Review: Google Wifi makes routers fun and easy

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Search company’s networking device improves the product category in every way.

google wifi

GOOGLE WIFI
THE GOOD: Easy to set up, plenty of useful features and better connection speeds.
THE BAD: Proper placement of multiple hubs requires some trial and error.
RATING: A A A A

If you were to make a list of sexy tech toys and gadgets, wi-fi routers would surely come in at the bottom. Utilitarian, complicated and often unsightly, they’re the unmistakable ugly ducklings of the tech product world.

That’s going to change thanks to Google Wifi, the search company’s new router that is now available in Canada. Google Wifi takes on all of the typical router’s worst characteristics and slays them dead. It’s a fantastic product through and through.

Setting up a router is normally a nightmare for anyone without a relatively high degree of tech savviness. It typically requires connecting the device to a computer directly and then navigating a confusing array of ports, acronyms and numbers through an interface that looks like it was designed in the 1990s.

There’s none of that here. The Google Wifi mobile app, for iOS and Android, hides all that information in the background and requires just a few simple taps to run. Setup could not be easier, although things do get a little more complicated when additional routers come into play. More on that in a second.

Google Wifi is also relatively handsome – again, at least compared to the competition. It’s round and white, not too dissimilar in size and appearance from a smoke alarm, and is far more appealing than most similar products, many of which are black with numerous protruding antenna.

I’ve often thought my existing Asus router, for one, looks either like an alien artifact or something the Orc army in The Lord of The Rings might use. Google Wifi is comparatively pleasant.

Beyond the easy setup and good aesthetics, it also offers a plethora of features through its app.

Guest mode lets you set up a different access point for friends who may be visiting so that you don’t have to give them your own password. You can also choose which of your home devices they can access.

Family mode is also very useful since it lets you create profiles for different family members, including the devices they use. You can then decide what times of day those devices get to access the internet, which is a handy way of cutting the kids off and making sure they do their homework or go to bed.

Priority mode also lets you divert more of your internet connection’s bandwidth to specific devices. The potential uses here are numerous – you could, for example, prioritize your computer so that your work conference video call isn’t interrupted by the kids watching Netflix elsewhere in the home.

Google Wifi’s app also displays all of the devices that are connected at any time and how much data they’re using. It’s a handy way to keep track of what’s going on for anyone who wants that sort of granularity.

Based on all of this so far, Google Wifi is already superior on a usability level to just about anything else on the market. But does it deliver where it counts – in connectivity, coverage and speeds?

It does – and here’s where things get interesting. Google Wifi is a mesh router, which means a number of the devices can be combined to create a wi-fi cloud over your property. You can add a whole bunch if needed and, if placed properly, they can do a great job of improving your overall wi-fi coverage.

My anecdotal situation is a good example.

I’ve got a relatively small house with two floors and a sizeable back yard. My Lord of the Rings Asus router does a good job covering most of it, although the signal is weaker in the basement where my entertainment centre is.

It’s also weak in the backyard, which makes it tough to watch baseball games while lying in the hammock. I’ve tried range extenders, but they haven’t improved the situation much. Life is tough, right?

I hooked up the main Google Wifi in the same spot as my Asus router, then added a second hub in the basement and a third in the backyard via an extension cord. The main router needs to be connected to a modem via ethernet cable, but the others only need to be plugged into power.

The results are big-time improvements – I now get nearly full-speed wi-fi in both the basement and backyard. To say I’m happy about that would be an understatement. My hammock is going to be a streaming hotspot this summer – I just have to unplug the outdoor hub and bring it inside when I’m not using it.

That’s not to say this all didn’t take some trial and error. Hub placement is vital and devices can get confused if the routers are too close to each other.

Case in point: My tablet initially connected to the wi-fi emanating from the main router and, when I went downstairs to the basement, I found it wasn’t getting full speeds.

A Google technician explained that if I turned the tablet’s wi-fi off and then back on while in the basement, it would reconnect to the closer hub and get those proper speeds. I followed his instructions and indeed it did.

That’s not something the average person is going to know, which is still one remaining hiccup in this arcane world of networking. Proper placement is more of an art than a science, which is clearly an area that Google can potentially improve in. In the meantime, the company is offering free support to all customers.

In a nutshell, a single Google Wifi will probably do for small domiciles, but additional hubs can significantly improve coverage in homes with multiple floors or large footprints.

It isn’t exactly cheap, with one costing $179 and a three-pack going for $439, but it’s ultimately a small price to pay for anyone who’s looking for better overall wi-fi.

Google Wifi delivers where it counts, and improves overall networking by leaps and bounds. While it’s still a far cry from being a sexy product, it certainly does raise the bar for the category, which means competing routers are going to have to become easier to use – and easier on the eyes.

Google supplied a three-pack trial unit for the purposes of this review.

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