If you’re reading this, you may agree with me that wifi, in general, kind of sucks. Either that or the homes many of us live in suck. No matter where you choose to aim your ire, the point remains that reliable wireless internet isn’t always attainable in the places we’d like it to be, which is where Google Nest Wifi comes in.
A rebrand and refresh of the older Google Wifi mesh system, Nest Wifi is a Google-branded router with the option of expanding its signal range through smaller Nest wifi nodes. The router and nodes work in tandem to, ideally, create a powerful and seamless wifi network through a space that couldn’t accommodate that otherwise.
Oh, and every device involved is also a Google Assistant-powered smart speaker. That part is important.
I had the chance to test out Google’s newest mesh setup in my apartment, which is a long and narrow Brooklyn domicile that’s traditionally been absolute hell for wireless signals. With just a router and a single wifi node, I got impressive results, but the experience ultimately left me wanting more.
The price of logging on
The mesh wifi market has gotten pretty crowded in recent years, and Google’s new entrant is in the upper half in terms of price, depending on your needs. The router on its own is $169.99, but assuming you need at least one point (you probably do if you’re reading this), those are $149.99 separately.
The saving grace here is that Google sells router-plus-point bundles that are a little more reasonably priced. A router and one point is $269.99, while a router and two points is $349.99. That’s not nothing, but the router on its own can cover up to 2,200 square feet and each individual point can reach 1,600 square feet, so I imagine most people won’t need more than two points.
Still, there are cheaper options out there. It isn’t the greatest look for Google from a pure coverage standpoint that something like TP-Link’s Deco setup comes with more mesh points for $159.99. I can’t directly compare performance between Nest Wifi and its cheaper competitors, but their existence is worth noting, at least.
Simple setup and powerful performance
If you’re wary about Nest Wifi’s somewhat high price not being worth it, let me allay those fears a little bit. Internet signal has been a constant headache in my apartment for more than a year, and Nest Wifi more or less fixed it in about 10 minutes. From a pure performance perspective, it’s tough not to be impressed.
Setting up Nest Wifi is comically easy, with the caveat that you need to do it through Google’s ecosystem, of course. To start, I had to download the Google Home mobile app, log into my Google account, and unplug the router I normally use. After plugging in the Nest router, all I had to do was follow the instructions in the Home app, most of which involved waiting for the router and the wifi point to turn on and connect with each other.
I had to fiddle with the placement of the point a little bit due to the unaccommodating shape of my apartment, but the good news is, you can do that without any real fuss. It takes a good 30 to 45 seconds to boot back up after you plug it into a new wall outlet, but there’s no additional setup needed.
All told, after 10 minutes or so, the dead zones in my place were brimming with internet life. The extended signal wasn’t as powerful as the one in the same room as the router, but it was more than usable for modern needs like streaming and remote working. For the numbers-obsessed among you, the area that used to be a wifi graveyard consistently got between 25 and 50 Mbps of download speed.
Not amazing, but a heck of a lot better than before.
As is the case with any hardware Google makes these days, both the Nest router and point are Assistant-enabled. You can talk to them, and they’ll talk to you back. If you’re a smart speaker philistine like me, there’s a physical switch to turn the microphones off, too.
That said, being able to run speed tests and whatnot with voice commands is pretty handy. The Google Home app also gives you a solid amount of control over Nest Wifi. You can name and rename devices, sort them into groups, and even pause wifi from a point if you want the kids to go to bed or you’d like to mess with your roommates.
One benefit of Google’s approach here is that both the router and any points you get are much more presentable than the typical internet equipment. One of the great hypocrisies of our age is that most routers don’t look great on display, but their signal output is better when they’re high up and visible. Google found a decent workaround by making these devices look like things people tend to place prominently in their homes.
Again, while I’m more inclined to use the app than my voice, I came to appreciate the convenience of Nest Wifi’s smart features. Being able to run a mesh test while I’m away from home is pretty cool.
Wires are still valid, dang it
By now, I’ve made it clear that Nest Wifi is powerful and convenient in many ways. That said, my biggest hangup with it by far is a near-total lack of ethernet ports.
This is not going to matter to some consumers, but to someone like me who occasionally plays video games online (and likes to get as much speed as I can otherwise), this is inconvenient to say the least. The base router has two ports, but since one of them is permanently occupied by a connection to the modem, it really only has one that can be used for other things. The points don’t have any ethernet ports at all.
There are plenty of good reasons to use wired internet, even in 2019, so this is an unfortunate omission on Google’s part. It might make for a more elegant visual presentation, but function ultimately matters more than form when it comes to online connectivity. When you factor in that lots of other mesh systems include ethernet ports, even on extension points, it knocks several points off Nest Wifi’s value.