WiFi is a must-have technology at home and work but it can be a bear to get right.
Luckily, things are getting better as vendors recognise that the main point of wireless data is convenience and ease of use, not fussing with mysterious settings.
That Google thinks so is evident in the company's mesh WiFi offering; I tried out the three-device pack for a larger house, and it's a slick set of hardware and software.
There's plenty to like about the Google WiFi gear: to start with, the access points look good.
They're fairly small, round and white, which is a nice change from the crab-like black or multicoloured Wifi routers sprouting big antennae and which have sharp, unkind edges.
If it wasn't for the necessary power cable (and if required, two ethernet network leads), the Google WiFi gear would be unobtrusive and fit anywhere. A discreet multihue light shows when the devices are on, and changes colour when something's wrong.
Second, the price is good at $599 for all three - but, if you need to add just one more, the per-unit price is a whopping $229!
Setting up Google WiFi turned out to be dead simple: power up and plug in the first WiFi point into the Ethernet network port of the broadband router, get the Google app for either iOS or Android (they're pretty similar), and you're walked through the installation of all three.
It took maybe 20 minutes in total, with part of the time spent on an automatic software update for Google WiFi, to get going. After that, every nook and cranny of the house, from the kitchen to the bedrooms, had WiFi coverage.
My go-to tool for these things, Netspot, confirmed the WiFi everywhere status with a site survey, and that's it, no drama. The access points talk to each other over 2 X 2 Wave aerials, and WPA2 encryption and authentication, plus there's a Trusted Platform Module for secure communications. If you need more coverage, just add one or more Google WiFi points - as many as you like, Google says.
Bluetooth Smart and Zigbee wireless are supported by Google WiFi for wearables and home automation devices, but both seem to be works in progress still. A quad-core processor with 512 megabytes of memory handles the network traffic routing inside the Google WiFi.
Kudos to Google for the smartphone app, which manages to be heaps more useful than just about every other one that I've tried over the years, allowing you to quickly and easily configure network settings, troubleshoot and run speed tests and more.
Also, you can switch of the internet connection when the kids get too annoying with their screen time, and prioritise your own traffic ahead of theirs. Ahahahaha!
Just remember not to give the kids management rights over Google WiFi settings though.
Unfortunately, Google WiFi has some limitations that might annoy.
First, you can't set different station identifiers for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios. The reason you want to do this is to use 5GHz as much as possible: the Google WiFi points give you 80MHz worth of bandwidth for fast networking in the 5GHz range.
In the busy and microwave and everything else infested 2.4GHz frequency range you get 20MHz of bandwidth, and much lower throughput as a result compared to 5GHz.
Google WiFi supports the band steering feature that tries to push clients towards the less congested and faster 5GHz spectrum, but it doesn't always work. You could get stuck in the slow 2.4GHz lane and not be able to switch out of it.
Google WiFi isn't a wireless performance king. It's not slow, but if you want close to gigabit speeds, there are better (and uglier) alternatives out there.
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Being able to manually select 5GHz when needed is a top feature request from Google WiFi users, so we'll see if it can be done. Other mesh WiFi products also have this issue.
The speed rating for Google WiFi is AC1200, an aggregate measure you'll never reach: it takes the 300 megabit per second theoretical connect speed for the 2.4GHz, and adds 867Mbps for the 5GHz band.
I never saw 300Mbps connects in 2.4GHz; just over 100 and up to 145Mbps were typical. My MacBook Pro latched on at 867Mbps in 5GHz with 80MHz bandwidth close to the Google WiFi points, but a bit further away the speed dropped to 200-300Mbps.
This could be down to Google WiFi not having huge aerials that my Linksys router has and which happily sits at twice the connect speeds at the same distance. Nor is multi-user MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) supported, which boosts performance if your gear can handle it.
Either way, Google WiFi isn't a wireless performance king. It's not slow, but if you want close to gigabit speeds, there are better (and uglier) alternatives out there.
That you can't change the default network addresses from 192.168.86.0/24 is irritating, but at least IPv6 is supported.
And Google: please could you make the access points manageable via a laptop or desktop as well as a smartphone?
Overall though, if your devices happily lock onto 5GHz most of the time, and you don't need top performance, Google WiFi is a good choice that blends into most homes while providing great coverage - and it's super easy to use while providing a good range of wireless features.