Google Nest WiFi vs. Orbi RBK50: Is The Older Google WiFi Better?
After two weeks of testing, I determined Netgear Orbi RBK50 is the best mesh system because of its superior performance. Google Nest WiFi shows promise but isn’t ready for prime time due to performance issues. The older Google WiFi is great for those who want a well rounded and intuitive system made by Google.
I’ll compare and contrast two mesh routers (Nest WiFi vs. Orbi) by evaluating four categories: setup, software, performance, and design.
- Setup: It isn’t the smoothest setup, but it’s usually more consistent than Nest WiFi.
- Software: Orbi's phone app is slow to connect to the routers, isn't optimized for all screen sizes and doesn't have built-in parental controls.
- Performance: Orbi is the most powerful because it has three bands and utilizes a dedicated backhaul (of the nine systems that I tested).
- Design: The nodes are huge and an eyesore, but you get seven Ethernet ports with the two-piece set.
- House Type: Most homes need the two-set for $300, which should cover at least 4,000 feet.
Best for you if...
You want the best pure speed from any mesh system tested on Power Moves. Orbi has seven Ethernet ports and an advanced web-based interface to go along with the basic phone app. Unfortunately, Orbi routers are gigantic, the phone app isn’t as intuitive as others and it is missing lots of smart features.
Google Nest WiFi
- Setup: It occasionally goes smoothly, but usually something breaks down.
- Software: Nest WiFi requires you to use two apps if you want advanced features, but it has a nicer interface with smarter features than Orbi.
- Performance: It's only dual-band, but Nest makes the most of its hardware. The dropouts and slow speeds (when connected to the Points) should get fixed eventually.
- Design: It’s the perfect size for a router. The Points have Google Assistant built-in and come in three colors.
- House Type: Most homes need the two-set for $300, which should cover at least 3,000 feet.
Best for you if...
You want a user-friendly app with parental controls and can wait out Nest's current performance issues. The nodes cut out and don't always stay connected, but it will get fixed with updates. In the meantime, the previous generation Google WiFi has a great app with enough performance for most.
Things to Know
- Mesh WiFi systems were made popular by Eero in 2016. They help improve your WiFi range and speed by using more than one node (router) on the same network. They typically don’t compromise on speed as a range extender would. Ideally, you can set up the first router, find where your dead spots are, then put the second node where you’re still getting a good connection but near the dead spot.
- Eero Pro is my favorite mesh system because it combines a feature-rich, intuitive app with top tier performance.
- I’ve tested nine different mesh configurations from five different brands. See my Power Rankings to see where each set ranks.
- Orbi provides the best performance on the market, but it’s not recommended for people who want a nice phone app.
- Google WiFi is a great budget pick and provides adequate performance with lots of Eero’s app features.
- Google Nest WiFi is the heir apparent to Google WiFi. It theoretically should provide a better performance, but the kinks still need to be worked out.
- My testing process:
- I picked ten different locations in my house and backyard.
- Each time I ran a speed test. I unplugged the routers and the modem, waited, then plugged in the modem, then plugged in routers and waited 10 minutes before recording the download speed.
- I used speedtest.net with my MacBook Pro and always connected to the same speedtest.net server during the tests.
- After I recorded the download speed from all ten locations, I repeated the process two more times.
- Then I added the 30 recordings together and divided by 30 to get an average speed of my network.
- There are flaws in my testing methods. Use my numbers as a part of your research rather than anything conclusive, because…
- Your home’s layout won’t match mine.
- While I wanted WiFi coverage by the fire pit in my backyard, my home office WiFi speed is more important. But each location was treated equally without any added weight.
- My house is 1,200 square feet, I was trying to cover about 3,000 square feet (backyard and deck included).
- I have the best internet speeds that my town offers (117/mbps maximum download), but it’s relatively low compared to what others can get. Orbi has the highest theoretical speed limit and may outperform others by a wider margin if given more juice.
- Getting my devices connected to the proper node was part of my test, but it was random and may not be fair. My devices would occasionally but inconsistently connect to the node that was farthest away, resulting in a lower speed, which skewed some of the numbers.
- Orbi’s setup isn’t as smooth as other mesh systems, but it’s straightforward with the phone app.
- The RBK50 two-pack comes with one “router” that connects to your modem and one “satellite” that connects wirelessly to the router.
- With the Orbi RBK50, most homes will only need two nodes and that should cover 5,000 square feet according to Orbi (4,000 comfortably in my tests).
- Orbi advises you to power the satellite during the setup, but I’ve installed Orbi more than five times and run into minor issues when doing this. It’s smarter to get the system up and running with the router first, then add additional satellites to your working system after.
