Google Nest Wifi review: Simple, speedy mesh internet and a great foundation for Google smart homes

When I took off the lid for the first time Google Nest Wifi box, the whole thing slipped out of my hand and the hardware inside fell out. I could only watch in horror as Google’s marshmallow network router fell to the floor and rolled across the wooden floor in my living room.

Fortunately, this system is idiot-proof, and not just when it comes to sudden and spontaneous drop tests. You plug it in, do what the app says, and 10 minutes later your new mesh network is up and running and spreads a Wi-Fi signal throughout your home that is as fast as you could reasonably expect. It’s as easy as setting up a smart speaker, because in addition to extending the range of the Nest Wifi router, each Nest Wifi access point is itself a smart speaker. You get one for each – the Google Nest Wifi router and a Nest Wifi point with built-in microphones and surprisingly adequate bass – for $ 269 (£ 239, AU $ 399).

The Nest Wifi router, on the left, is a Nest Wifi access point that extends the range. The holes at the top of the dot are for the far-field microphones it uses to hear Google Assistant voice commands.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Between the presence of the Google Assistant and the fact that you’ll be running everything through the Google Home app, Nest Wifi asks you to plant a foot in Google’s smart home garden if you haven’t already. And it’s not cheap. For comparison, Amazon’s own third-generation three-piece mesh system Eero costs $ 249, or $ 20 less than a Nest Wifi setup with just two devices. Meanwhile, a three-piece Netgear Orbi AC1200 mesh system costs $ 229 at Best Buy. It’s more than $ 100 cheaper than the three-piece version of the Nest Wifi.

However, the Nest Wifi proved to be fast, reliable, and easy to use and outperformed the Eero and Orbi in my speed tests (yes, even after I dropped it). It does not support the latest and fastest version of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, but this is only really important if you plan to have an internet connection faster than 500 megabits per second or so within the next few years (do not hold your breath).

This all adds up to the mesh router which I would tell most people to consider first if they are considering purchasing one right now. Our Editors’ Choice Award winner, Google Nest Wifi, is a great upgrade for anyone who has already invested in Google’s Internet ecosystem of services and devices, especially those who would appreciate the ability to expand the Google Assistant footprint into own home. But those who aren’t busy with Google at this point would do well to shop around, because better mesh values ​​with comparable coverage are already available today.

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The Nest Wifi router is only available in white, but the Nest Wifi points are available in three colors of your choice.

James Martin / CNET

Editor’s note, April 8, 2020: We have updated this review with additional product test data. Google Nest Wifi remains one of our best mesh router picks.


A new design

Google is currently working to center all of its smart home offerings behind a unified Nest brand. So, what used to be Google Wifi is now Google Nest Wifi. Google marked the occasion with a brand new design, faster top speeds, and the addition of Google Assistant voice controls at every Nest Wifi point. And, with a welcome touch for existing users, all new hardware is backward compatible with previous generation Google Wifi equipment.

Read more: Nest Wifi and Google Wifi – all the ways the two mesh routers are different

Aside from the Nest branding, you’ll control everything via the Google Home app, which requires a Google account. The app is clean and simple enough and does a great job walking you through an easy-to-get-started setup process. You just have to plug everything in, tell the app to connect to the router, then scan a QR code at the bottom of each spot with your phone’s camera. A few minutes later, your mesh network will be up and running.

The Google Home app allows you to create groups of devices on your network and then pause their internet access whenever you want. Be afraid, rebellious children.

Screenshot by Ry Crist / CNET

The app doesn’t offer as many features as something like this a dedicated gaming router, but you still have some useful controls on your network. You can view the devices connected to it and group them together, then suspend the connection to those devices at any time you want, even with a quick voice command. This is basically a parental superpower, but it’s not exclusive to Google – the most decent routers have some form of device locking feature at this point, and many can sync with Alexa or the Google Assistant to allow you to toggle the connection for groups of devices using a quick voice command.

The Nest Wifi can also prioritize traffic to any device on your network, which is useful if you’re playing 4K videos or gaming online. Speaking of games, the system will automatically prioritize traffic for Google Stadia, the research giant’s cloud gaming platform.

You only have a spare Gigabit Ethernet port on the bottom of the Nest router, and the Nest Wifi point doesn’t include any Ethernet jacks.

Chris Monroe / CNET

As for the hardware itself, the Nest Wifi router and Nest Wifi access point feature a simplistic and harmless design designed to integrate into your home without needing to be hidden from view, where they won’t work as well. To this end, the dots come in three colors of your choice, but the router is only available in white.

Another quibble: The router only includes a single spare Ethernet jack, and there are no Ethernet jacks on the points at all. This means you can only get a single wired connection for something like a game console or smart home bridge before having to buy a separate Ethernet hub. It also means you can’t connect a cable to the Nest Wifi access point to daisy-chain a wired connection for faster mesh performance.

You can tap the top of the Nest Wifi point to pause or resume playback, or to adjust the volume. As with the Nest Mini, the lights will show you where the volume controls are.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Speaking of points, they are functionally identical to Google’s Nest Mini smart speakers. They include access to all the same features as the voice-activated Google Assistant, as well as a microphone mute switch in the back and touch controls on the top. The sound quality is more or less on par with the Nest Mini and other small smart speakers like the Amazon Echo Dot – meaning it’s ideal for casual listening, but probably won’t disappoint at a house party.

Like Google Wifi before (and like most other mesh networks), the dual-band Nest Wifi doesn’t separate the 2.4GHz band from the faster 5GHz band. Instead, it automatically “guides” you between the two. on a single network as you move around the house. This worked particularly well in my tests, where I moved from room to room, performing a speed test after a speed test – I never noticed any hiccups in the signal whatsoever. Despite dropping that, I never saw fit to return the favor and cut my connection.

The mesh category is getting crowded and more and more affordable.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Is Nest’s mesh the best?

At launch in 2019, Nest Wifi’s two main competitors were the Eero is Netgear Orbi, two high-profile rivals who have launched new mesh systems around the same time as Google, each of them is less expensive than Nest. With Eero, you get a three-piece mesh setup for $ 249. With the brand new Netgear Orbi system, a three-piece setup costs $ 229. For comparison, a three-piece Nest Wifi setup costs $ 349.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of new mesh systems enter the market, including several new systems that support next-generation Wi-Fi 6 speeds. They include a faster and more elaborate Netgear Orbi system is a cheaper Netgear Nighthawk setup, as well as a new Asus ZenWiFi Wi-Fi 6 mesh system.

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