The best mesh Wi-Fi routers of 2019

The best mesh Wi-Fi routers of 2019


Mesh routers promise to spread a speedy Wi-Fi signal from room to room by way of range-extending satellite devices that you place around your home. The additional hardware typically means that they’re more expensive than single-point, standalone routers — but you’ve got some intriguing new options this year that cost a lot less than before. 

Chief among them are new systems from Netgear Orbi, from Google Nest and from Eero, which popularized mesh networking before getting bought by Amazon earlier this year. All three can net you a multipoint mesh router system for less than $300, if not less than $200. That still isn’t cheap by any stretch — but it’s a lot better than just a few years ago, when mesh systems regularly sold for as much as $400 or even $500.

We’ve still got lots of routers and mesh systems we’d like to try out — including some intriguing new options that use next-gen Wi-Fi 6 technology to promise better performance and faster speeds. But with plenty of speed and coverage tests already under our belt, we’re ready to say that Nest, Netgear and Eero are each worth strong consideration for anyone fed up with dead spots throughout their home.

To that end, here’s a rundown of how the three stack up, along with our test data and a look at the upcoming models we plan to test out, too. Expect regular updates to this post in the coming months.

Chris Monroe/CNET

A few years ago, Google Wifi became a breakout hit thanks to its simple setup and its ability to spread a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection throughout your home. Now, there’s Nest Wifi, a second-gen follow-up that adds in faster top speeds and a better-looking design, plus Google Assistant smart speakers built into each range extender. The price is a little lower this time around, too — $269 for the two-piece setup above, with roughly the same area of coverage as a three-piece, $300 Google Wifi setup from a few years back.

Nest Wifi excelled in our mesh tests, with the fastest average top speeds, the fastest average real-world speeds and enough signal strength to offer sufficient coverage at the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home. It doesn’t support next-gen Wi-Fi 6 speeds (none of these top picks do), but it does include support for modern features like WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization, and 4×4 MU-MIMO connections that offer faster speeds for devices like the MacBook Pro that use multiple Wi-Fi antennas. All of it is easy to setup, easy to use, and easy to rely on, making it the most well-rounded mesh router pick of the bunch, and the first one I’d recommend to just about anyone looking to upgrade their home network.

Read the Nest Wifi review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Eero was an early pioneer of the mesh networking approach, and earlier this year, it got scooped up by Amazon. Now, with the online megaretailer’s backing, there’s a new Eero system that costs half as much as before — $250 for a three-piece setup that promises to cover up to 5,000 square feet. That’s a terrific price (and $100 less than a three-piece setup from Nest).

Eero wasn’t the fastest mesh system we tested, but you won’t notice much a difference in your speeds compared to Netgear or Nest unless your home’s internet connection is 500 Mbps or faster. What you will notice is that third device extending your range. In our coverage tests at the CNET Smart Home, it made a huge difference — and additional devices cost $100 each, which is $50 less than Nest, making it less expensive to expand upon, too. Couple that with sturdy mesh performance between devices, an excellent, easy-to-use app and a good company track record of support and security updates, and Eero fits right in as one of our top recommendations, particularly if you’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Read more on CNET.

Ry Crist/CNET

I did a double take the first time I saw the price tag for the new, 2019 version of the Netgear Orbi mesh router system. At just $150 for a two-piece setup, it’s a clear value pick — and a dramatic turnaround from the original Netgear Orbi, which was way too expensive at $400.

Netgear brought the cost down by eliminating the tri-band approach and its dedicated, 5GHz backhaul band that connects each Orbi device. That means that it’s a less robust mesh system than last time around, but I hardly noticed in my tests — Netgear actually notched the fastest top speeds at close range, it kept up with Nest and Eero in our real-world speed tests, and it offered excellent signal strength in the large-sized CNET Smart Home.

Netgear’s app isn’t as clean or intuitive as Nest or Eero, and the network didn’t seem quite as steady as those two as it steered me from band to band in my tests, but those are quibbles at this price. If you just want something affordable — perhaps to tide you over until you’re ready to make the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 — then the new Netgear Orbi definitely deserves your consideration.

