whatever) to know about. Instead, you need to use the Google Wifi mobile app, which is available on Android and iOS.

And to be clear, that app is available only on Android and iOS: You will need a smartphone—and a Google account—to get Google Wifi up and running. Some may find this off-putting, but I’m used to the way Google does things, and I actually kind of enjoy it. (Google has similar apps for Google Home/Chromecast and other hardware products.) Certainly, the software is clear and easy to use.

From a packaging standpoint, the Google Wifi is pure Google, which is to say a high-quality Apple knock-off. I won’t begrudge them that, other than to note that I’ve often complained of Microsoft’s Apple envy and Google may be even worse. In any event, the box contains the three access points, three USB-C-based power adapters, and a single flat Ethernet cable, which is used to connect on of the access points to your modem. The documentation consists of a “getting started” brochure. It seems like that’s all you’ll need.

Prices are reasonable: A single Google Wifi is $129, but you can get a three-pack, as I did, for $300.

And next week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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Comments (59)

59 responses to “Google Wifi First Impressions”

  1. Avatar

    Jaxidian

    Good luck! I tried out a Google Wifi setup (plus an OnHub Router) and had some mixed results. I was encountering several bugs due to the OnHub Router that was part of the setup that Google's support (which started out pretty amazing then died off quickly with failed promises to call me back) wasn't able to do anything about beyond suggesting that I not use the OnHub router anymore.


    My thoughts:

    • The setup software was easily the most comprehensive & easy to follow that I have ever seen. Nearly good enough that my dog could follow the instructions and set it up, even when working through problems (like the cable modem not assigning an IP to the router requiring a long reboot of the cable modem).
    • Pretty typical-reliable behavior from the various consume mesh products of 2016 and 2017. This is good.
    • A few neat features, like taking a single device on your private network and making it also available to your guests on your guest network.
    • Some surprising bugs with Chromecast compatibility. Hopefully these were bugs that they've since fixed.


    At any rate, good luck! I ended up returning it after still struggling with their support as my return period approached. I ended up getting an AmpliFi-HD setup by Ubiquiti and have really enjoyed it.

  2. Avatar

    dcdevito

    I own an OnHub and I absolutely love it. The setup is easy, the app is easy to use, and I love the notifications you get if your home connection loses access to the internet. I also love setting my living room Chromecast as the priority device in the house as well as family Wi-Fi (hey Paul they got the name right there) for setting times to shut off internet access for my kids' devices.


    It makes any traditional router seem archaic even if it doesn't have all the bells and whistles. The activity screen is great and gives you an overview of what's going on in the house, the middle tab shows you all active devices currently connected, and of course the setup and configuration screen.


    And of course this info is always accessible from anywhere which is great also.


    And unlike other similar devices one will work on its own as a router while additional ones automagically work as extenders without you needing to do much. It's a great product honestly.

  3. Avatar

    Delmont

    I still don't understand what this does for $300 vs buying 3 of these: TP-Link N300 Wi-Fi Range Extender for $20 a piece. Sell it to me.

  4. Avatar

    edzucker

    Paul, aren't you going to need a nat router? Does your cable modem provide this functionality?

  5. Avatar

    KingPCGeek

    I installed a three pack in my CEO's 7500 sq. ft. single story house and I haven't heard one complaint from him. This issue with most of the mesh systems is that the satellites have to connect directly to the mothership, they can't daisy chain. Google WiFi is supposed to daisy chain, but from my one example it does not seem to be doing that.

  6. Avatar

    Narg

    "more correct"???? Paul. Pleeeease. (oops, see what I did there...) "Wi Fi" is a made up sudo-word anyway, who cares?

  7. Avatar

    melinau

    I live in UK, and bought these when they first arrived over here.

    They worked OK, but all the "simplicity" of the Out of Box setup was negated because of the forced use of a fixed (by Google) non-routable IP subnet which clashed with my existing home network. Similarly Google WiFi was incompatible with BT Sport (TV Channels delivered over Broadband using Multicast IP). Google may have resolved this issue since then.


    As an IT professional, both issues were relatively easy to solve using my knowledge of Networks, and for all I know Google has fixed them itself, but this inflexibility and need to "fiddle" was not quite what was advertised.

    Notwithstanding these issues, the system is very solid-feeling, neat and unobtrusive in the home. It did work very well in terms of providing a decent, fast wireless connection around my home. This is no mean achievement in a house with both 3 foot thick stone walls, and modern extensions. If your requirements are straightforward I'd recommend Google WiFi, but check-out user-forums before buying.



    In the end I switched to BT "Whole Home Wi-Fi", which is much easier to configure (on my system) and provides a similar level of performance - faster in fact in some areas.

