Tech review: Google Nest Wifi is a reliable and user-friendly mesh router

The Google Nest Wifi system promises to go up to twice the speed and have up to 25 per cent better Wi-Fi coverage. PHOTO: GOOGLE

If you were asked to name a Google-made gadget, chances are your responses will include the Pixel phones, Chromecast dongle or Google smart speakers.

Google's Wi-Fi routers are probably near the bottom of this hypothetical list - if they even make it - despite these routers being among the best in the business.

When I reviewed Google's mesh routers two years ago, I found these devices - which rely on multiple units to blanket your home with wireless signals - easy to use and performed better than expected.

The sequel, the Nest Wifi system, was recently launched in Singapore. It promises to go up to twice the speed and have up to 25 per cent better Wi-Fi coverage.

Unlike its predecessor, which consists of identical, interchangeable units, the Nest Wifi system comprises two different units. The first and most essential is the Nest Wifi router, which, like most mesh routers, has only two Ethernet ports. Its plastic dome-like design is very different from its predecessor's hockey puck chassis.

The other unit is the Nest Wifi point, which lacks Ethernet ports, but comes with built-in speakers and far-field microphones that lets it pull double duty as both a wireless extender and a voice-activated smart speaker.

It has similar touch-capacitive controls as the Nest Mini speaker, including a privacy switch that disables the microphones.

Google says a Nest Wifi system (with a router and a point) is suitable for homes of up to 350 sq m. The firm recommends a maximum of five Wi-Fi points in a single mesh network.

You'll need at least one Nest Wifi router, because the Wi-Fi point (no Ethernet port) cannot connect directly to the Internet modem. These new Nest Wifi devices are also compatible with previous-generation Google Wi-Fi routers.

  • FOR

    - Easy to setup using mobile app

    - Wifi point doubles as smart speaker, potentially saving money and space

  • AGAINST

    - Wifi point has no Ethernet ports

    - Two different mobile apps required to fully manage the Wi-Fi network

    - Fewer features than some of its competitors

    - No dedicated backhaul

    - No Wi-Fi 6 support

  • SPECS

    Price: $229 (router), $199 (point)

    Ethernet Interface: 2 x Gigabit LAN ports (router only)

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

    Security: WPA3 encryption

  • RATING

    Features: 4/5

    Design: 4.5/5

    Performance: 4/5

    Value for money: 3.5/5

    Overall: 4/5

To set up the Nest Wifi system, the Google Home mobile app (available for iOS and Android) is required. Each unit comes with a QR code at the base that simplifies this process.

But this app does not have any Wi-Fi settings, not even basic ones like turning on the guest Wi-Fi network. All you get are an Internet speed test and a mesh connection test. The latter is useful to determine if your wireless nodes are placed in optimal locations around the home.

To manage the Wi-Fi network, you will need the Google Wifi app (available for iOS and Android), which lets users access features such as parental controls and device prioritisation (for a single device only). Google plans to merge the two apps in the near future, with the Home app expected to add the functionality of the Wifi app.

More tech-savvy users may find the Nest Wifi system's Wi-Fi settings limited, without extras like VPN server. They may also be concerned with the Nest's lack of support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology, which is found in new and upcoming client devices. The router's lack of a USB port also means you cannot connect a printer or external storage device to share over the network.

Unlike some of its rivals, the Nest Wifi system lacks dedicated wireless backhaul, which can improve the wireless performance. And while wired backhaul that uses Ethernet cable is supported, you will need at least two Nest Wifi routers with spare Ethernet ports in such a system.

To be fair, the Nest Wifi system performs competitively with other mesh routers. It managed similar speeds (around 300 to 400Mbps) as its predecessor when both my test laptops were in the same room as the router. This dropped to around 80Mbps when one of the laptops was moved to a far-flung bedroom with the door closed.

If you simply want a reliable and user-friendly mesh router, the Nest Wifi system is a good choice. And with the Wifi point also acting as a smart speaker, you can potentially save some money, too.

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