Cam Secore
Entrepreneur. Blogger. Fan of Steve Jobs & Elon Musk. My about page.
Updated 04/18/2018
 

Best Mesh Router System: Eero vs. Google Wifi vs. Orbi vs. Velop

eero vs orbi

We’ve all been there: You’re streaming a show or movie and it’s taking forever to buffer, completely interrupting the flow.

To fix it, you unplug the router, wait 30 seconds, plug it back in and pray it works. Getting WiFi to work correctly in your house has never been easy. We’ve been plagued with setup and software issues for years. Plus, most traditional routers are an eyesore.

In January 2016, my Twitter feed blew up with people praising the Eero Home WiFi System. Users claimed their WiFi speeds increased by three times with Eero.

Eero promised their mesh network was the solution to common router issues.

I bought the first generation Eero (set of three). I could tell they were onto something, especially for big houses or people in apartment complexes with several interfering signals.

Old school router companies saw Eero’s potential too and made copycat versions.

I tried the copycats.

For six months, I used a pair of Google WiFi routers. After Google WiFi, I tried Netgear Orbi for two weeks. Linksys Velop was my next router for seven months.

Then, I tried Luma’s system for a week. It’s terrible and isn’t included in this comparison post because it doesn’t deserve to be. (I did a quick Luma write up here).

Now, I’m rocking the second generation Eero (1 Eero + 2 Eero Beacons) in my house.

While Eero, Orbi, Velop, and Google WiFi provide different experiences, they’re all better than traditional routers. There’s a mesh system for nerds, for people on a budget, for people with kids, and for seniors.

A mesh network uses multiple routers to eliminate dead spots and produce maximum speed from any place in your house. In this review, simplicity, convenience, smarts, and design are also defining characteristics.

Let’s compare four mesh systems (Eero vs. Orbi vs. Google WiFi  vs. Velop) to find the best mesh router while evaluating six categories: setup, design, software, coverage, and the company.

orbi vs google wifi #4

Netgear Orbi (Grade: B)

Love

  • Best coverage and speed.
  • Dedicated backhaul channel.
  • Four Ethernet ports and a USB.

Hate

  • Huge and ugly.
  • No smart features and bad app.
Best Value google wifi vs orbi #3

Google Wifi (Grade: B+)

Love

  • Only $260 for three pack.
  • Great app and installation.
  • The design is solid & unobtrusive.

Hate

  • Only dual band.
  • Slowest of those tested.
linksys velop vs google wifi #2

Linksys Velop (Grade: A-)

Love

  • Setup is great.
  • App is well done with smart features.
  • Possible to get away with just two.

Hate

  • Only two Ethernet ports.
  • Bribe their customers for reviews.
Cam's Fave eero vs google wifi #1

Eero Gen 2 (Grade: A+)

Love

  • Boxes are small and beautiful.
  • Perfect app and installation.
  • Beacons plug directly into the outlet.

Hate

  • Only two Ethernet ports.
  • Most expensive mesh system.

#4 – (Grade: B)

Netgear Orbi (RBK50)

Love

Performance (A+):

  • Orbi is a beast. In my tests, it was the fastest everywhere throughout my house. I don’t recommend buying Orbi as a solo router because of the terrible phone app. But if you do, it’ll give you the most coverage and speed by a solid margin.
  • Two will cover 5,000 square feet.

Nerds (A+):

  • The Orbi “router” has the Ethernet port for the internet, then three additional Ethernet ports and a USB port.
  • The Orbi “satellite” has four Ethernet ports and a USB port. (The extra ports aren’t for me, but I know some people need it).
  • Orbi is a tri-band router, but it leaves one of the 5GHz bands as a dedicated backhaul channel. What’s that mean in English? Orbi uses the backhaul channel solely to communicate with other Orbi devices. That leaves the other two channels open for clients, which is why Orbi gets the best performance of all the mesh systems.
  • There’s a web-based interface with more customizable options. It’s the familiar Netgear interface that you’ve used if you’ve owned other Netgear routers. It’s the only mesh system that can be set up without a phone.
  • There’s no reliance on the cloud to run.
  • There’s an outdoor satellite version (RBS50Y) that’s weather resistant. This makes your decision easy if you want access to internet outdoors.

Hate

Setup (C):

  • Although the setup isn’t perfect, it’s straightforward with the phone app.
  • With the other mesh systems, each router is interchangeable. The Orbi mesh system, on the other hand, has a base “router”, as well as “satellites.” The router and satellites look identical (minus the ports), but function differently.

Software (D):

  • The app was atrocious when I tried Orbi last year. There wasn’t a way to customize anything. While the app still isn’t iPhone X optimized, you can now name devices, pause them, and reboot the system. The app has been updated six times in the last 12 months.
  • There are still no smart features, like auto reset or device prioritization and the parental controls are weak.
  • The phone app is still the worst, but it’s better than it was.
  • Based on forums and Amazon reviews, there were questionable firmware updates that caused users issues. It looks like most of these issues have been taken care of.

Design (F):

  • Orbi routers are HUGE and ugly. It’s about ten times bigger than Eero and not something you can tuck away out of sight.