  8. Avatar

    Care

    My family got the similar Linksys Velop system. They state on their packaging and their website that it requires iOS or android to set it up. Since nobody here uses either, and the Best Buy guy who sold it to me actually seemed to know what he was talking about, I called Linksys tech support. They have a pretty easy, though secret and hidden, way to set it up using a web browser.

    • Avatar

      TomKer

      In reply to Care: My experience with the Velop app on iOS sounds similar to Paul's... the software was clear and easy to use. It's super useful for seeing what's connected and troubleshooting the few connectivity issues I have. I can't say enough good about my experience with the Velop mesh. I'm getting blasting coverage all over my house, on my deck, in my garage. Definitely worth the upgrade from my single router.


  9. Avatar

    Clarkb

    Minor clarification re the comment "each Google Wifi access point only includes a single Ethernet port"


    Per Google ( https://support.google.com/wifi/answer/6280668?hl=en )


    Ports

    • 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports per Wifi point
    • WAN and LAN on primary Wifi point; both act as LAN ports on additional Wifi points


  10. Avatar

    obarthelemy

    Isn't Google WiFi dependent on the cloud ? I wouldn't want to lose my LAN every time there's a cloud/Internet (ISP, Google...) hiccup !

  11. Avatar

    the_risner

    How did I miss the Pennsylvania news? Best of luck with the big move and setting up the mesh network.

    • Avatar

      Gordon

      In reply to the_risner:


      Yeah, seriously. I'd be shocked as all get out if I saw him wandering some random Turkey Hill, Sheetz, or Wawa (depending on how rural).


      Though it's more entertaining to picture him going to Philly and seeing him and John Gruber bump into one another. :P

  12. Avatar

    Bob25

    I recently helped my son set up the 3-unit Google Wifi in his home. Very easy and--so far--excellent coverage of his home (about 2400 Sq Ft plus a full finished basement).


    One BIG item to be aware of: there are very few additional features with the Google system. If you're the type that likes to tweak all the options offered by most modern Wi-Fi routers, you won't find them here.

    • Avatar

      Jack Smith

      In reply to Bob25:

      Not sure how long ago you setup your son's home but the latest Google WiFi update added more features for people that want to tinker.


      But the Google WiFi is not really intended, IMO, for people that want to tinker. I am a "techie" but now old and no longer want to "tinker" with my network but rather it to just work. I do not want to even download and install updates. So I love the Google approach where basically they are just making it work and updating when needed.


      Google WiFi also removes some of the "tinker" need anyway. I have a HUGE family as in 8 kids and our house is the house to play. So I use to segment our network and then route between segments.


      I replaced our network with Google WiFi and there is no longer a need to segment. You get your cake and eat it too.


      The problem with a segmented network is sometimes you want broadcast traffic to go between segments. What we use to call a long time ago brouters. But then traffic to stay on segments for other things. So you had to figure out and configure accordingly and also try to figure out if it was doing what you wanted.


      Mesh is doing the same thing but it is doing it with a brain. So if the kids and their friends are gaming in our computer room and then someone is playing console game in the entertainment room it is segmenting the traffic. But then I can use a Google Home with a CC somewhere and the devices see the network as flat.


      It is the ultimately solution to this problem, finally.

  13. Avatar

    JerryH

    This should likely work out for you well Paul. I've been using the 3 pack in my house since they came out. We have 3,840 square feet and it covers the house, front yard, and back yard well. You can try NetSpot to do a heat map of your network - very helpful tool.


    I'm also managing a second 3 pack at my sister's house and managing multiple networks via the app on the phone is super easy.


    If you don't need any complex configuration, are OK with not having 192.168.1.x be your network (you can't set it with Google WiFi), then you should be just fine. Many folks on the site here may need some pretty advanced stuff and those are either not easy or not possible currently with the device. But the normal user should be just fine and it works pretty darn well.


    I've got one of the pucks using wired back haul and the other using wireless mesh back haul and it works fine with that mixed configuration.


    Edit: I see the other comment on Chromecast. We use 4 chromecast audio devices, 1 third-party chromecast audio (built into a big blue party speaker), 1 TV with built in cast and 2 other TVs with external Chromecast and never have an issue even when playing audio to all 5 of the chromecast audio devices using groups. So I guess they fixed what the other poster had hit.

    • Avatar

      Polycrastinator

      In reply to JerryH:

      While you're not able to set the subnet (you end up with 192.168.x.y, where x is a random number), once it's set up it's consistent, and it's staggeringly easy to create a reservation for a device from the app. Port forwarding etc. is all there. It's stripped down but I suspect it's functional for even most techies.

  14. Avatar

    wolters

    I recently added the single one at home and it has been a fantastic experience.

