NOT a TRUE mesh Wi-Fi system. Does this mean don’t consider Google Wi-Fi? Hardly. For some, it’s an excellent choice…maybe their best choice.
UNBOXING, AND INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:
Excellent job in the packaging design, Google. Not even Apple could have come up with packaging as elegant as this. The box isn’t just “nice looking”…it’s top-quality, with a hint of Japanese influence. Upon opening the box, you find 3 Google Wi-Fi units in near-perfect presentation, with each unit appearing to be high quality. They are compact, & can easily be placed where they will not be overly noticed. Under the tray, there are 3 identical boxes, with each box containing a white power cord/adapter. The middle box also contains a white, flat, 6ft Ethernet cable. The power cord/adapters also have a unique design, almost Apple-esque, but better looking. The instruction sheet is very simple, explaining everything with 2 diagrams, and very few words.
Setup is a breeze, requiring only plugging the power cord into the chosen primary unit & wall outlet, plugging the Ethernet cable into the router’s WAN port, & plugging the opposite end into the router. Configuring the primary unit (henceforth “router”) is as simple as installing the app (Google Play, or Apple App stores), opening the app, making sure your Bluetooth is turned on, and scanning the QR code on the bottom of each node. From there, you select your SSID & password, the router automatically configures itself, & downloads/installs any available firmware update. I estimate it should take approximately 10-14 minutes to set up & configure a 3-unit system. In testing, I ran multiple speed tests & data transfer tests. For each type, I first ran the “current” router tests, followed by the Google Wi-Fi tests. So as to not use too much space, I’ll only reference results.
SPEED & SIGNAL STRENGTH TESTS:
To begin, I set up only a single node to compare against my current router (brand A$^s). After running several speed tests on both 2.4GHz & 5GHz bands, I determined both routers operate almost equally, with download speeds of 89-92Mbps, and uploads of 6.5-7.5Mbps. After speed tests, I moved to signal strength tests, checking signal strengths on both bands. As with the speed tests, signal strengths proved approximately equal. Interestingly, while it’s normal for signal strength to decrease as distance and/or number of walls increases, the percentage of signal decrease was not equal. On the 2.4GHz bands, my “current” router was marginally better at the closer distances, but as distance increased, signal strengths became virtually equal. For the 5GHz band, the results were the opposite. At closer distances, Google Wi-Fi produced slightly stronger 5GHz signals, but at greater distances, Google Wi-Fi had the greater signal strength loss.
To test Google Wi-Fi’s “mesh” ability, I added a second unit, to the far opposite exterior corner of the condo. To compare signal strengths, I also connected a repeater to my “current” router (same manufacturer as router), in the same location as the 2nd Google Wi-Fi node. Signal strengths on both the 2.4GHz & 5GHz bands were relatively consistant.
DATA TRANSFER TESTS:
A total of 15 data transfer tests were conducted, & internet speeds were not affected, as the internet provider connection is the true “bottleneck”. For each (Google Wi-Fi, plus my “current” router), data transfer tests were conducted in 3 ways, all with a 1.01GB file. First, between two laptops. Second, from a network-connected drive to my laptop. Third, from my laptop to the network drive. The first 6 tests (3 per router/manufacturer) were done while connected only to the router, with the laptops & network drive in living room. The remaining 9 tests were done with the ‘controlling’ laptop in the back bedroom, and the other laptop & network drive in the living room…“controlling” laptop connected to the repeater/node, and the 2nd laptop & network drive connected to the router. 6 involved a 2-node Google Wi-Fi mesh against my “current” router, while 3 involved my “current” router plus the repeater.
For the first 6 tests, the results were close, as expected. Moving to the 2-node mesh vs router-only configuration, my “current” router won (also as expected), although by a somewhat narrow margin. I expected the Google Wi-Fi’s data transfer rate to be half, but it was much better. I won’t spoil the fun, but kudos to Google, as I was extremely surprised. While I fully expected my “current” router-repeater configuration to cut data transfer speeds in half, or close to it, the results of the 2-node Google Wi-Fi were unexpected. While my “current” router-repeater configuration preformed far better than expected (data transfer speed degraded approximately 35%), the 2-node Google Wi-Fi configuration performed even better (data transfer speed degraded approximately 25%). What Google Wi-Fi lacks in advanced features, it makes up for in data transfer speeds.
There is one point of interest (not “good”, but not “bad”) I discovered while testing. Google Wi-Fi automatically selects which band (2.4GHz or 5GHz) it connects to…there’s NO ability to manually select your band. Also, with the app, you have no way of knowing which band your devices (computers, phones, tablets, etc) are connected to. Through the device, you might be able to determine this, but through the app, you can’t. For devices with ability to connect via both bands, I assume they connects to the 5GHz band when in close proximity of a Google Wi-Fi node, and when signal strength degrades, it probably automatically switches to the 2.4GHz band. Additionally, Google Wi-Fi automatically switches channels, based on whatever channels have the lowest congestion. As with Google Wi-Fi’s inability to manually select 2.4GHz or 5GHz, there’s also no ability to manually select the channel.
To use Google Wi-Fi, you need a Google account (ie. Gmail address). According to Google, Google Wi-Fi doesn’t collect user activity data…only network, hardware, and app-related information. You do have the ability to turn this off in the setting’s ‘Privacy’ section. As a constant connection with Google is required, this could be a ‘deal breaker’ for some. However, it should be noted that Google’s “mesh network system” is not the only hardware requiring this. Of the other two well-known mesh networking hardware manufacturers, one has an identical requirement. Additionally, there’s no web browser interface. An Android/iOS app is needed to set-up Google Wi-Fi, and to configure & maintain Google Wi-Fi. This is, again, a ‘deal breaker’ for some…and an advantage for others. Personally, I’ve found this to be a considerable advantage.
THE GOOD: Ease of setting up
Ease of configuring
Ease of maintaining
Modular design (can handle up to six units, up to a 10,500sf house (by my estimates))
Inexpensive (comparted to other mesh Wi-Fi systems)
THE BAD: Few advanced/customizable features (this could change in future updates)
No DDNS or VPN ability
Port forwarding, and DHCP, are difficult to configure
THE UGLY: No MAC filtering (this could change in future updates)
No switch, limited to single physically-connected network device (unless external switch is added)
Is Google Wi-Fi for you? It depends on your technical expertise, how much security you need, & how much network control you want. If you live in an apartment/small condo, then the answer is probably “No”. For the same $129 price of a single Google Wi-Fi unit, you can get a router with more advanced features. If you live in a house/large condo, the answer is complicated. For power users, Google Wi-Fi will NOT meet your needs. If you’re an “average” consumer wanting/needing a mesh network, but want advanced features (ie. MAC filtering), until Google adds these features (if Google adds them), the answer is still “No”.
However…”good news” time…for the average consumer needing a mesh Wi-Fi system, who doesn’t need MAC filtering, DDNS, VPN, etc, Google Wi-Fi might be your BEST choice. You’re NOT going to find a more affordable mesh Wi-Fi system. You’re NOT going to find another home networking system that’s easier to set up, or configure. You’re NOT going to find home networking equipment that’s easier to maintain. Simply put, if I were shopping for a mesh network system for family/friends, I knew they had a large area-of-coverage need, & I knew they didn’t need MAC filtering, VPN, DDNS, etc, Google Wi-Fi would be the ONLY system I’d consider for them.
Disclaimer: This product was provided free, or at reduced cost, for the purpose of reviewing the product. Nevertheless, the above review, be it positive, negative, or somewhere in-between, is a 100% honest review, and the price paid played absolutely no part in my review.