Home / Networking / The best mesh Wi-Fi routers of 2019: Google Nest, Eero and more compared – CNET

The best mesh Wi-Fi routers of 2019: Google Nest, Eero and more compared – CNET

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the dead zones in your home’s Wi-Fi, then you might want to consider buying a mesh router, which uses range-extending satellite devices placed around the home to spread a speedy Wi-Fi signal from room to room. They’re typically more expensive than single-point, standalone wireless routers, but there are some intriguing new options this year that cost a lot less than before.

Chief among them are new systems from Eero, which popularized mesh networking before getting bought by Amazon earlier this year, as well as new offerings from Netgear Orbi and Google Nest. Mesh systems regularly sold for as much as $400 or even $500 a few years ago, but now all of these manufacturers offer a multipoint mesh router system that costs less than $300, if not less than $200.

We’ve still got lots of routers and mesh systems we’d like to try out — including some intriguing new options that use next-gen Wi-Fi 6 technology to promise better performance and faster speeds. But with plenty of speed and coverage tests already under our belt, we’re ready to say that Nest, Netgear and Eero are each worth strong consideration for anyone fed up with dead spots throughout their home.

Read more: The best Wi-Fi routers in 2019  

To that end, here’s a rundown of how the three stack up, along with other routers we tested them against, complete with test data for everything. Expect regular updates to this post in the coming months as more new mesh routers come to market.

Chris Monroe/CNET

A few years ago, Google Wifi became a breakout hit thanks to its simple setup and its ability to spread a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection throughout your home. Now, there’s Nest Wifi, a second-gen follow-up that adds in faster top speeds and a better-looking design, plus Google Assistant smart speakers built into each range extender. The price is a little lower this time around, too — $269 for the two-piece setup above, with roughly the same area of coverage as a three-piece, $300 Google Wifi setup from a few years back.

On average, Nest Wifi  notched the fastest top speeds that we saw from any Wi-Fi 5 mesh router (and faster speeds than the newest Linksys Velop system, which supports Wi-Fi 6 and costs more than twice as much). Plus, the 2-piece setup offered enough signal strength to provide sufficient coverage at the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home. It also aced our mesh tests, never once dropping my connection as I moved about my home taking speed tests. I never caught it routing my connection through the extender when connecting directly to the router was faster, either.

The lack of Wi-Fi 6 support might seem like a missed opportunity, but Nest Wifi does include support for modern features like WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization, and 4X4 MU-MIMO connections that offer faster aggregate speeds for devices like the MacBook Pro that can use multiple Wi-Fi antennas at once. It’s also fully backwards compatible with previous-gen Google WiFi setups, which is a nice touch. All of it is easy to setup, easy to use, and easy to rely on, making it the most well-rounded mesh router pick of the bunch, and the first one I’d recommend to just about anyone looking to upgrade their home network.

Read our Nest Wifi review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Eero was an early pioneer of the mesh networking approach, and earlier this year, it got scooped up by Amazon. Now, with the online megaretailer’s backing, there’s a new Eero system that costs half as much as before — $250 for a three-piece setup that promises to cover up to 5,000 square feet. That’s a terrific price (and $100 less than a three-piece setup from Nest).

Eero wasn’t the fastest mesh system we tested — in fact, it came in dead last when we looked at the top speeds for a single device from each system. Still, you won’t notice much a difference in your speeds compared to Netgear or Nest or any other system unless your home’s internet connection is 500 megabits per second or faster. 

What you will notice is that third device extending your range. In our coverage tests at the CNET Smart Home, it made a huge difference — and additional devices cost $100 each, which is $50 less than Nest, making it less expensive to expand upon, too. Couple that with reliably sturdy mesh performance between devices, an excellent, easy-to-use app and a good company track record of support and security updates, and Eero fits right in as one of our top recommendations, particularly if you’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Read more on CNET.

Ry Crist/CNET

I did a double take the first time I saw the price tag for the new, 2019 version of the Netgear Orbi mesh router system. At just $150 for a two-piece setup, it’s a clear value pick — and a dramatic turnaround from the original Netgear Orbi, which was way too expensive at $400.

Netgear brought the cost down by ditching the built-in Alexa speaker that comes with Orbi Voice and eliminating the tri-band approach and its dedicated, 5GHz backhaul band that it had previously used to connect each Orbi device in the mesh. That means that it’s a less robust mesh system than last time around, but I hardly noticed in my tests — Netgear actually notched the fastest top speeds at close range, it kept up with Nest and Eero in our real-world speed tests, and it offered excellent signal strength in the large-sized CNET Smart Home.

