As a company who makes their money by you being online, it’s not really a big surprise that Google has been making forays into consumer networking equipment for the past five years. With their latest release, the Nest Wifi pack, they’re moving forward with a fresh new design and features.
The Nest Wifi replaces their Google Wifi hardware introduced in 2016. Both setups offer mesh networking – the ability to have multiple wireless access points which blanket your home with wifi signal in a single, easy to access SSID.
Google Wifi was incredibly over-engineered for what it was, with each access point able to act as an independent router on its own. Nest Wifi dials that back, with a single router and offering additional access points that can be added to the Mesh network to bolster signal around your home.
Google supplied us with a single Nest Wifi router and access point, though you can purchase additional access points as you need them for $229. Google sells the Nest Wifi router for $269 by itself, or with a single access point for $399, or with two access points for $549.
Hardware and Design
The design on the new Nest Wifi Router and Access Point is a more refined look than the utilitarian Google WiFi, with the Nest Wifi all curved edges which, well, if that’s your aesthetic it’s great. I kinda like the multiple wifi antenna of the Asus Night Hawk and its ilk, but that’s not the look that Google has gone for here – nor is it the look my wife likes, but Nest Wifi is a winner for her.
In the US, they get an option for either Mist Blue, or Sand Pink coloured access points, but here in Australia we simply get white, or ‘Snow’. The plastic is matte so there’s no worries about fingerprints, though you probably won’t be touching your Nest Wifi much once it’s setup.
The Nest Wifi Access Points also include an in-built speaker and microphone with Google Assistant on-board – effectively turning it into a Nest Home Mini. But don’t worry if you’re concerned about privacy, there’s a hardware switch on the Access Point base to turn the mic off and disconnect Google’s ability to listen in whenever you want.
The Nest Access point features a ring of speaker holes along the lower part of the access point, and it also has a downward facing LED status light as opposed to the single LED on the front of the router which glows white when everything is normal – or orange when the mute switch is active.
Note: You can change the brightness of this LED in the Google Home app.
Now, they look good but what’s inside?
The Nest Wifi runs on a 1.4GHz ARM CPU with 1GB RAM for the Router and 768MB for the Access Point making it twice as fast, and with twice the RAM of Google Wifi. There’s internal storage on Nest Wifi too with 4GB on the router, and 512MB on the access point.
In terms of wireless, Nest Wifi supports dual-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) Wifi with IEEE 802.11s Mesh networking on board (this includes 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac). What you’re not getting on Nest Wifi is support for Wifi 6, or 802.11ax as it’s technically called. Wifi 6 offers theoretical speeds of up to 10Gbps, up from around 3.5Gbps of Wifi 5 (802.11ac) and utilises both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands with band steering to encourage devices that can, to use the 5GHz network, while leaving the more crowded 2.4GHz band to those that can’t.
Not including Wifi 6 is a missed opportunity but it’s not a huge deal right now, though in a year or two the competition will start including it, and if you want it you’ll need to update your whole wireless setup again.
There are also differences between the Router and the Access Point with the Router supporting AC2200 MU-MIMO WiFi, with 4×4 on 5GHz, 2×2 on 2.4GHz, while the Access Point supports AC1200 MU-MIMO WiFi with 2×2 on 2.4 GHz/5 GHz. The original Google Wifi pucks included support for AC1200 MU-MIMO with 2×2 configuration, so the Nest Wifi router definitely gets a step-up here.
You do get support for WiFi Protected Access (WPA) version 3, a big plus after vulnerabilities were announced for WPA2 last year. You’ll need to take note however that devices that aren’t compatible with WPA3 may have connection issues.
Google has changed over to using a barrel style power adapter on Nest Wifi, a change from the more convenient (and becoming more ubiquitous) USB-C connector used previously on Google Wifi routers, it’s a bit of a step down, but they work.
A small note on the grey, rubberised base is that it picks up dust very easily and makes reading some of the information hard. I ended up taking a picture and referring to that as it was easier to zoom in – I’m getting old.
Before you start, you’ll need to know that Nest Wifi doesn’t act as a modem, so for the most part you’ll still need your ISPs router, but you’ll need to turn on ‘bridge mode’ for it to work best we can talk about double NAT for hours, but suffice to say, search for how to switch your modem to Bridge mode for best results. For most routers, this is a fairly easy step, though Telstra customers may appreciate some help on the CrowdSupport forums. You should also disable wifi on your ISPs router to avoid flooding the Wifi frequencies.
That out of the way, the actual set up of Nest Wifi is easy, though with a few caveats.
You’ll start off needing the Google Home app, not the Google Wifi app. The Google Home app is available on Google Play and the iOS app store, so install that and you’ll be ready to setup your Nest WiFi Router and Access Point in no time.
