Reviews: PC

Orbi mini: Smaller, cheaper Wi-Fi system

The Netgear Orbi, which comes as a pair (a router and a satellite), has a dedicated Wi-Fi band between its two units, a feature that helps it achieve better performance and coverage.
The Netgear Orbi, which comes as a pair (a router and a satellite), has a dedicated Wi-Fi band between its two units, a feature that helps it achieve better performance and coverage.PHOTO: NETGEAR

The Netgear Orbi was the first Wi-Fi system to debut in Singapore last year. Unlike a standard router, Wi-Fi systems consist of multiple wireless nodes working in tandem to extend the coverage, as well as improve the performance, of your home Wi-Fi.

The Orbi, which comes as a pair (a router and a satellite), has a dedicated Wi-Fi band between its two units. This feature helps it achieve better Wi-Fi performance and coverage than competitors' systems that lack the feature.

However, the theoretical bandwidth of this Wi-Fi band has been halved in the new Orbi mini (RBK40) - to 867Mbps (from 1,733Mbps). In real life, the Orbi is unlikely to provide the maximum throughput but there is more leeway for performance degradation from a starting point of 1,733Mbps, compared with 867Mbps.

In other words, client devices that are connected to the satellite unit will likely not enjoy the same top Wi-Fi speeds as devices using the router unit.

Netgear has also reduced the advertised area of coverage of the Orbi mini to 4,000 sq ft from the original Orbi's 5,000 sq ft.

On the bright side, the Orbi mini is slightly more compact and has all the features of its larger sibling. This means that it has the same complement of Gigabit LAN ports - three on the router and four on the satellite. In comparison, typical Wi-Fi systems offer just one or two LAN ports.

Netgear recommends using the Orbi mobile app (available for iOS and Android) to set up the Orbi mini, though you can also use a Web browser on a computer.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $599 (One Orbi router and one Orbi satellite)

    ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN, 3 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN (for router), 4 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN (for satellite)

    STANDARDS: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

    SECURITY: WPA/WPA2, WEP


    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Because its two hardware units are linked out of the box, setting up the Orbi mini is quick and painless. You'll probably spend most of the time deciding where to place the satellite unit for the best coverage.

Thankfully, the ring LED indicators at the top of the Orbi mini makes this process a cinch - it glows blue if the distance between the router and the satellite is ideal, while a magenta light means you should place them closer together.

Confusingly, you have to use a different app - Netgear Genie (available for iOS and Android) - to configure or monitor your Wi-Fi network after completing the initial set-up with the Orbi app. While Netgear has given it a minor facelift, the Genie app is still not as polished as other router apps.

If you need to delve into the Orbi mini's advanced settings, you can do so only via its Web interface. This interface looks neat enough, but it is sluggish, taking more than a minute to change the Wi-Fi password, for instance.

Those with an Amazon Echo speaker can use Alexa voice commands to execute simple tasks like turning on or off the guest network and rebooting the router. Speaking for myself, I would rather Netgear improve its core software instead of enabling these parlour tricks.

In my testing, the Orbi mini achieved a top download speed of 342Mbps. This is lower than the original Orbi (382Mbps), but competitive against its rival, the Linksys Velop (324Mbps).

At $599, the Orbi mini costs $50 less than the original Orbi. This pricing also puts it at the same price as a two-unit Velop bundle. While the Orbi mini has slightly more features - such as more LAN ports - than the Velop, Linksys has narrowed the gap in recent months with firmware upgrades. The Linksys mobile app also looks sleeker and is more user-friendly.

Vincent Chang

• The Orbi mini provides good coverage and decent Wi-Fi performance, albeit at a higher cost than a standard router. I prefer it over the Velop mainly because I need the LAN ports, but other users may prefer the smaller Velop and its sleek user experience.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Orbi mini: Smaller, cheaper Wi-Fi system'. Print Edition | Subscribe