- Unlike Nest WiFi, Orbi has a web-based interface option. If you’ve used any of Netgear’s traditional routers, it’s the same interface. You’ll have options to customize anything and everything.
- For this post, I’m focusing on the mobile app because that’s how most people will set up their mesh systems. A well-done phone app is one of the features that differentiates a mesh system from a traditional standalone router. Orbi’s app was atrocious when I first installed the system three years ago. It gets better with each update, but it still has issues:
- The communication delay between the routers and the app is brutal. When you open the app, more than half of the time, the app doesn’t immediately sync with your network. You’ll get a message that says “Router Not Set Up,” but when you dismiss the message everything is running perfectly.
- The app doesn’t have parental controls. You can download the Disney Circle app for $5/month to integrate with your Orbi system, but parental controls are free with most other mesh systems.
- You can’t prioritize which devices should get your resources.
- It won’t automatically detect issues with your network and reboot itself to fix the issue.
- The “Traffic Meter” shows your bandwidth used for set week or month, but the interface is poorly designed.
- They didn’t optimize the app for enough screen sizes. It looks perfect on some phones, but cuts off the screen on others.
- You can name the devices on your network and pause specific devices from your network at any time.
- Netgear partnered with Bitdefender and created a service called “Netgear Armor” for $70/year. The service helps protect you from phishing threats and warns you of bad sites. However, I used their free trial and it blocked legitimate sites that I was trying to access. I don’t recommend this service.
- You get standardized port forwarding settings and true QoS settings.
- You can send your guests a WiFi connection link with two taps or give them your QR code to get them on the network.
- There’s support for MU-MIMO.
- Orbi is the only mesh system that doesn’t use or rely on the cloud by default that I’m aware of.
- You don’t need an internet connection to set up your network. (You’ll still need an internet connection to access the internet.)
- Your data shouldn’t leave your home.
- Solo router performance (for baseline):
- One Orbi (RBK50) gave me an average of 100/mbps, in my house and backyard.
- 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. The RBK50 should comfortably cover 4,000 square feet according to my tests, while Netgear suggests it should cover 5,000 square feet.
- It has a higher theoretical speed limit (AC3000) than any mesh system that I’ve tested. Due to my relatively slow internet speeds, I can’t test gigabit internet speeds, but Orbi should be the most equipped to handle them.
- Orbi has a substantial advantage over Nest WiFi because each Orbi node has three wireless bands, while the Nest Wifi Router and Point only have two bands.
- Of Orbi’s three bands, one of the bands is reserved for the “backhaul”. The backhaul channel is used exclusively for the nodes on your network to communicate with each other. During my three years of mesh router testing, a dedicated backhaul channel seems to be the best strategy for maximizing performance.
- If you want the elite performance of Orbi, but you’re disappointed by the software offering, Eero Pro has almost as good performance with a first-class app.
- If you can get over Orbi’s lack of intuitive software, you’ll still have to deal with the ugly and space-consuming design. Orbi is three times taller and twice as wide as Nest WiFi’s compact design.
- The good news:
- Most homes only need two Orbi nodes, while some mesh systems may require three just to cover 4,000 square feet.
- Orbi is built for the nerds. The main router has three Ethernet ports and a USB port, while the satellite has four Ethernet ports. Your RBK50 will have seven available ports for hubs, base stations, and hardwiring devices.
- Orbi has a satellite option that plugs directly into a power outlet (similar to Eero Beacon). It’s still bulky and only has two channels, but it’s a nice way to hide one of the nodes.
- Google Nest WiFi is Google’s second branded mesh router system. Nest WiFi is considered an upgrade from Google WiFi, but Google WiFi remains in Google’s lineup as their budget option.
- I’ve installed Google WiFi five times and Nest WiFi once. The difference is that Google WiFi uses the Google WiFi app, while Nest WiFi uses the Google Home app. The process is similarly inconsistent for both. Frustrating issues:
- You don’t get progress bars as the nodes are configuring. During long wait periods, it’s unclear if the app is broken or if it’s still configuring.
- Google doesn’t tell you to unplug your modem before the install like most mesh systems. Instead, your first installation will fail, then it gives you instructions to unplug the modem and retry.
- Nest’s standard two-piece set comes with a Nest WiFi “Router” and Nest WiFi “Point.” The Point has a speaker, mic and Google Assistant built-in, so they’ll work as a router and Google Home speaker.
- Nest WiFi uses the Google Home app for setup and to manage most of its features. In the Google Home app, all your smart devices and speakers appear on the home screen. You’ll get these features when you tap the WiFi button:
- You can prioritize devices. It’s clutch if you’re uploading, downloading, or streaming something important and have limited internet resources.