You’ll need to scan the QR code on the bottom of each of your devices, this helps the setup process target the right device – but don’t worry, you’ll be guided through scanning when it’s needed.
For any existing Google Wifi users you’ll need to import your Google Wifi setup into the Home app first, at which time you can add the Nest Wifi Router and Access points to an existing network – or you can simply set it up as a new network. There are some things you’ll need the Google Wifi app for, Google says:
You’ll still be able to use the Google Wifi app to do things like update your network settings, manage parental controls and run speed tests, but some device settings will only be available in the Google Home app after you add your devices and settings.
I set the Nest Wifi up with the router next to the TPG supplied Netcomm router I use for the NBN (FTTP 100Mbit) in the lounge room, with the Nest Access Point setup upstairs in my office.
When laying out your plans for using Nest Wifi, Google says that a single router is enough to cover ‘a 1-2 bedroom home’, with the Nest Wifi Access Point adding ‘additional coverage for 1-2 rooms’. These two points covered my two-storey house pretty well, but I’d likely add another access point to really ensure coverage.
I wired my house with ethernet when I moved in which I’ve previously used with Google Wifi to connect access points for a stronger connection. With Nest Wifi that isn’t an option, with no ethernet on the access points. Instead, Google is using wifi for backhaul on Nest Wifi.
The lack of ethernet on the Access Points is annoying with some hard-wired equipment including a printer and my Philips Hue bridge needing to be moved so they could plug into the network. Still, they all work once moved, so it’s not an insurmountable problem, just annoying.
The Google Home setup process guides you through all you need to know, including setting up Google Assistant on the Nest Access Point. It’s hard not to stress how really easy a process this is.
Once you set up your Nest Wifi Router you’ll setup additional Nest Wifi Access Points, at which stage you’ll need to setup Google Assistant.
I have many Google Home devices which register my previously saved voice print, but yet I was still prompted to setup voice match for the Nest Wifi Access Point. It’s a new interface for setting up your voice print, with new guided questions to ask, and it only takes a minute.
Nest Wifi essentially offers you everything you got with Google Wifi. You can control the family’s Wifi easily through the app including options to pause the internet – a sure fire way to get the kids attention – or you can prioritise Wifi to a particular device for a set period. You can even setup a regular schedule so you’re not in there all the time pausing and starting.
It’s pertinent to note that if you’re after some ‘pro’ level features, the Nest Wifi system doesn’t it, but it IS great for most people who just want good wifi.
The lack of ethernet backhaul wasn’t too much of an issue, at least for now. I was able to stream two 4K Netflix streams to separate TVs (one downstairs, one upstairs), while plenty of web surfing and online Playstation was being played by others in the house.
There’s also the Nest Access Point being used as a Google Home Mini to account for. Setting up the Nest Access Point allowed me to box up a Home Mini which is now ready for a new home. It’s an improved sound over the Google Home Mini, and about on par with the Nest Home Mini (2nd Gen) .
Like the Nest Home Mini you can adjust your volume levels by tapping on the top of the unit, or via the app. When you tap the top you see LEDs light up at either side giving you a clear indicator of where to tap.
The inclusion of Google Assistant in the Nest Access point also affords you the option to use commands like “Hey Google, what’s my internet speed?” or really upset the kids with “Hey Google, pause the WiFi for ……”
You can run the speed test via voice, or from the app – and for those of you with a Nest Hub or Nest Hub Max, you can see this on your display when you ask for it as well.
Should you buy it?
The design is refreshed, the router is faster, has more storage but let’s face it, there’s a few features missing. Wifi 6, ethernet jacks on the Access Points, and the Access Points are also a little slower.
I previously had a Google WiFi 3-puck system running my Wifi at home which performed flawlessly, including allowing me to have devices like printers, Philps Hue Bridge and even my desktop PC hardwired to the router. With Nest WiFi, this isn’t an option.
Another issue with Nest Wifi lies with the original Google Wifi pucks being still sold in Harvey Norman, JB Hifi for as little as $129 – while a single Nest Wifi Router still sits at $269. Based on this alone, Google Wifi appears to be offering a better deal – and this is without even looking at Orbi, Exo and the plethora of other mesh networking routers on the market.
Despite these reservations, I still like the Nest Wifi Router and Access Point. Google has been updating their Google Wifi pucks with updates throughout it’s life cycle since 2016, and I expect to see new features arriving on the Nest Wifi system throughout it’s life cycle.
Reservations aside, if you have the budget, the Nest Wifi Router and Access Point are a great way to ensconce your home in Wifi, with an easy to use interface and now the bonus of voice commands.