Routers are going through a design renaissance of sorts, and Netgear is a microcosm of that change. Take, for instance, the company’s popular Nighthawk router—black, angular, full of antennas. It’s everything Netgear’s newest router isn’t. Called Orbi, this router embraces the well-design future of your home’s internet brain, explored the last few years by Google’s OnHub and smaller startups like Eero and Luma.
But Orbi does bring new ideas to the conversation. The router is the first tri-band mesh network that uses two (or more) routers to blanket your home in sweet, sweet wi-fi. Like dual-band routers, the Orbi, an 802.11ac router supporting speeds up to 3Gbps, offers 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands and can intelligently switch between the two so you always have the best signal, according to Netgear. That third band, however, is also a 5GHz band but only connects other Orbi routers, like a virtual skeleton for your home network. The idea is that this opens up bandwidth since routers won’t need to ride on the other two bands that you’re actually using to form a connection with each other. The result is, hopefully, a mesh network that doesn’t shit the bed. It works something like this:
It also uses LEDs, haloed around the top of the device, to give you glance-able information on your home network. Blue means good. Red means bad. After set up though, the lights turn off completely, unless something goes wrong that is.
Unfortunately, the Orbi does share one feature with its well-designed competition: price. Going on sale in September, the two Orbis—a router and satellite—will run you $400, a particularly steep price considering some of Wirecutter’s favorite routers go for a fraction of that price. You can get a standalone router for $250, but the whole idea behind the system is strength in numbers especially if you have a big home (around 4,000 square feet), so that might not be the best investment. But for some, Orbi’s palatable design and dead simple set up could make that steep price worth it.
But most of all, Netgear’s Orbi validates the concept that creating a mesh network in your home maybe isn’t such a bad idea after all.