Netgear’s app isn’t as clean or intuitive as Nest or Eero, and the network didn’t seem quite as steady as those two as it steered me from band to band in my tests, but those are quibbles at this price. If you just want something affordable — perhaps to tide you over until you’re ready to make the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 — then the new Netgear Orbi definitely deserves your consideration.

Read more on CNET.

Wi-Fi 6 systems from Arris and Asus led our top speed tests, while the Nest Wifi router had the fastest average download speeds of the Wi-Fi 5 systems we tested (it even outperformed the Wi-Fi 6 version of Linksys Velop). Meanwhile, a single Eero device doesn’t perform well at range when used on its own.


Ry Crist/CNET

Top speeds

As I said, we’ve already run a good deal of speed tests with these systems. When we clocked the top wireless transfer speeds for a single router from each system, it was the Arris SURFboard mAXand the Asus RT-AX92U that led the way with top speeds comfortably north of 800Mbps at close range. No surprise there, as each one supports Wi-Fi 6, the fastest version of Wi-Fi yet.  

Behind those two was Nest Wifi, which took the bronze for fastest average speeds across all distances. Nest Wifi doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, but it still managed to finish one spot ahead of the newest Linksys Velop system, which does. The new, budget-friendly version of Netgear Orbi impressed us, too — it was even faster than Nest at close range.

Meanwhile, a single Eero device registered a top wireless transfer speed of just under 500Mbps at close range. At a distance of 75 feet (23 meters), the Eero’s speed plummeted to 45Mbps.

That’s a noteworthy result (and it jumps right out at you in that graph above), but keep in mind that most mesh systems feature dedicated router devices that are slightly different than the range extenders. With Eero, any device can act as a router or a range extender. Each one is designed to build the best mesh possible, and not necessarily to ace a standalone speed test like this one.

And remember also that these top speed tests take place in our lab. We wire each router to a MacBook Pro ($1,000 at Amazon) that acts as a local server, then download data from it to another laptop on the router’s wireless network. That lets us see how fast each router can move data without the variables and limitations that come with downloading data from the cloud via your internet service provider.

Here are the average download speeds by room for each Wi-Fi 5 system we tested in a small, 1,300-square-foot home with a 300Mbps internet connection. You won’t see much of a difference in speeds from system to system in such a small environment.


Ry Crist/CNET

Real-world speeds

Top speed tests are one thing, but it’s important to also take a close look at how well these mesh routers perform when you add in the range extenders and pull data from the cloud, the way they’ll be used 99% of the time. So, I took each one home, set it up on my 300Mbps AT&T fiber network, and spent quite a bit of time running speed tests in order to find out.

With a single range extender relaying the signal from each router, all three of our top-recommended systems were able to register a whole-home average of about 200Mbps across a minimum of 90 speed tests each, all of them conducted at different times on different days and in different spots throughout my 1,300 square foot house. In the room farthest from the router, each one clocked in with an average speed of about 150Mbps, which is a strong result.

netgear-orbi-voice-speed-test-data

Here’s a glimpse at the spreadsheet I use to record speed tests in my home, with my results from the Netgear Orbi Voice tests. Note the little red, orange and yellow blips — those are all points at which the mesh messed up, sometimes dropping my connection outright.


Ry Crist/CNET

Same goes for previous-gen Netgear Orbi Voice, which also performed well in this test as far as speeds are concerned. However, the system did a poor job of optimizing my connection as I moved throughout the house, often routing my signal through the extender when it would have been better to connect directly to the router, or vice versa. I didn’t have problems like that at all with Nest or Eero.

Of those four systems, Eero netted the fastest average speeds at close range, while Nest and Orbi Voice were slightly ahead at range, but none of the average speeds for any of the rooms I tested in were noticeably different from each other. That sort of indistinguishable performance is a strong argument in favor of the new Netgear Orbi, since it’s the cheapest. But there are two reasons why it isn’t my top overall pick.

First, the app controls are clunkier and less helpful than Nest or Eero. Second: Though the issue wasn’t as frequent as I experienced with Orbi Voice, there were multiple points during my Orbi tests at which I lost my connection to the router as I moved about the house with my laptop. Nest and Eero never dropped me as they automatically steered me from band to band within a single network for the best possible connection.

The Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems I tested in my home were each able to perform noticeably better than previous-gen systems at range — likely because of the speedy, next-gen connection between the router and the satellite.


Ry Crist/CNET

What about Wi-Fi 6?

I’ve tested three mesh systems in my home that support the speedy new standard — though it’s worth noting that I run my speed tests on a laptop with previous-gen Wi-Fi hardware. I’ll likely make an upgrade next year, but for now, it’s a good opportunity to see whether or not these new Wi-Fi 6 routers will make any sort of noticeable difference in a Wi-Fi 5 home like mine.

