Best Mesh Router System: Eero vs. Google WiFi vs. Orbi (RBK50)

Cam Secore
Updated 04/15/2019

After three years of using different mesh systems and one month of hardcore side-by-side testing, I found Eero (3-Set) to be the best mesh router overall because it balances perfect software with powerful performance. Netgear Orbi RBK50 (2-Set) is better for power users who have higher internet potential and the need for many ports.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing three mesh systems (Eero vs. Orbi vs. Google WiFi) while evaluating four categories: setup, software, performance, and design

eero router with beacons

Eero (2nd Gen)

10
  • Setup: It’s the easiest to install (even for the technologically-challenged).
  • Software: Family usage, device prioritization and real-time monitoring are in the app.
  • Performance: One has better range than Orbi, but performance is worse as a mesh.
  • Design: They're beautiful with an outlet plug-ins, but just one port in total system.
  • House Type: They work better with taller or unorthodox homes (three nodes not two). Most need the three-set for $400 (3,500 feet).

Best for you if...

You want the perfect combination of powerful performance, advanced configurations, easy setup, and superb design. Eero is an excellent choice if you struggle with technology, want smart app features like parental controls and profiles, and aren't concerned about money.

orbi router

Orbi (RBK50)

9
  • Setup: It's not perfect, but there’s one less node to deal with.
  • Software: The app has no smart features and doesn’t sync to the network well.
  • Performance: Its dedicated backhaul makes it faster than its competitors.
  • Design: You can't tuck them away but get seven additional ports.
  • House Type: They work better with cookie-cutter homes (there's one less node). Most need two-set for $300 (4,000 feet).

Best for you if...

You want the best pure performance. You'll get the fastest speeds with gigabit internet, a fully customizable web-based interface, and seven Ethernet ports. Orbi is not for you if you want an intuitive phone app with smart features or are bothered by ugly equipment.

google wifi router

Google WiFi

8
  • Setup: The app instructions skip steps and the app can crash without warning.
  • Software: You can group and pause devices. The bandwidth usage interface is fantastic.
  • Performance: It’s the slowest system, but most people won’t notice the difference.
  • Design: They're not as nice looking as Eero, but you'll have five ports.
  • House Type: More nodes gives you a better shot at covering strange configurations. Most need three-set for $260 (3,500 feet).

Best for you if...

You want a great app with the benefits of a mesh system's range for a better price. While Google WiFi's performance can't hang with Eero or Orbi, it's good enough for most. It's an affordable upgrade from old router life and great for parents on a budget.

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Things To Know

  • Over the last three years, I’ve had seven different mesh systems in my house. And I’ve installed three for family members.
  • Eero, Orbi and Google WiFi are three of the best mesh systems on the market. You can’t go wrong with any of them. When I’m harsh in my reviews, I’m just nitpicking. There are tons of terrible crowdsourced systems that won’t ship or downright bad systems, like Luma, on the market.
  • Eero is the best mesh system overall, Orbi is best for power users, and Google WiFi is a great budget option for those that want smart features in a phone app.
  • Linksys Velop is a brilliant mesh system, but I couldn’t find Velop’s unique selling proposition. It’s expensive, has worse performance than Orbi, and the app isn’t as crisp as Eero. If you want to learn more about Velop, I wrote two comparison posts:
  • I know a fair amount about networking, but I’m definitely not an expert. I want my WiFi to be hassle-free and fast with smart features and no dropouts.
  • My testing process:
    • To get a fresh start and avoid devices backgrounding in the background, for each speed measurement I unplugged the modem and routers, waited, then plugged the modem and routers back in and waited 10 minutes for the system to configure.
    • Then, I picked ten locations in my house and backyard.
    • I used speedtest.net, with my MacBook Pro, and always connected to the Shrewsbury, MA network.
    • I recorded the download speed for ten different locations on my property.
    • Then, I repeated the process three times per router set.
    • Also, I tested the range of ONE router (not mesh) to get a baseline of how powerful each router was.
  • My testing methods may not be the best, but my results match other reviews. I suggest using my data in conjunction with other research to make the best decision. Other things to consider:
    • Your home’s layout is not identical to mine. Replicating my download numbers would be difficult.
    • My house is 1,200 square feet, and I was trying to cover about 3,000 square feet (backyard and deck included).
    • My maximum internet speed is relatively low at 117/mbps. I can’t test or see how the routers would perform on faster networks.
  • You can hardwire any of these systems together to create a backhaul.
  • I can’t vouch for any range extender and don’t recommend them because many other people seem to struggle with them. It’s a significant factor in why mesh systems have become so popular.
  • Mesh systems work with any service internet service provider.
  • Your devices won’t always connect to the closest node, which is frustrating. To my surprise, the device always makes the WiFi switching decisions, and there’s nothing your router can do. Some iOS devices are even worse at switching properly, but you can fix this by toggling your WiFi on and off.
  • You can create a “guest network” and give it its own name and password that’s separate from your main network.
  • If your internet provider gave you a router built-into your modem, you’ll need to disable the router part by putting it in “bridge mode” or buy a standard modem.
  • There are misconceptions about where to place the routers (nodes) in a mesh network. Here’s a basic rule: Test your WiFi with one router and find where your network starts to degrade, then place your second node on the edge of the area where you’re getting max speeds. To put it simply, if you’re not getting a great connection in the living room, putting a node in the living room won’t help your connection. The nodes need to talk to each other and this signal needs to be as strong as it can be.

