Modern-day networking has taken a lot of the sting out of getting your devices up and connected, but there can still be a lot of hoops to jump though, and the idea of running cables, placing antennas, and drowning in a sea of DHCP leases and DNS lookups is enough to give even seasoned techies a mild panic attack. Google’s hoping to further reduce many of those headaches while still giving users a powerful home network with the introduction of its new Nest Wifi mesh system.
Google’s no stranger to Wi-Fi hardware, getting started with the old OnHub routers before launching its first-gen Google Wifi three years ago. With a low-profile, attractive design, the ability to grow the system through multiple mesh-connected access points, and a streamlined, anxiety-free setup process, there was already a lot to like.
Now Google’s back with its follow-up, moving to Nest branding, tweaking design and performance, and even adding some Assistant extras. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from the new Google Nest Wifi.
My network environment is — how we say — challenging. I’m in a three-story house, and my fiber line enters on the top floor. From there I run a wired connection to my desktop and a couple smart-home hubs, and shower a Wi-Fi signal down upon everything else. And after recently switching to a new ISP and having to ditch my old personal router, I found myself running into more and more problems getting a reliable signal on some of the lower floors. Would Nest Wifi be able to help me out?
Undersides of the Nest Wifi router (left), point (right).
Getting started with a Google Nest Wifi system is just as easy now as it was with the previous generation. I checked out a two-pack ($270), consisting of the base Nest Wifi router and one remote wireless point to help spread that signal. Connecting the router means little more than using the included Ethernet cable to link it to your broadband modem, and plugging in its AC adapter.
There’s only a single LAN port for wired devices, though, so if you’re connecting more than one of those (as I needed to), you’ll want to pick up an external switch. Thankfully, those are both cheap and essentially plug-and-play.
If your home has yet to go full-wireless, your Nest Wifi is going to need a little help.
From there, you’ll use Google Home to add the Nest Wifi to your local devices and begin configuring its software. Short of choosing an AP name and setting up a password there’s not a lot to do. If you’re upgrading from an existing system, you can reuse the same name and password to save yourself the step of reconfiguring all your devices.
Where should your remote Nest Wifi point go? I had the opportunity to speak with the Nest team before setting up my network, and they recommended I choose somewhere on the second floor of my home, on the opposite side from the third-floor router. That way I’d have a bubble of coverage extending down to the first floor, while also getting some nice overlap on the second and third, where most of my devices live.
Setting up one of these points is even easier than the router: plug in the power cord, scan its QR code with the Home app, and you’re set. All the complicated stuff like finding the optimal Wi-Fi channel happens seamlessly behind the scenes.
Google’s intentionally trying to demystify home networking, so it’s little surprise that the Nest Wifi was announced without a big focus on silicon and specs; instead, Google boils things down to results, and tells users they can expect roughly 25 percent better coverage than its last model, while delivering speeds up to twice as fast.
If you do care about what’s powering this puppy, Google’s equipped the router with a quad-core 1.4 GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, and support for simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi — 4×4 MIMO at 5 GHz, and 2×2 for 2.4 GHz.
We also get a design overhaul, with Google smoothing the hard edges of the earlier system’s “cylinder” design into rounded pod-like units. Connectivity’s the same, with just three ports hidden in the router’s base: Ethernet in, out, and power. A solitary LED up front lets you know the unit’s working — no dazzling blinkenlights here.
Google says that this look is intended to make people feel comfortable leaving the router out in the open, making it a part of their home décor in a way that allows it to maximize signal strength, rather than being tucked away in a closet somewhere. A similar aesthetic graces the remote Nest Wifi points, only now with a series of top-surface microphone holes and a speaker grille around the bottom that reveal the points’ bonus functionality: They double as Nest Mini smart speakers.
Packed inside the Nest Wifi point is all the goodness from the new Nest Mini.
While bulkier than the Nest Mini and not sheathed in the same fabric shell (although nonetheless available in a variety of pastel tones), the Nest Wifi points do everything this year’s new Minis do, like responding to capacitive touch controls. That includes the same upgrades to audio output, but Google tells me that point’s sound is even slightly louder. Like regular Minis, a hardware switch disables microphone input. A glowing ring of LEDs around the point’s base lets you know when it’s listening, or shines orange to confirm privacy.
The Nest Wifi point keeping things on the down-low with its muted microphone.
When you first get started, as I’ve detailed when discussing setup, the Google Home is great at helpfully guiding you through things. Once configured, you’ll find your router popping up among your Home devices. Tapping on it you’ll see your latest speed report, as well as a quick overview of connected devices.
This is also where you can set up a guest network to easily share with friends, as well as set family restrictions on any of the kids’ devices. That allows you to filter sites for content, as well as “pause” the Wi-Fi on pre-defined schedules or at your manual whim.
Most of your interactions with Nest Wifi take place through the Google Home app.
Diving further into settings we get the option to enable next-gen WPA3 security, as well as engage a “gaming preferred” mode optimized for Stadia — when that arrives. In general I wish there were more options for selecting preferred devices — those you want to get the most bandwidth and lowest latency when using. While any device can be temporarily set as preferred, there’s no way to make that permanent.
So far, so good, but then you see the “advanced networking” section. Tap that and you’re out of Google Home, and into the old Google Wifi app. Here you can earn your IT badge playing with DNS options, IPv6, LAN and WAN settings, and port management — all that good stuff. While this gets the job done, it’s weird to have settings spread across two apps, and especially the Google Wifi end of it feels shoehorned in — often I’ll jump from Home to Wifi and it reports my router’s offline (it ain’t).
Network stats and advanced settings in the Google Wifi app.
There are also mixed messages coming from the two apps. With my current setup, performing a mesh test with Google Home tells me the test went “great” and I have a “good connection,” with no further advice. But doing the very same thing in Google Wifi tells me my mesh is only “OK” and advises I move the point for a stronger signal. For a router built on ease-of-use, that sort of confusion is really unfortunate, and I doubt we’d have this problem if Google stuck to a single app.
One last heads-up: There’s no browser-based admin. While this decision absolutely fits with Google’s vision for the router, it is a little frustrating for people more accustomed to ironing out network settings from their PCs. Honestly, I think I can get used to this — it just feels really, really weird.
Is the new Google Nest Wifi actually a good router? In a word: yes. Since setting it up, practically all of my home connectivity issues have resolved. The JBL Link Bar on my living room TV used to lose its signal if I stood within a couple feet of it — a problem no more. I’m also finally getting footage from exterior Wi-Fi cams that stopped reporting when I last swapped routers.
More than that, I really appreciate the tools Google provides to gain a little insight into my networking: a daily speed report helping to keep my ISP honest, real-time device-by-device bandwidth stats, data usage trends, and more.
If you’re looking to upgrade from an existing Google Wifi system, the new Nest Wifi hardware is backwards compatible and can help deliver a nice performance boost. To get the most out of it, though, you’ll want to set up a new Nest Wifi network and add your earlier Google Wifi devices, rather than just adding the new stuff to your old network.
Finally, functionality is only going to get better as time goes on, with the Nest Wifi set to receive support for Thread smart-home devices by way of a future update.
Should you buy it?
Google Nest Wifi
Yes. The vast majority of home users are going to find their networking needs perfectly served by the Google Nest Wifi router. It’s fast, flexible, and is near-painless to set up. Old hats may hem and haw about the app-only configuration interface, but for the most part this is a router that handles technical concerns for you, and the most difficult question you’ll have to answer yourself is how many remote points you want to pick up. Sure, it’s not cheap, but between the performance and ease-of-use, you absolutely get your money’s worth.