Google Nest Wifi Is All the Router Most People Need

Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

At last month’s big hardware extravaganza, Google finally showed off an update to its three-year-old mesh wifi system that now lives under the company’s Nest smart home brand. Despite a lack of support for the new WiFi 6 standard, Google Nest Wifi includes other hardware and performance upgrades, including access points that double as Nest Mini smart speakers, which means new users to the Google eco-system can get away with buying less hardware.

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Upgrading your home from a single wireless router to a mesh networking solution has a few key advantages. Not only does it spread the load of wifi-connected devices across multiple access points to improve performance, but it can also dramatically increase the range of your home’s wireless network without the need for a monstrous router sprouting garish antennas.

Of all the mesh networking solutions out there, the new Nest Wifi is undoubtedly the most aesthetically pleasing with a matte finish, generously rounded corners, and minimal LED lighting. Having used the original Google Wifi for the past year, I can attest that its hardware designers went a little overboard with the glowing rings of status LEDs—even if their intensity could be adjusted. The Nest Wifi hardware, by comparison, is designed to not draw much attention to itself.

The Nest Wifi Point (upper left) compared to the original Google Wifi access point (upper right) and the new Nest Mini smart speaker (bottom).
Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

Compared to the older Google Wifi hardware which looked like glowing LED hockey pucks, the Nest Wifi router and access points (differentiated by size and a speaker grill on the latter) all look like nondescript blobs. They can be left out in the open to improve their performance without being an eyesore. Everyone making wifi hardware should take note.

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The Nest Wifi router includes just a single additional ethernet port, while the access points do away with them altogether.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

Google promises that Nest Wifi has twice the speed and processing power of the older hardware and much better coverage, with the $269 two-pack (including the router and one point) covering around 3,800 square feet of space, which is comparable to the reach of the Google Wifi three-pack. That’s under ideal conditions, however, and if you happen to live in a multi-floor fallout shelter with concrete walls and floors, two access points might not be enough. But in my house, with the Nest Wifi router on the main floor and a single point in my upstairs office, I still had excellent wifi performance in the farthest corners of my basement where a single router setup wasn’t able to reach when I first moved in.

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But if you do struggle with blanketing your entire house with a reliable wireless network, Nest Wifi might not be the best solution for you. Unlike its competitors such as Eero, Google’s mesh networking solutions don’t include a dedicated wireless channel for the nodes to talk to each other and share your home’s internet connection. What that means in practice is that any device connecting to one of the Nest Wifi points will see internet speeds slower than what the router delivers. Most users with a fast internet connection won’t notice the drop in performance (streaming 4K videos through a Nest Wifi point should still be no problem) but it’s a hardware limitation to keep in mind if you live in a house where high-speed internet isn’t always guaranteed.

Google Nest Wifi also (unfortunately) includes a redesigned wall wart with a round design that has required me to re-arrange what’s plugged into outlets and power bars.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)
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Further limiting connectivity is Google’s decision to not include ethernet ports on the Nest Wifi points for devices you want to connect with a cable. It’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, as you can always purchase multiple copies of the Nest Wifi router to build a mesh network that includes ethernet connectivity around your house. But that’s a workaround that will mostly appeal to power users, and Nest Wifi just doesn’t feel targeted to them. If you don’t know what ethernet is and are happy to eliminate as many wires in your home as possible, you’re who Google has in mind for the Nest Wifi.

All of the network setup and customization is done through apps (which can get confusing) and you can’t access the Nest Wifi router’s settings through a browser using its IP address like you can with other networking hardware.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)
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Getting the Nest Wifi hardware up and running is one of the biggest reasons to opt for Google’s mesh networking solution, or to recommend it to family members who often harass you for tech support, as it’s long included one of the most straightforward setup processes. However, with the addition of Google Assistant voice functionality through the points, and the transition to the Nest brand, the setup process now includes additional options and EULAs to wade through. It also bounces you between the Google Home and Google Wifi apps, the former being used for the initial setup, while the latter is used to customize and monitor your network once it’s running. Google promises everything will eventually be unified in the Google Home app, but I don’t understand why that unification didn’t happen in time for the release of Nest Wifi.

As for the added smart speaker functionality to the Nest Wifi access points? It’s fine. Hardware-wise the points are nearly identical to the new Nest Mini smart speaker, aside from the extra bits needed to distribute wireless internet. They also sound nearly identical, but I’d lean towards the Nest Wifi points as sounding a little better overall if I had to choose. More importantly, having this functionality included with Nest Wifi hardware means you need fewer Nest Mini speakers around your home, and Google has made a growing list of wifi options now accessible through voice commands, like turning off access to a pre-defined group of devices (think your kids’ phones at dinner time), prioritizing specific devices (the PS4), or even verbally requesting speed tests.

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The most useful voice-enabled feature makes it easy to get visitors onto your home’s guest wifi network. Instead of having to read out a complex password and hope they type it in correctly, you can ask your Google Nest Hub to display a QR code that when photographed will automatically copy the login details to someone’s smartphone or tablet. The Google Home and Google Wifi apps are still essential at this point, but Google is making a strong case for why using your voice is more convenient than reaching for your smartphone.

The lack of support for the WiFi 6 standard might deter some users who want the latest and greatest, but Google didn’t feel there was enough WiFi 6 devices in the wild to justify the extra cost for this update. As a result, if you’re already a Google Wifi user, there’s not a lot of reasons to make the upgrade to Nest Wifi. Just keep your eyes peeled for a great deal on the Nest Mini which will probably go on sale as the holidays approach. If you still haven’t upgraded to a mesh system yet, Google’s hardware is still the best solution, and with Nest Wifi there’s even less hardware to have to setup and maintain.

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Clarification, 3:50 p.m. EST/EDT: Users can stick with just the Google Home app, which is used to setup the Nest Wifi system. But to access more advanced details about your wireless network, or functions like setting up a guest network, the Google Wifi app is still required until those options are ported to the Google Home app.

README

  • Twice the performance, memory, and performance of the original Google Wifi means the new Nest Wifi can blanket the average home in wireless internet using just two access points.
  • A more subtle design makes the Nest Wifi router and points less conspicuous around your home.
  • The Nest Wifi access points now double as smart speakers, and several network options are now accessible using voice commands.
  • No dedicated wireless backhaul channel, and no ethernet ports on the points means Nest Wifi might not be the best option for power users.
  • No WiFi 6 support, which will disappoint those who buy gadgets for bragging rights.
  • Setup is relatively painless, although a bit longer with the inclusion of Google Assistant now. You’ll also need to jump between the Google Home and Google Wifi apps, although Google plans to eventually unify the two.
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