Photo: Netgear

Ever wonder why your wifi router just sits there, delivering you sweet access to the whole internet but not much more? Netgear evidently realizes that people like multipurpose gadgets because it’s now offering an Orbi wifi router with a built-in Harman Kardon speaker and Amazon Alexa capabilities. It’s like a pumped up Echo, in a really weird way.

Weird isn’t bad, per se. The new Orbi Voice system works just like the well reviewed mesh-networking router setup, except you can play music through it and ask Alexa about the weather. You cannot, however, use the Orbi Voice as your primary wifi router. The new smart speaker is designed to operate as a satellite in an existing Orbi system, which means you’ll need a Netgear Orbi base station. Once connected, the new Orbi Voice satellite will amplify the network and also work as an Alexa-enabled speaker. The speaker itself enjoys Harman Kardon audio technology, which should make it sound better than your standard Amazon Echo, too.

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Like the Orbi wifi systems currently on the market, the new Orbi Voice promises to be fast and powerful. Netgear says that a setup with an Orbi base station along with the Orbi Voice satellite will blanket 4,500 square feet with wifi coverage at speeds up to 3Gbps. The Orbi mesh networking equipment also offers tri-band support, which means you get a 2.4 GHz and a 5GHz bands that your devices will automatically join based on which one is faster. There’s a third 5GHz band that the Orbi satellites use to communicate with each other and with the base station. Netgear was the first company to offer this technology in a mesh networking system, and people seem to love it.

The big question with the new Orbi smart speaker option is whether you’re willing to pay a premium to have a wifi satellite that’s also an Alexa-enabled smart speaker, because Orbi Voice is not cheap. Netgear is selling the new Orbi system as a package deal: one Orbi base station and one Orbi Voice smart speaker slash satellite for $430. If you already own an Orbi system, you can buy the Orbi Voice satellite as an add-on for $300. That’s a hundred bucks more than an entire new, $400 tri-band Eero system which does not include a smart speaker, and significantly more than the Plume subscription-based system which also does not include a smart speaker and starts at $40 plus a $60 annual fee. The only question remains: do you really need a wifi satellite that’s also an Echo?