Company (F):

  • Netgear’s been around 20 years. They’re not going anywhere, but they have a well-documented reputation for mediocre customer support. From all accounts, their support is typically outsourced. Netgear’s reputation shouldn’t be a deciding factor, but if you have issues with your router, you’re going to struggle.

#3 – (Grade: B+)

Google WiFi

Love

Setup (B-):

  • Overall, setup is great. I’ve installed three of these systems. With two of them, installation was easy. During the third installation, the app couldn’t recognize the routers no matter what I tried.
  • I can see where beginners may struggle with the setup. It jumps into things without telling you how or when to plug them in. Also, it doesn’t instruct you to unplug your modem until there’s an issue, and in most cases, there will be. Eero asks to unplug your modem from the get-go.

Software (A):

  • The app is basic, but it’s easy to use and has the essentials.
  • Instead of giving your Google account information to everyone who wants access to the network settings, you can add household members’ Google accounts and make them managers.
  • There is basic integration with smart hubs. If you have Philips Hue lights, you can control the lights from Google’s app rather than the Hue app. Having everything in one place is nice.
  • You can see the stats for each device on the network and rename those that aren’t labeled correctly. With the stats, you can see how much each device is downloading (per 5 seconds, hour, day and month). This is a great way to see who’s consuming resources if you live with multiple people. Also, you might catch a device downloading things in the background that are slowing down your network.
  • You can prioritize, group and pause devices.
  • Firmware updates are automatic.

Design (B):

  • They’re not as nice looking as Eero, but they’re small and unobtrusive.

Hate

Performance (C+):

  • I was concerned with the hardware since Google didn’t start making physical devices until 2015 (router, phone, speaker). Google WiFi has the same internal specs as the first generation Eero and does fine.
  • I tested the speed from all corners of my house, and it matched the performance of the first Eero, but that makes it the slowest of all the routers (by a small margin).
  • Ideally, you shouldn’t put a router next to a wall if you can avoid it. During some experiments, I put Google WiFi on the window sill, and it was barely able to function while all the others did just fine. Interesting, but not a big deal.
  • A set of three will cover 4,500 square feet.

Nerds (F):

  • There are only two Ethernet ports on each router.
  • Google WiFi is the only mesh router in this comparison that isn’t tri-band. Google WiFi is only a dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz).
  • There are limited configurations.
  • There’s no web-based interface.

Company (D):

  • Do you want to give Google even more of your data than they already have? It doesn’t bother me because I assume Google already knows everything about me.
  • Google is a massive company with tons of other interests and a history of sunsetting products quickly. Google WiFi is 18 months old with no rumored updates for a second generation.
  • The app isn’t updated regularly and isn’t optimized for iPhone X six months after its release. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad system, or the app is bad; but it shows where Google’s interests are.

#2 – (Grade: A-)

Linksys Velop

Love

Setup (B+):

  • Velop’s phone setup is seamless. The instructions are thorough.

Software (B):

  • The phone app is great.
  • You can pause any device using your network. For example, let’s say you don’t want your kids to use the internet at night. You can use the app to turn it off on any device. This is a valuable tool for parents with young kids. Though it isn’t new technology, the user-friendly interface makes it much easier to implement. If you know how to turn on a smartphone, you can change the settings.
  • The Velop firmware updates automatically; you don’t have to do anything.
  • You can prioritize devices. If you want your work laptop to get more of your resources, or you’re uploading a video, you can prioritize that machine over the others.

Performance (B+):

  • The performance with ONE Velop is better than a single Eero or Google WiFi.
  • One covers 2,000 square feet, while two covers 4,000 square feet.
  • I didn’t experience dropouts between the nodes, but a small percentage of users have. Everything depends on the structure of your house and placement of the nodes.

Hate

Design (D+):

  • It’s not as ugly as the Orbi, but it doesn’t look appealing.
  • It’s tall with holes for ventilation, but that lets dust inside.

Nerds (D):

  • There are only two ports in each of these, while the base uses one of them as for the modem.
  • There’s no web-based interface.
  • You can’t set any IP ranges for the DHCP IP.

Company (F):

  • Linksys has been around for 30 years under a few different owners. Cisco bought it in 2003, then Belkin acquired it in 2013. Belkin was acquired by Foxconn this year. The frequent ownership changes are concerning.
  • Most of their support is outsourced.
  • They were in the router business for 30 years before they addressed the common issues people experienced. They didn’t build something new until Eero forced their hand.
  • Linksys bribes its users with incentives to post positive reviews on Amazon. They’re not the only company who does this, but I don’t like it.

#1 – (Grade: A+)

Eero Gen 2

Love

Setup (A+):

  • Installation is the easiest and quickest of all the routers. This is the only one I’d trust my parents to install on their own. They couldn’t mess it up, and they struggle with technology more than anyone.
  • The instructions are easy to follow because it walks you through every step. They tell you where to place routers and offer tips to improve the signal if things aren’t working correctly.
  • I’ve installed Eero routers multiple times. It’s always the quickest to get running and has the least amount of errors. On my latest go, I got all three Eeros installed and running the latest firmware in 10 minutes. (Things go faster with practice).

