Google Wifi Review

Posted on September 18, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, Hardware, iOS, Mobile, Paul, Smart Home with 44 Comments

Google Wifi Review

After using Google Wifi full-time for a month, I’m still impressed with its easy setup and rock-solid performance.

As I wrote way back in early July—it feels like it was two years ago—I knew we’d need to do something different when it came to networking at the new home. And I had resolved early on that the only way to cover this larger place with Wi-Fi would be to use a mesh wireless networking solution.

My choice, made while we were still in Dedham, is Google Wifi. So I purchased a Google Wifi three-pack for $270, which includes three access points and is designed for homes up to 4500 square feet. (If you have a smaller home, you can get individual Google Wifi access points for about $120.)

As I noted in my Google Wifi First Impressions article, Google Wifi is a modular, mesh-based wireless networking solution. It doesn’t provide modem capabilities, so I had arranged for RCN to install a cable modem—and only a cable modem; no Wi-Fi, cable TV or phone—during one of the several trips we made to Pennsylvania before we moved.

I wrote about that experience in Paul’s Tech Makeover: Internet and Mesh Wi-Fi (Premium), but the short version is that RCN is the best of the few choices we have here, and the service offers speeds of 330 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. The cost is $80 per month ($60 for the service plus $10 for the modem and assorted taxes and fees).

As far as Google Wifi goes, the experience has been excellent.

Setup couldn’t be easier. You connect the first access point directly to the modem and then step through a wizard in the super-simple Google Wifi app (Android or iOS). Once the first access point is connected, you place the other access point(s) elsewhere in your home, connect them to power, and add them to the network in turn. The result? A mesh wireless network.

The access points themselves are gorgeous and, dare I say, rather Apple-like with their minimalist white design and pleasant ambient lighting. Each includes a USB-C port for power, an Ethernet port for connecting to the modem (used only on the first access point), and a second Ethernet port for adding a wired device.

One of the unknowns going into this was whether I’d need to wire at least part of the house for Ethernet, as we did back in Dedham. I was vaguely hoping, but not expecting, to be able to work almost exclusively on Wi-Fi. To my surprise, that has not been an issue: In testing the connectivity around the home, I see excellent bandwidth performance everywhere, even in the far corners of the basement. We routinely get over 220 Mbps down on modern wireless devices, like my PC, and 20-25 Mbps up. (And, yes, a wired connection provides the full 330 Mbps.)

That said, I did connect a switch to the first access point since I needed to add two wired devices, a Philips Hue Bridge, which is required for smart lighting, and our home NAS, a WD My Cloud EX2. At some point, I’ll arrange all that in a little cabinet or whatever, but for now, they’re all over the floor in the corner of a room. No judging.

And there is a possibility that I’ll want wired Ethernet for the coming wave of 4K/UHD streaming content via Apple TV 4K and Chromecast Ultra. I will test that first and see how it goes.

I wasn’t able to do too much with the home Internet connection until we moved, but one of the nice things about Google Wifi is that I could check on—and manage—the network remotely. So while we were still in Dedham, and while we were traveling to Barcelona in early August for our annual home swap, I could use the Google Wifi app to see that our home network was online with all three access points working correctly.

Now that we’re here, the app is doubly useful: You can see which devices are online and how much bandwidth they’re consuming. (Which I did to humorous effect one time when my son was utilizing about 90 percent of the bandwidth one time to download a game to his PC.) You can also temporarily set one device as the priority device for a set amount of time, which I have done a few times while the kids were all online but I needed to record a podcast. Windows Weekly gets priority over Netflix, sorry.

My wife was streaming a video to the TV using Chromecast during this test.

The Google Wifi app provides a number of advanced features I don’t need at the moment, including port forwarding, network bridging, and IPv6 support. But it also includes some neat features that most consumers should examine, like the ability to add a separate Wi-Fi network for guests and a Family Wi-Fi feature that can pause the Internet connect at specified times. There are also some very basic and redundant home controls, but you’re better off using other apps (in my case, the Philips Hue app).

The Google Wifi app also presents you with some nice troubleshooting tools, including a network check utility that looks at your download and upload speeds, the strength of your mesh network (the connection between your access points), and your Wi-Fi connectivity. I never actually needed to run any of these tests, but I did so several times anyway just to see how well things were working. There were never any issues.

But the biggest win here is the simplicity: The app-based interface to Google Wifi is obvious and easy to use, and the system itself has just run flawlessly for over two months now, with the second of those months involving steady usage. I cannot recommend this product highly enough, and while there are no doubt more complex mesh wireless networking solutions that do more, I don’t need more. Google Wifi is perfect.

Note: A few of the links in this article are affiliate links. Most are not. –Paul

 

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