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 four 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).
  • I love how Eero iterated on the installation process and made things smoother, each year, as they watched their users install.

Software (A+):

  • 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 a profile for each person in your household with “Family Profiles” and group all of each person’s devices. From there, you can pause all devices assigned to a person or give them scheduled access. It’s brilliantly set up for parents to limit how much internet time and when they should have 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 upload the video quickly.
  • 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.
  • You can play with advanced configurations like reservations, port forwarding, and DNS settings.
  • 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.
  • Eero has Thread support. When smart devices support Thread, you can use Eero as your smart hub, rather than needing an external hub.
  • There’s an Alexa Skill with some interesting features:
    • “Alexa, tell Eero is dinner time,” pauses turns off internet access to all devices.
    • “Alexa, ask Eero to find my phone,” lets you know which Eero your phone is closest to.
    • “Alexa, ask Eero to pause Skeeter’s profile.” will pause the internet access on all of the devices associated with Skeeter’s profile.
  • Eero was the mesh router pioneer. While Eero was acquired by Amazon, they’re keeping the same privacy policy and will operate independently. Google and Netgear are huge companies with other focuses, while Eero only makes routers. I think you’ll continue to see multiple app and firmware updates per month with cutting edge ideas and smooth implementation.
  • There’s support for MU-MIMO.
  • There are three small kinks in Eero’s software:
    • There’s no web-based interface. I don’t need one and most people won’t.  
    • While you can see real-time bandwidth usage per device, there’s no way to monitor your daily, weekly or monthly total bandwidth combined. If you have a data cap and your service provider doesn’t have a way to track, I suggest going with Google WiFi.
    • You can only have one admin. I suggest parents just use the same account on both phones.

Performance (A-):

  • Solo router performance (for baseline):
    • Eero (1st Gen) is a dual-band router and performed similarly to Google WiFi.
    • Eero Pro (2nd Gen) is a tri-band router and has the best solo performance of any router on this comparison post. I averaged 108/mbps with one Eero in my house. The second generation is a substantial upgrade from the first generation and about 30% faster.
    • Eero Beacon is a dual-band router. It’s impossible to accurately test as a solo Beacon because you can’t plug it into the modem. While the company says they should be faster than that the first generation Eero, I found the numbers to be about the same.
  • Mesh router performance (using the routers together, as intended):
    • One Eero Pro with two Eero Beacons gave me an average of 111/mbps, in my house and backyard. Eero says this configuration should cover 3,500 square feet and that seems accurate.
    • Eero’s three-part mesh system outperformed Google WiFi but was outdone by the two-piece Orbi system.
    • Eero wasn’t always connecting to the closest node, which made the numbers look worse. I have a feeling two Eero Pro routers would outperform my three-piece configuration due to the third band and fewer nodes to connect to. Try Eero’s questionnaire to see what they recommend based on your home’s layout.
    • Because you’d have more nodes, Eero (three-piece) should perform better than two Orbi routers in:
      • Tall and narrow houses.
      • Long and narrow houses.
      • Houses with strange configurations.

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 you can switch off or program with a schedule.
  • The downside to the beautiful design is a lack of ports:
    • There are two Ethernet ports on Eero Pro. One Ethernet input is for the broadband modem, and the other is output for hardwired devices.
    • Eero Beacon doesn’t have ports.

Setup (B):

  • Although the setup isn’t perfect as it takes longer than Eero, it’s straightforward with the phone app.
  • You only need to install two nodes, making things a little smoother than Google WiFi.
  • Orbi tells you to power on your satellite routers during the setup, but this has given me errors. I’ve never had an error when I got the network working first, then added the satellites.
  • Orbi’s nodes look identical, but they’re not interchangeable like the others. Orbi has a base “router” and “satellite” node.

