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Friday, September 14, 2018

Review: Google WiFi

I usually try to stay away from Google's hardware consumer products: it's quite clear to me that Google's product managers suffer from a severe case of Apple envy, and as a result tend to go for an unimaginative copy of Apple products rather than technical excellence.

Our problem is that the house we're currently living in is huge, too much even for our old "Dark Knight" router to cover. There was a sale on the Google WiFi 3 pack during the Amazon Prime Day, so I picked it up, hoping the mesh network coverage will work out.

The marketing literature claims 3000 square foot coverage. In reality, that's going to be true only if you have the primary unit in the optimal section of the house. Since we couldn't choose where to put our primary unit, the coverage isn't quite there. I was surprised by how close the units have to be: the instructions say the units have to be about 2 rooms apart, which is about 20' or so. The wifi units don't really work together: they all want to link themselves to the primary unit rather than doing an extra hop through an intermediate wifi point. So much for smart configuration.

Setup is easy, though time consuming, as the setting up of the WiFi unit requires an app which seems to take forever to run. The unit in the office got a wired connection to an ethernet hub and serves 4 computers. Speeds on computers in the unit reading and writing to our Windows Server in the equipment closet went from about 50Mbps to 150Mbps, which is a significant speedup.

Unlike the Dark Knight router, Google WiFi serves only one access point, rather than letting you split coverage between 2 bands. This makes covering units very easy (only one WiFi password to remember) but also means for instance, that you can't deliberately set certain devices to certain channels to avoid conflict. Google claims that the software does the right thing automatically, and provides testing features in its app for you to check wifi speed.

The units require a reboot about once a month or so. The irritating part about this is that the mesh would break down and tell you inane things like: "move the mesh wifi points closer together" even though the units had worked correctly the day before. You just have to pick the "reboot" option and hope everything comes together.

All in all, Google WiFi was surprisingly decent for a Google hardware product. As of this writing, the TP-Link Deco (based on the same hardware) is cheaper ($170) and comes with Alexa, so it's potentially better, but I've had bad luck with TP-Link hardware in the past, so I'm not about to experiment. It's nowhere as good as having wired Ethernet all over the house, so if you have an option there I'd still recommend that you run wires.


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