  15. Avatar

    jbinaz

    Interesting you posted this today as Scott Hanselman posted a review of AmpliFi today.

  16. Avatar

    rameshthanikodi

    Looking forward to hear more! These are great if you ignore Google's history of abandonware, so i'll ignore that for now. But people will remain skeptical until Google demonstrates a real commitment to these things. Also doesn't help that a Google Account hiccup caused everyone's Google Wifi to be reset. I admire this for Google's attempt to try something new, but no need to reinvent the wheel. We just want to set it up once and get wifi forever. Until then, other systems like Orbi and Velop also offer configuration via apps as well and those systems have demonstrated to be just as good - or better - without Google's wheel reinvention.

  17. Avatar

    Hougaard

    Interesting, why selecting anything but Ubiquiti AmpliFi Mesh at this point?

  18. Avatar

    Waethorn

    How long is the Ethernet cable?

  19. Avatar

    pwrof3

    I know I'm crazy, but I still adhere to the "No Google Anything" in my life. I did it several years ago when they had a lot of privacy issues and haven't gotten back to it at all.

    These Wifi devices sure look interesting though. It's a great concept. I look forward to reading about how they work with your new house.

  20. Avatar

    the_real_entheos

    I have had a 3 pack Google Wifi setup for a few months, and was kind of disappointed that the satellite stations all have to communicate directly with the main one connected to the WAN or cable modem, so no daisy-chaining (have your WAN connection centralized.) I think that connecting the satellites with an ethernet cable will allow you to extend the range, but I haven't had time to try this yet. The app is pretty darn good though, with statistics on speed, priority control, and more.

  21. Avatar

    jim.mcintosh

    I was inspired by the article to look into Mesh Wifi. First I went to Netgear to see what they had, and found the Orbi. From there I bounced over to CNET to read their review. When I got to the performance chart and saw that the router I already have - the R7000 Nighthawk topped the list; I figured I was done for now.

  22. Avatar

    Bats

    Congrats to Paul. I am so proud of him. Not only has he chosen to get scroogled, but he's lovin' it. LOL...just kidding.

    Like I said, in a previous post, Google is the best in the business for setting up an affordable "smart home."

    Now all Paul has to do, is make sure that his Google Home is not only connected to the Wifi (which I am sure will be easy to do), but also to his TV.

    Also, buy the NEST thermostat (by Google) and connect every TV with a Chromecast.

    IN addition, I would also buy the RING doorbell for the heck of it.

    Welcome to the real world, Thurrott family!

    (next up: CHROMEBOOKS) *evil laugh*

  23. Avatar

    Bats

    One more thing......for Paul. For some odd reason, in my head, ...perhaps I heard it from a podcast, but why put bookshelf speakers in your entertainment area. Just get another Google Home and use it as a speaker or an Alexa device? The point is...moving to a new home, means a new opportunity to start all over in life and with Paul being 50 years old...keep things simple. Lose the clutter. If you need to have music, just buy a bluetooth speaker like a Bose or a Bang& Olufsen and stream the music from your phone. All in all, don't complicate your lifestyle.

  24. Avatar

    Lateef Alabi-Oki

    How is it a "high-quality Apple knockoff" when Apple doesn't even sell a mesh network system?

    • Avatar

      Jack Smith

      In reply to mystilleef:

      It is not only Apple does not sell mesh but they ended development of all their network gear late last year. The last update, 7.7.8, was late in 2016. I replaced our AirPort Extremes with Google Wifi last Christmas and could not be happier.


      My daughter could never stream video reliability in her room and would get buffering. With Google WiFi no more buffering and that makes me a hero!


      BTW, if have Apple network gear replace it with something. I recommend the Google WiFi but just be sure to replace it. You do NOT want insecure network gear.


      "Apple Abandons Development of Wireless Routers"


      https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-21/apple-said-to-abandon-development-of-wireless-routers-ivs0ssec

    • Avatar

      Polycrastinator

      In reply to mystilleef:

      The white, "clean" look and packaging is a thing now. I think that's what Paul is referring to.

  25. Avatar

    lightbody

    I finally set mine up last night - 2 units for a mid-sized UK two-floor house.


    After reading reviews online, I took the approach of least resistance. I switched my existing cable modem/router into modem-only mode, and then let the Google Wifi master unit do the entire network via my existing switch that I moved over to it.


    Setup was very, very easy, and I gave the new wifi network the same name and password as my old one which made things much easier. I'm seeing very strong wifi with very high speeds that I hadn't seen before. The 2nd unit probably wasn't needed because the WiFi signal from the first is so much stronger than the old cable modem/router was.


    I'm very happy with it and as an IT professional, I look forward to NOT having to maintain my own network!

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