And, as it turns out, they actually do. Specifically, you can see better performance at range from each of the ones I’ve tested so far — likely stemming from the fact that the router and the satellite are able to use Wi-Fi 6 to relay signals back and forth at faster speeds. Even if you’re using a laptop that’s a couple of years old, like mine is, that means that connecting to the satellite at close range is just about as speedy as connecting to the router itself at close range. If you’re using Wi-Fi 6 devices, or if your connection is faster than mine (again, 300Mbps), you’re likely to see an even greater difference.

For now at least, that’s still a relatively small upgrade given the cost of these things. The Arris and Asus models I tested each cost about $400, while the Linksys Velop system costs about $700. Next on my list is the new, Wi-Fi 6 version of Netgear Orbi, which also costs $700. 

All of them are expensive options, but perhaps tempting for folks interested in future-proofing their home networks. However, it’s worth remembering that your router can only pull data from the cloud as fast as your internet connection allows. With the average download speed in the US currently sitting around 100Mbps or so, there’s very little chance that you’ll be able to push a Wi-Fi 6 router to its full potential anytime soon — and aside from a few key flagships like the iPhone 11 ($699 at Amazon) and the Samsung Galaxy S10 ($700 at Amazon) and Note 10 smart phones, there aren’t very many client devices that can take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6 yet, either.

All of which is to say that I think it’s still probably about a year too early to buy in on a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system. Unless you’re lucky enough to live with a gigabit internet connection, I don’t think any of them are worth the splurge just yet.

cnet-smart-home-promo-pic-2017.jpg

A mesh router system makes the most sense in a large environment — like, say, the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Quality of coverage

Speed tests are all well and good, but a mesh router system is overkill in a 1,300-square-foot home like mine. So, for our next test, we headed to the CNET Smart Home, a four-bedroom, 5,800-square-foot house on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky. Our goal: determine which system provides the strongest signals across the entire place.

To do this, we mapped out the home’s upstairs and downstairs floor plans, then fed that data into NetSpot’s free software for measuring signal strength. We chose the most sensible spots for the routers and range extenders, along with dozens of specific points from which to measure each network’s signal strength, both inside the home and out.

Here’s each system’s signal strength in the CNET Smart Home with a single router broadcasting the signal to a single extender, both of which are located on the main floor. Yellow is best, green is good and blue is bad. All three systems provided comparable coverage here, though Netgear impressed us with how strong the signal stayed in the basement.


Steve Conaway/CNET

Then, we set each router up accordingly and spent a day taking measurement after measurement after measurement. What resulted was a colorful set of nifty-looking heat maps showing us just how strong the signal is from room to room.

A couple of things about those heat maps. First, we tested each of our top systems with a single router, then with a router and one extender, then, in Eero’s case, with a router and two extenders (we haven’t tested the three-piece Nest or Netgear setups yet).

Second, know that we placed each router and extender in the exact same spot for each test (the software approximates their location, which is why it looks like they’re in slightly different spots from map to map).

Finally, it’s worth reiterating that these maps show you the aggregate signal strength of each system throughout the house, and not their actual download speeds. That said, better signal strength means better wireless speeds. My partner-in-testing Steve Conaway summed it up thusly: “Yellow means you’re in heaven, green means good enough, and blue means WTF.”

The first big takeaway from our coverage tests is that Netgear Orbi did an impressive job at spreading a strong signal to the basement, even with both the router and the range extender located upstairs. That lines up with our speed test data, where Netgear consistently kept up with Nest and Eero at range. These coverage tests suggest that in a large enough home, Netgear might actually outperform those two systems outright.

All three systems provided comparable coverage in a big space like the CNET Smart Home — but Eero’s $250 starter kit adds in third device. We placed it in the basement, where signal strength tends to be weak, and it made a big, noticeable difference.


Steve Conaway/CNET

I’ve highlighted the other key takeaway in the adjacent GIF, which shows the coverage for the full, three-piece Eero setup. No huge surprise, but that three-piece setup provided noticeably better coverage than the two-piece Nest and Netgear setups, because we were able to add an additional range extender down in the basement.

Translation: If you’ve got a large home that’s 4,000 square feet or more, then you should prioritize getting a setup with more than one range extender. I think Eero is your best option at $250, and a better value than the three-piece Nest Wifi kit, which costs $350 — but note that a three-piece Netgear Orbi kit is now available for $230. 

I’m comfortable recommending that most spend the extra $20 on Eero for the steady performance and the superior app, but I’ll update this space once we’ve had a chance to test those other three-piece setups out, too. Soon, we’ll also have coverage maps like these for the Wi-Fi 6 systems we’ve tested, along with other routers as well. I’ll update this space once we’re able to share some more data.

Originally published earlier this month. Updated with more testing info.


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