Software (D):

  • Orbi has a web-based interface with millions of customizable options and everything any nerd will ever need. It’s the familiar interface you’ve used if you’ve owned other Netgear routers. Orbi is the only system that can be set up without a smartphone.
  • For this post, I’m not looking for a complicated web-based interface with lots of features. I want an intuitive phone app with smart features for people of all ages. Orbi updates the app frequently and it is has improved over time, but it still falls short:
    • I’ll often open the app and see a “Router Not Set Up” message, but then when I tap “Dismiss,” my network is up and running correctly.
    • There are no smart features, like auto reset, device prioritization, or native parental controls.
    • They added parental controls, but you need to download a separate app called “Circle with Disney” for an extra $5/month.
    • Communication between the app and Orbi is unbearably slow and sometimes delay multiple minutes.
    • The interface looks terrible, and words are cut off the screen.
    • When you reboot from the app, it takes over ten minutes for the system to be up and running again.
    • “Traffic Meter” logs your bandwidth for a week or month, but it’s poorly designed.
  • You can name devices, pause them, and reboot the system from the app.
  • They’ve added extra security, called “Netgear Armor” for a$70/year. It’s a partnership with Bitdefender, but it seems wonky based on my short time experimenting.
  • Based on forums and Amazon reviews, there were questionable firmware updates that caused users issues. It looks like they’ve taken care of most of these issues.
  • You get standardized port forwarding settings and true QoS settings.
  • You can share WiFi with a QR code or by sending a connection link.
  • There’s no reliance on the cloud to run, while Google and Eero require internet access.
  • There’s support for MU-MIMO.
  • You can ask Alexa to enable your guest network, reboot your router, or tell you your WiFi settings.

Performance (A+):

  • Solo router performance (for baseline):
    • One Orbi (RBK50) gave me an average of 100/mbps, in my house and backyard. It performed better than Google WiFi and similarly to Eero.
    • One Orbi (RBK40) gave me the about the same average, but you’d see a difference if you had faster WiFi speeds.
  • Mesh router performance (using the routers together, as intended):
    • Two Orbi (RBK50) routers gave me an average of 115/mbps, in my house and backyard. Netgear says two will cover 5,000 square feet, but it seems closer to 4,000 square feet in my testing.
    • My maximum internet speed is relatively low, so there’s not a substantial difference in my numbers, but with higher-speed networks, other router testers agree Orbi performs best. It also has a higher theoretical limit (AC3000) than Google or Eero.
    • While the range of a solo Orbi is similar to a solo Eero, the difference in speed with a mesh configuration comes from two factors:
      • Orbi is a tri-band router and leaves one of the 5GHz bands as a dedicated backhaul channel that only used to communicate with other Orbi. That leaves the other two channels open for clients.
      • Orbi only has two nodes, so there’s higher change your device connects to the closest node each time.
  • The Orbi RBK33 three-set (with outlet routers) for $250 may perform better with unorthodox house layouts because there are more nodes. I wrote about this set and was impressed.
  • Orbi is the winner in the performance category, but I have reservations:
    • Orbi’s Amazon reviews aren’t as favorable as Eero’s. While partly due to Eero’s fan base, there are more complaints about Orbi’s signals cutting out or acting weird. I haven’t experienced this, but if you do, their customer support is not terrible.
    • I’ve only used Orbi in my house for two months, which is a small sample size compared to Eero and Google WiFi.
    • There may be flaws in my testing methodology.
    • I couldn’t test performance with gigabit internet for myself.

Design (C):

  • Orbi (RBK50) routers are massive and ugly. They’re 10 times bigger than Eero and not something you can tuck away out of sight. The good news is that you only need two.
  • The Orbi “router” has the Ethernet port for the internet, then three additional Ethernet ports and a USB port. With a two-piece setup, you’ll have seven ports to nerd-out on.
  • Orbi has outlet routers (RBW30) without ports, similar to Eero Beacon, but they’re bulkier.
  • There’s an outdoor satellite version (RBS50Y) that’s weather resistant.

Google WiFi

8

Setup (B-):

  • I’ve installed five Google systems. With three of them, the installation was smooth. Two times, the app wouldn’t recognize the routers without lots of time-consuming troubleshooting and false error screens.
  • Rather than adding all nodes at once, Google gets the network running first, then has you add additional nodes one by one after that. It’s a better system than Orbi.
  • You can have your system installed in 15 minutes, but keep four things in mind:
    • You should power on your base router right away. Google doesn’t hold your hand and jumps into things without telling you when to plug it in.
    • Once the router is powered on, connect to the Google WiFi dummy network in your phone’s WiFi settings. Then, open the app. Google WiFi is supposed to automatically connect when you scan the QR code (back of router), in the beginning, but it doesn’t always work automatically.
    • The app 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.
    • There aren’t progress percentage bars when you’re adding more nodes to the system. There were times where you’re on a screen for three minutes and you’re not sure if you’re making progress or you should close the app and quit. In most cases, when this happens for extended periods, you should start over.

