Netgear Orbi - A Great Whole Home WiFi 6 System
There's a lot to like about multipoint mesh router systems -- namely, the clever way that they use range extending satellite units to sling a speedy Wi-Fi signal to all corners of your home.
The problem has always been the price. Big names like Eero and Google Wifi garnered positive reviews for their mesh systems, but buying in would set you back at least $300. Make that $400 for one of Netgear's original Orbi two-piece mesh systems.
Price and Value
Well, things changed in 2019. For starters, Amazon bought Eero and released a new version of that system that costs half as much as before. Meanwhile, Google released a second-gen mesh router of its own called the Nest Wifi - that one's a better value than before, too. And Netgear? It released a new version of the Orbi that brings the price of a two-piece mesh setup with the router and one extender all the way down to $129.
That's easily the best price we've ever seen for a mesh router, but know that this isn't quite the same Orbi as last time around. The devices are smaller than before, and -- as you might expect given the price cut -- the hardware inside is less sophisticated, too. You don't get built-in smart speakers like you do with the Nest Wifi or Netgear Orbi Voice; more notably, you no longer get a dedicated wireless channel, called the backhaul, that's designed specifically to pass data between the router and the range extenders. And don't even think about getting support for brand-new, next-gen Wi-Fi 6 speeds at this price.
You almost certainly won't even notice it. The Netgear Orbi performed just as well as Eero and Nest on an internet connection of 300 megabits/second. The new Orbi proved to be more reliable than Eero and Nest in range tests. It also had a better signal strength, especially for multi-story homes. Although it didn't route my signal as efficiently as Eero or Nest, I was able to move around my house with ease. The app isn’t as user-friendly or helpful, but overall, it tested well.
The Netgear Orbi is a true value proposition in the router aisle. Although it's not the most expensive system, it offers the best mesh networking benefits at a very affordable price. The new Netgear Orbi is a great option if you are looking for something that will do the job and tie you over until Wi-Fi 6 upgrade.
Downscaled by Design
The new Orbi isn't the same as the previous ones. The tall, fin-like Orbi Voice obelisks and built-in Harman Karadon Alexa speakers have been replaced by smaller, more compact Orbi Voice models. You get tiny, white plastic boxes with rounded edges that have a woven array heat vents at the top.
It gives the router and range extender a distinctive yet simple appearance. They are good looking and will perform better if you leave them out open.
The new Orbi is not just a cosmetic upgrade. In addition to reducing the device's size, the Orbi also reduced the hardware within the device to reduce costs. While it's still a dual band system that can automatically guide you between connections on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands while you move around your home, there's no second 5GHz band available for the router to send data to range extenders. Bye bye, backhaul.
You'll notice the Ethernet jacks that were added to the router are all gone when you turn it around. The router has one spare and the extenders have none. This means that the router can't be wired back to extenders for faster performance. If you have devices such as smart home hubs or gaming consoles that you want to wire directly to the router, you will only have one.
USB ports are also gone. The new Orbi does not have any USB ports. That's OK. They were not available in the previous model, which limited their use to specific printers and external storage.
Dual-band Netgear Orbi systems offer a 2.4GHz band that has a claimed top speed up to 400Mbps and a 5-GHz band that has a maximum speed up to 866Mbps. These top speeds are identical to the Netgear Orbi's earlier, more costly version. The difference is that the older Orbi, a tri-band system, adds a second 5GHz frequency band, which acts as a dedicated backhaul link between the router, and the satellite. It has top speeds up to 1,733Mbps.
The router's backhaul does not affect the router's top speeds - Orbi measured its transfer speeds by connecting it to a local server, then downloading files wirelessly from that server. At a distance of 5 feet, Orbi recorded a maximum speed of 661.9Mbps. We tested it again at 75 feet distance and the speed dropped to 228.2Mbps. These numbers are significantly faster than what we measured with the original Netgear Orbi during similar tests in 2016.
You won't notice a significant difference in top speeds between the systems unless you have an extremely fast internet connection. However, I will mention that my Orbi connection did drop a few times while I was testing. This could be due to an error in the handoff or confusion over whether my signal should be routed to the router or the extender.
When it comes to a final verdict here, the Netgear Orbi router is a good router not only for gaming but for your entire home. With blazing fast speeds this router will cover everything imaginable in your home. Check it out.