- You can name and rename the devices on your network.
- You can see real-time bandwidth usage from each of your devices.
- Family WiFi lets you group devices together. With this you can schedule access, pause the group with one tap, or turn on SafeSearch to block inappropriate content. This is a must-have for parents who want to limit their kids’ devices.
- You can set up a guest network.
- There’s a bug that doesn’t allow special characters such as spaces or dashes in your network name.
- For a smoother and more refined operation, you can use the Google WiFi app to perform everything above and more advanced features:
- You set up port forwarding.
- You can see which node your devices are connected to.
- You can see more than real-time bandwidth usage, including how much data each device on your network has used and filter it by 1 day, 7 days, or 30 days.
- Unfortunately, you can’t use Google WiFi until your network is setup via the Google Home app.
- Google will eventually add all of the features from the Google WiFi app to the Google Home app. For now, the Google Home app is still buggy, missing important features, and creates confusion for the average customer.
- You can’t reboot or see the status of your routers when your internet connection goes down.
- You can disable the Nest WiFi’s reliance on the cloud, but your performance won’t be as strong.
- Solo router performance (for baseline):
- One Nest WiFi Router gave me an average of 102/mbps, in my house and backyard. One Google WiFi average of 90/mbps in the same spots.
- Mesh router performance (using the routers together, as intended):
- One Nest WiFi Router with one Nest WiFi Point gave me an average of 111/mbps in my house and backyard.
- This configuration should comfortably cover 3,000 square feet. Nest says it’s good for up to 3,800 square feet.
- Comparing Nest WiFi to Orbi RBK50:
- Nest WiFi doesn’t have a dedicated backhaul channel because Nest WiFi only has two bands compared to Orbi’s three.
- Nest WiFi does an impressive job covering up for its hardware limitations with software and outperforms Eero (non-Pro), Velop, and Deco on speed tests.
- Comparing Nest WiFi to Google WiFi:
- Nest WiFi Router has AC2200 4×4 and 2×2 radios. Google WiFi has AC1200 2×2 radios.
- The Nest WiFi Point has AC1200 2×2 radios (same as Google WiFi).
- Nest WiFi has twice the theoretical bandwidth limit as Google WiFi.
- Google says that the Nest WiFi Router should have 25% more range due to the stronger radios. According to my tests, 25% seems right.
- A Nest WiFi Point is essentially the same as a Google WiFi Router, but it has a Google Assistant speaker built-in instead of Ethernet ports. Google thinks that if customers have routers spread over their house, the routers might as well add extra utility. I have issues with Google’s strategy:
- If most homes only need the two-piece setup, what are the odds that there’s an optimal position for both the network performance and a speaker? For instance, I get the best performance from mesh networks when I have the second node placed in my porch room. I don’t want Google Assistant there.
- Nest WiFi Points don’t have Ethernet ports, while the Nest WiFi Router only has one port.
- You can’t create a wired backhaul due to the lack of ports.
- Point is slower than the Router.
- I can’t recommend Nest WiFi confidently (yet):
- During random speed tests throughout the two weeks as my main router, I often found that my speeds were slower than they should’ve been. It seemed like the slow down happened when I was connected to the Nest WiFi Point rather than the main router.
- Despite the app showing a “great connection” between the two nodes, my internet cut out a few times per day and fixed itself within two minutes. Maybe others wouldn’t notice the dropouts, but it’s noticeable when you work from home and spend 12 hours per day on the internet.
- The Point disconnected from the Router three different times in two weeks. The Point slowly blinked orange and couldn’t communicate with the app to reboot. I had to manually unplug and retry.
- If you are willing to fight through the early app and performance issues, the best bet for most is the exclusive Amazon set with two Nest WiFi Routers. I didn’t test two Nest WiFi Routers paired together, but it’ll give you more range than the standard set and more Ethernet ports. There’s a chance that two routers would fix the performance issues if they’re exclusively Point issues.
- Nest WiFi nodes are well-designed and won’t be a distraction due to their tiny footprint.
- The Nest WiFi Router comes in white.
- The Nest WiFi Point comes in white (Snow), light blue (Mist), and light brown (Sand). They have a built-in speaker and mic listening for the wake word (“Hey Google”) at all times. I found the performance to be the same as Google Nest Home Mini.
- If you buy the set with one Router and one Point, you’ll only have one Ethernet port to work with because the Nest WiFi Point doesn’t have Ethernet ports.
- If you buy the set with two Nest WiFi Routers, you’ll get three Ethernet ports, which seems more reasonable.