Software (A):

  • The app is intuitive and has an excellent layout with lots of brilliant features. Your technologically-challenged parents could use the app without struggling.
  • You can see the real-time stats for each device on the network and rename those that aren’t labeled correctly. You can also 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 devices giving them more of your bandwidth for a set period (one, two or four hours), then things will go back to normal.
  • There’s an excellent interface to see your overall bandwidth usage.
  • With “Family WiFi” you can group devices and create scheduled internet access, enable Safe Search, or manually pause a set of grouped devices. It’s not as smooth as Eero, but it has the same parent features for a better price.
  • You can check the connection of individual devices to your router, which could help diagnose buffer issues.
  • You can add household members’ Google accounts and make them managers of your network.
  • There is basic integration with smart hubs. If you have Philips Hue lights, you can control the lights from Google’s app.
  • You can restart the entire system in less than three minutes using the app.
  • You can enable IPv6, manage DHCP IP reservations, play with DNS settings and manage ports.
  • These eight things won’t affect the average consumer, but may disappoint some:
    • You have to use a Google account.
    • Google relies on the cloud.
    • There isn’t a web-based interface.
    • There’s no MU-MIMO support.
    • Google doesn’t play nice with VPNs.
    • Most users are reporting WiFi calling through phone carriers isn’t working with Google WiFi.
    • The app isn’t regularly updated. It took close to a year to be optimized for iPhone X. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad system, or the app is bad, but it shows where Google’s interests are. Google is a massive company with tons of other interests and a history of sunsetting products quickly. Google WiFi is close to three years old with no rumored updates for a second generation.
    • Unsurprisingly, as a huge data harvesting company, Google collects your data. But Google probably knows everything they need to know about you already from your search history, so how’s more data going to hurt you?

Performance (B-):

  • Solo router performance (for baseline):
    • One Google WiFi gave me an average of 90/mbps, in my house and backyard. Giving it the shortest range of any router tested. Google WiFi has the same internal specs as the first generation Eero and still performs solidly compared to others on the market.
  • Mesh router performance (using the routers together, as intended):
    • Three Google WiFi routers gave me an average of 107/mbps, in my house and backyard.
    • A set of three should cover 4,500 square feet according to Google, but in my testing, it looks like it’s closer to 3,500 square feet.
  • In my experience, Google’s mesh system gets slower as you add more routers to the system. The range will increase, but your average speed will decrease. This could be a result of two factors:
    • There’s too much WiFi overlap in my house, but I’ve tried this in other houses with similar results.
    • It’s only a dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz). There are fewer bands for the nodes to talk to each other.
  • During random speed check-ins, Google WiFi consistently scored lowest. I can’t nail down a specific reason, but it’s not a coincidence.
  • While Google tests as the worst in this post, it doesn’t matter much. You only need 25/mbps to stream 4K content. If you’re downloading content, you’ll see it finish quicker with faster download speeds, but good luck telling the difference between 100/mbps and 200/mbps with streaming, using apps or browsing the web.

Design (B-):

  • They’re not as nice looking as Eero, but they’re small and unobtrusive.
  • There are two Ethernet ports on each router. The standard three pack gives you five ports to plug in accessories.
  • 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.
  • There’s a light that can be useful as a nightlight. You can toggle the brightness or turn it off.
  • There’s no outlet router option.
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5 Comments

  • Marty says:

    Thanks for your detailed comparison of the eero, Google Wi-Fi, and Orbi. For multi-story and more challenging building layouts, the eero Pro setup (3-channels) are significantly better than than eero/Beacon (2-channel) setups.

  • Johnny Burrows says:

    Nice review. I had set up the single Google WiFi and unplugged it and placed it down the hall as I’ve done with extenders. Once I saw it no longer worked did I realize it had to stay plugged in to the router. I think. The instructions don’t say anything about that nor did I know about having to disconnect the router portion

    • Cam Secore says:

      You need to plug Google Wifi into a modem. And you shouldn’t be using any other routers with it. It’s not a range extender, it’s a router.

  • Alyssa says:

    Thank you for such an amazingly detailed comparison between these products as an actual user. I’ve been driving myself up the wall trying to narrow down the mesh system I need and all three of these where on my short list. This is very helpful.
    I believe I will do two eero pros. One pro and one beacon could probably suffice, but I think I’ll want the wire connection down the road.

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