Google Wi-Fi launched three years ago, and for me, it's been the best mesh system I've tested and used. Nest Wi-Fi is the latest mesh networking product from Google, and it's de facto second-generation Google Wi-Fi, just by a different name.
A mesh network uses multiple different access points (sometimes called nodes) to blanket your home in a Wi-Fi signal. As you move around your home, the network is smart enough to know which access point will provide a better connection and to hand off your device to provide a seamless connection. When it's done right, you won't even notice.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems have been around for a few years now. Eero made the first big splash — one big enough for Amazon to take notice and buy the company. Then Google, Samsung and the rest of the regular home networking companies started to release their own mesh Wi-Fi systems.
Earlier this week, I offered some first impressions of Nest W-Fi, and now, after a week of use and testing, it's time to dive into a full review.
It takes two devices to make up a Nest Wi-Fi network. The first is the Nest Wi-Fi router and is connected to your internet provider's modem. It has two Ethernet ports and is slightly bigger than the Nest Wi-Fi point, the second device that makes up Nest Wi-Fi.
The router comes in white, while the point is available in white, mist or sand.
The point has a single port on the bottom for power, a status light around the bottom, and a switch on the back to disable the microphones. There are far-field microphones along the top that allow the point to double as a Google Assistant-equipped smart speaker. The top of the point is also touch-sensitive, so you can tap on the top to play or pause music.
With a new design, and by including Google Assistant in the Nest Wi-Fi point, Google is trying to encourage customers not to hide the devices in cabinets or on the bottom shelves of entertainment centers. By leaving Nest Wi-Fi devices out in the open, they're able to provide better coverage and improve the overall network experience.
You can use Google Assistant to pause internet access to your kids' devices or run network speed tests, and if you have a Nest Hub, you can even display a QR code for guests to scan with their smartphones to connect to your guest Wi-Fi network.
I've now had the chance to set up three Nest Wi-Fi devices, and the process is smooth. You'll need to install the Google Home app on your iPhone or Android device, plug in the Nest Wi-Fi point or router, and then wait a few seconds for a prompt to set up a new device. A couple of taps later, you scan a QR code on the bottom of the device, give it a name, and wait a couple of minutes for Google to set up your network.
In order to get the most out of Nest Wi-Fi, I had to swap out my Google Wi-Fi access point with the Nest Wi-Fi router. But that meant I had to factory reset all of my Google Wi-Fi devices and lose all of the custom settings, labeling of my kids' devices, and schedules I had painstakingly set up, along with the guest network I had created.
Google is looking into a way to let users carry over those settings from Google Wi-Fi to Nest Wi-Fi, but until then, keep in mind that you'll have to start from scratch if you are upgrading.
The Google Wi-Fi app still exists, and Google has no plans to get rid of it. Instead, you'll use the Google Home app to set up, control and customize your Nest Wi-Fi network.
There are some advanced features, such as IP reservations, DNS settings and port forwarding, that are only available in the Google Wi-Fi app right now, but those will slowly make their way to the Google Home app in the coming months.
I actually prefer using the Google Home app. It's a simpler design and experience.
Expanding your network
Google sells Nest Wi-Fi in a two-pack for $269, with an advertised coverage of up to 3,800 square feet. But if, like me, you need more coverage than that, you have a few options.
You can either buy the Nest Wi-Fi three-pack for $349, buy a single Nest Wi-Fi point for $149, or buy a Nest Wi-Fi router for $169.
You also have the option to use a Google Wi-Fi access point. Google doesn't have Google Wi-Fi in its online store anymore, but you can find them on Amazon (prices will vary, of course).
The Nest Wi-Fi point lacks any Ethernet ports, meaning you can't directly connect your computer, TV or gaming console to it. It also means you can't use a wired Ethernet connection in another room to provide internet to the access point (helpful in really big homes).
However, the stand-alone Nest Wi-Fi router and all Google Wi-Fi access points have Ethernet ports.
For the past three years, my setup has been two Google Wi-Fi access points in my home. My home office is roughly 70 feet away from my house in an all-metal building. I use a couple of Ubiquiti NanoStation 5AC's to beam internet from the house to my office and connect to the Ethernet port on a third Google Wi-Fi access point in my office.
When I realized that the Nest Wi-Fi points didn't have an Ethernet port, I was certain it wouldn't work for me. But I set it up, placing it in a window in order to give it the best chance to connect to the mesh network created by the two devices in my home.
When I'd attempted the same thing with Google Wi-Fi in the past, the Google Wi-Fi app would tell me that the device in my office didn't have a good connection to the mesh network and that I needed to move it closer to the other access points. Speed tests showed a throughput, if I was lucky, of 10mbps.
With Nest Wi-Fi, mesh network tests in the Google Home app show that everything is working as expected, bouncing between "good" and "great" ratings. And throughput has increased to 80mbps, which still isn't nearly as good as the 200mbps and up I see in the house, but it's more than fast enough for my setup.
As for performance outside of my very unique setup, Nest Wi-Fi has done a good job handing off devices as I roam around the house, or even walk between the house and my office. I haven't noticed any issues where the handoff between access points has caused video to stop streaming, or my device to stop loading a web page. It's all been seamless, and the speeds I've seen from Nest Wi-Fi are some of the fastest I've been able to get out of a home Wi-Fi system.
Nest Wi-Fi is the best mesh system I've used
I'm really impressed with Nest Wi-Fi. From the ease of setup and features to Google Assistant and performance, the entire experience has been without issue.
Nest Wi-Fi isn't cheap, especially if you find the two-pack won't quite do the job, and that's its biggest fault. But I think we all have a room in our homes where we struggle to get a reliable Wi-Fi signal. And from my experience, Nest Wi-Fi is the answer. Furthermore, CNN Underscored is naming it the best mesh Wi-Fi system available.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.