Software (A+):

  • Eero makes it easy to give friends access to your WiFi by sending them a token via text message. Or, they can scan a QR with the camera app to sign in. There’s no need to give them a WPA2 password.
  • Eero automatically detects issues and resets itself in the background. Also, you can use the app to reset the router without getting off the couch.
  • You can create groups with “Family Profiles” and pause all devices assigned to a person or give them scheduled access.
  • Family settings allow you to control when certain devices have internet access.
  • You can prioritize your WiFi devices for a set period, which allocates the majority of internet power to the device you’re actively using. For instance, let’s say I’m uploading a time-sensitive video and it needs to go live right away. Typically, bandwidth is shared between all the devices on the network, but I can change the settings to quickly upload the video.
  • The app is updated a couple of times per month, while the router firmware updates automatically in the background.

Performance (A-):

  • You shouldn’t use Eero as a solo router (although you can). The other devices are much stronger on their own compared to this.
  • Eero’s range isn’t great. This doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your desired range, but you’ll need more Eero routers to accomplish it than you would if using another router. It gets pricey, but you don’t have to buy them all at once. You can incrementally add more.
  • To get the range of one Orbi or one Velop, I needed an Eero base with a Beacon. This configuration should cover 2,500 square feet (that’s my estimation based on testing because Eero doesn’t list square footage).
  • With most mesh systems, you get worse performance when you add more routers to the system. Eero works the opposite of that. Three Eero routers gave me better performance in my small house than two did.
  • Eero performs better than Orbi in houses with more than two stories, houses that are extra long or have a strange configuration.

Design (A+):

  • Eero Pro (box base) is small (4.75″ x 4.75″ x 1.34″) and beautiful.
  • Eero Beacon is small and plugs into an outlet without a cord. You don’t need countertop space or an open shelf. It stays out of the way and saves space. (It has the same specs as the first generation Eero).
  • Eero Beacon turns into a nightlight at night too. (This can be turned off or be set on a schedule).

Company (A+):

  • Eero is a startup company trying to disrupt the status quo. They’re the mesh router pioneers. I love their mission to simplify complex internet components.
  • Companies like Google, Netgear, and Linksys all have other focuses. Eero makes two different routers and routers are their sole priority. That’s evident with the number of firmware and app updates.
  • Their customer service is the best in the business.
  • Eero has an optional subscription service called Eero Plus for $10/month that gives you better security, advanced parental controls, built-in ad blocker, free password manager from 1Password, and a free VPN service through encrypt.me. Last year, I mocked Eero’s CEO when he compared Eero Plus’ utility to Amazon Prime. I was wrong. Eero Plus is a great value.

Hate

Nerds (C):

  • Eero has Thread support. When smart devices support Thread, you can use Eero as your smart hub, rather than needing an external hub.
  • There are only two Ethernet ports on Eero Pro. One Ethernet input is for the broadband modem, and the other is output for hardwired devices (like a Philips Hue hub). However, the lack of ports doesn’t affect me and won’t affect 95% of users.
  • Eero Beacon doesn’t have any ports.
  • There’s no web-based interface.

best mesh router

Which one is for you?

A router that works correctly is unobtrusive, working seamlessly in the background. It’s tough to get excited about routers, but these mesh systems are amazing because they resolve a lot of frustration.

It’s rare that I do a product comparison and end up recommending all of them, but all four mesh systems are great options and an upgrade over traditional routers.

Where do you go?

Netgear Orbi is an excellent system and performs the best of all four routers. You’ll enjoy great speed, coverage, and ports, but you won’t get many smart features in the phone app and you’ll be stuck looking at a giant piece of equipment. If you’re looking for peer speed, Orbi is the answer.

Google WiFi is about simplicity and affordability. It’s the slowest mesh system and the nerds hate it, but it’s going to work and the three pack is only $260. It’s a fantastic value option and ideal for parents who want to easily control their kids’ internet usage on a budget.

Ideal Google WiFi customer: My parents didn’t want to spend much; they don’t have tons of tech devices, and speed wasn’t a priority. They wanted the internet to work consistently throughout their 4,000 square foot house with an app that’s easy to use. I set up a Google WiFi three pack, and my parents love it! Their place went from 11 Mbps in dead areas to 117 Mbps in the same areas.

Linksys Velop is everything Eero promises without the fancy marketing. The app gets the job done and the performance is stellar, but it’s taller than I’d like and doesn’t have some advanced configurations.

Eero is the perfect combination of performance, easy setup, great design, customization, and a focused company whose only product is a router.

The price is my only complaint with Eero. You’ll need a three pack for $400 to get the same range as two Orbi routers ($300) or two Velops ($300) or three Google WiFi’s ($260).

I’m sticking with Eero, and it feels great! Eero originally went after WiFi issues, while the traditional router companies stayed stagnant. I get the same great feeling using Eero as I do with my Apple products. This could be Eero’s slick marketing, but in my eyes, their future is bright.

 

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