Tomorrow and today, I will say goodbye to 2019, by looking back on some of my favorite techs of 2019.
2019 was one year that home networking has seen its best year yet. The systems got more powerful, WiFi 6 Mesh finally made its mark, and we got some solid systems that didn’t break the bank.
Let’s take another look.
Google Nest Wifi is the best system
Nest Wifi, the latest wireless network system by Google, is now available. Each system includes a router and wireless mesh point, each with a built in Google Assistant speaker. They are both made of soft plastics with rounded corners and designed to blend in with modern decor. They are more like large marshmallows than network hardware. Don’t let their fluffy appearance fool your eyes. The redesigned Nest Wifi is more powerful, has more antennas and can cover a lot of space. It also has better network traffic flow capabilities. It’s a mixed bag. Instead of using the standalone app, the Nest Wifi app is now part of the main Google Home app. The ability to reduce the app load on my phone is a great thing. The Home app is slowing down things, making setup and operation a little more complicated than necessary. Although the Nest does not have WiFi 6, there is enough room to fit up to 200 devices. You can start with a two-pack and keep your older-generation Google Wifi hardware. You can use it to increase your signal strength to remote areas of your home without needing to purchase a standalone or three-pack WiFi Point. Nest Wifi’s reliability continues to impress me. Although it doesn’t have the same power as other systems, Nest Wifi’s built-in algorithm is unmatched in its ability to anticipate traffic needs and deliver exactly what you want, wherever you need it. While nearly all other systems require a reboot, Google Nest Wifi can run indefinitely and get better with time, as it learns about your needs and habits. A remarkable update to an already impressive system.
The best WiFi 6 system is the Netgear Orbi WiFi 6
The Orbi’s box is neutral and has a design that reminds more of a vaporizer rather than a wireless router. Although it isn’t as modern-decor-perfect as the marshmallow-like Google Nest (for which it would have to drop the logo and sci-fi styling), it’s close. Hardware-wise, the Orbi can handle speeds up to 2.5 GBps from your ISP. It also delivers 6 GBps through a tri-band network. The router and satellites talk to each other in the third band. This is the only use of the second band. Although it doesn’t have the same device capacity as the Nest system, it can handle 100 devices at a time without any slowdown, which is more than enough to power most homes. App performance is the Achilles heel of the Orbi. Each step of the setup process takes several minutes and often fails. Once the system has been configured correctly, the app can be slow to give information and take several minutes to perform seemingly simple tasks such as turning on guest WiFi. Orbi wins this category. It provides the strongest and fastest signal I have ever seen in any mesh system. The Orbi doesn’t just cover your house with signal; it also covers your home quickly with signal. The Orbi works in areas with pipes and is fast, even when it’s difficult to reach. Netgear hardware is a great choice despite its app flaws.
Best Budget System: Netgear Orbi RBK13
Netgear has dropped the towers from their latest Orbi mesh system. The new system is rectangular with waves on the top that hide ventilation vents and keep the devices cool. The system is solid and can cover approximately 6,000 feet of space with 1.2Gbps wireless speed (if you buy a 4-pack). The only problem is, yes, it is messy. It’s easy to get it up and running once you have it set up. However, it can take some patience. It takes forever to set up the satellites and the base system will not be able to see them. It’s a huge problem in a market that has “instant” networks. The Orbi system is cheaper than other mesh systems, which is a good thing. This is the best option if you have large areas to cover. The RBK13 is the cheapest way for mesh networking to be installed in your home, whereas Orbi WiFi 6 was the most powerful. A router and two satellite systems can be purchased for less than $200.
Best Overall: Amplifi Alien
Amplifi Alien 8×8 MIMO connectivity allows for eight concurrent streams of traffic to and from the router. It can cover most homes easily with its four antennas. You can pair an Alien with another Alien to cover a bigger home or complex setup. Amplifi Alien can deliver gigabit internet speed to your home if you have the right ISP. Amplifi’s top-of-the-line app is included with all of this. It takes less than a minute to set up the system (really, it took me 30 seconds). It takes 30 seconds to connect the second unit to the network. There aren’t any networking solutions that provide faster updates or deeper metrics in a single glance. You can also glance at the tiny touchscreen on the unit’s front for performance metrics and updates if you don’t feel like opening the app. Amplifi Alien provides the same reliable signal I have come to expect from every Amplifi device.
The Amplifi Alien has its faults, however. It is a monolithic black object in a field filled with softly white art deco pieces. It is expensive to operate as a mesh system, at least until Amplifi launches a router/satellite combination in 2020. Amplifi Alien wins the award for its simplicity and reliability. This could be dropped off at my in-laws and they could install it themselves (after I had shown them how to download the app…but this is a different matter).
The Amplifi Alien offers the type of experience every router should have. It is easy to install, provides deep insight into every aspect of your network and delivers solid performance.