Google WiFi vs. Orbi: Two Mesh Routers Serve Two Different Users

Cam Secore
Updated 08/09/2018

google wifi vs orbi

After months of testing, I determined Google WiFi is the best mesh router system for most people because of its brilliant app, affordable price, and unobtrusive design. Netgear Orbi is a beast and has the best pure performance, but its phone software is lacking.

I’ll compare and contrast two mesh routers (Google WiFi vs. Netgear Orbi) by evaluating six categories: setup, software, performance, design, company, and price.

Google WiFi

9
  • Setup: It’s typically easy with no hiccups.
  • Software: The phone app has family settings, prioritization, and device grouping.
  • Performance: It's only a dual band and isn’t as fast as Orbi.
  • Design: They're small and sturdy-looking.
  • Company: Google wants to collect your data and they haven't updated the product in 18 months.
  • Price: A three-pack (suitable for most homes) is $260.

Best for you if...

You want an excellent combination of user-friendly software and performance. Google WiFi is the best mesh router for most people, including those who aren’t tech savvy. If you have kids and want to manage their devices and internet usage, Google WiFi is for you. Google won't win any spec sheet battles, but 95% won't notice this in real life.

Netgear Orbi

8
  • Setup: The setup instructions are decent, but syncing the routers can be challenging.
  • Software: The phone app has no smart features.
  • Performance: It has the best performance of any mesh router.
  • Design: They're huge and ugly.
  • Company: They have questionable customer service and copycat products.
  • Price: A two-pack (suitable for most homes) is $300.

Best for you if...

You want the mesh router with the best performance. Because of Orbi's dedicated backhaul channel, it’s the fastest of any system on the market. The tradeoff is that the software is similar to traditional routers and lacks smart features in the phone app. This router is for you if you're a nerd who wants to customize things inside Netgear’s web interface, but it’s not for most people.

 

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google mesh vs orbi

Google WiFi

9

Setup (B-):

  • Google WiFi isn’t the easiest to install, but it’s better than Orbi. There are a couple of tricky steps where it doesn’t guide you like other systems (i.e. Eero), but you should be fine if you’re technologically capable.
  • I’ve installed Google WiFi three times and only had an issue once.

Software (A+):

  • The app is indelibly simple with lots of great features. If you’re familiar with any of Google’s apps interfaces, you won’t have any surprises.
  • Multiple people in your household can have control over the WiFi without using the same account.
  • You can group devices and assign them to people and give those people different privilege or internet usage quotas or timed internet access.
  • You can prioritize which devices or people get more WiFi juice. Or even shut off access to the internet on specific devices. This can be huge if you have slow internet speeds, to begin with.
  • You can control smart home devices inside the Google WiFi app.

Performance (C+):

  • Google WiFi has the worst performance of any mesh router, and it’s only dual band. It’s not a bad system; it’s just not as great relative to the others. Most people will only notice a difference when looking at the specs (speed tests). In real life, the speed difference is negligible.
  • The technology is a little dated because it hasn’t been updated since 2016.
  • You’ll need more Google WiFi routers than Orbi routers because they have a shorter range. A three-piece set should cover 4,500 square feet.
  • They perform terribly when close to a wall or on a shelf.  Most routers need open space, but this is especially crucial with Google models.

Design (B):

  • They’re small cylinders that are only 2″ tall, which is perfect.
  • They don’t look terrible either.

Company (D):

  • If you use any of Google’s products (i.e. search, Gmail, YouTube, Photos, etc.), the company knows a ton about you and uses your data for ad targeting. Do you want to provide even more data for them to monetize? That’s up to you, but it doesn’t bother me.
  • There’s no guarantee this product will be around long-term or get consistent updates because Google has millions of projects going on at any given time and has a history of discontinuing products.
  • Their support seems decent and the online troubleshooting guides are great.

Price (A):

Netgear Orbi (RBK50)

8

Setup (C):

  • Installation is straightforward through the phone app, but syncing the two routers isn’t as smooth.
  • Unlike other mesh systems, Orbi has a specific base router and the others are called “satellites.” Just be sure to read the sticker labels carefully.
  • In most houses, you’ll only need two Orbi routers, so this is one less that you’ll need to get up and running.

Software (D):

  • The phone app is lacking smart and parental features. The point of these routers was to make WiFi simpler and more customizable for the average user. Netgear takes an old-school approach to the software while providing multiple routers.
  • You can still access the advanced features through the Netgear admin panel on their web interface.
  • It took Orbi close to a year to become iPhone X optimized. That’s not a significant issue, but it speaks to how frequently the app is updated and how big of a priority it is, considering it would be easy to optimize.

Performance (A+):

  • Two Orbi routers should be enough to cover any medium-sized house. The specs say two should cover 5,000 square feet.
  • I only tested Orbi for a couple of weeks, but I didn’t experience any cutouts or disconnections between the two routers. Users who have trouble typically have their router positioned incorrectly.
  • Orbi has three bands and is the only mesh system to use a dedicated backhaul channel that’s reserved for Orbi routers talk to each other. This results in Orbi offering the fastest performance of any mesh system I’ve ever tested.

Design (F):

  • They stand almost 9″ tall and extra round. You can’t hide them in your house. They’re ugly.

Company (F):

  • Netgear doesn’t have the best customer support.
  • Netgear didn’t release a mesh system until it saw the for them market take off. Classic “Innovator’s Dilemma” from a big company.

Price (B):

The two-pack (RBK50) is a little more than $300.