Read more on CNET.

The Nest Wifi router had the fastest average wireless transfer speeds across all distances, though Netgear Orbi’s router was slightly faster at close range. Meanwhile, a single Eero device doesn’t perform well at range when used on its own.


Ry Crist/CNET

Top speeds vs. real-world speeds

As I said, we’ve already run a good deal of speed tests with these systems. When we clocked the top wireless transfer speeds for a single router from each system, Nest and Netgear were each able to measure in at well over 600 Mbps at close range. Meanwhile, a single Eero device registered a top wireless transfer speed of just under 500 Mbps at close range. In all three cases, those top speeds are about 100 or 200 Mbps faster than the previous generation of each device.

At a distance of 75 feet, the Nest Wifi Router’s top speed fell to 431 Mbps, the Netgear Orbi router’s speed fell to 288 Mbps, and the Eero’s speed plummeted to 45 Mbps.

That’s a noteworthy result (and it jumps right out at you in that graph above), but keep in mind that Nest and Netgear each feature dedicated router devices that are slightly different than the range extenders. With Eero, any device can act as a router or a range extender. Each one is designed to build the best mesh possible, and not necessarily to ace a standalone speed test like this one.

And remember also that these top speed tests take place in our lab. We wire each router to a local server, then download data from it to a laptop on the router’s wireless network. That lets us see how fast each router can move data without the variables and limitations that come with downloading data from the cloud via your internet service provider.

Here are the average download speeds by room for Nest, Netgear and Eero in a small 1,300-square-foot home with a 300 Mbps internet connection. You won’t see much of a difference in performance from system to system in such a small environment.


Ry Crist/CNET

So what about those real-world speeds then? How well do these mesh routers perform when you add in the range extenders and pull data from the cloud, the way they’ll be used 99% of the time? I took each one home, set it up on my 300 Mbps AT&T fiber network, and spent a few days running speed tests to find out.

With a single range extender relaying the signal from each router, all three systems were able to register a whole-home average of about 200 Mbps across a minimum of 90 speed tests each, conducted at different times of day and in different spots throughout my 1,300 square foot house. In the room farthest from the router, each one clocked in with an average speed of about 150 Mbps, which is a strong result.

The three were very close in these tests, performance-wise. Eero netted the fastest average speeds at close range, while Nest was slightly ahead at range, but none of the average speeds for any of the rooms I tested in were noticeably different from each other. That sort of indistinguishable performance is a strong argument in favor of Netgear Orbi, since it’s the cheapest. But there are two reasons why it isn’t my top overall pick.

First, the app controls are clunkier and less helpful than Nest or Eero. Second: There were two points during my Orbi tests at which I lost my connection to the router as I moved about the house with my laptop, which likely stems from a botched handoff between the router’s 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Nest and Eero never dropped me as they automatically steered me from band to band within a single network for the best possible connection.

cnet-smart-home-promo-pic-2017.jpg

A mesh router system makes the most sense in a large environment — like, say, the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Quality of coverage

All of that is well and good, but a mesh router system is overkill in a 1,300-square-foot home like mine. So, for our next test, we headed to the CNET Smart Home, a four-bedroom, 5,800-square-foot house on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky. Our goal: determine which system provides the strongest signals across the entire place.

To do this, we mapped out the home’s upstairs and downstairs floorplans, then fed that data into NetSpot’s free software for measuring signal strength. We chose the most sensible spots for the routers and range extenders, along with dozens of specific points from which to measure each network’s signal strength, both inside the home and out.

Here’s each system’s signal strength in the CNET Smart Home with a single router broadcasting the signal to a single extender, both of which are located on the main floor. Yellow is best, green is good and blue is bad. All three systems provided comparable coverage here, though Netgear impressed us with how strong the signal stayed in the basement.


Steve Conaway/CNET

Then, we set each router up accordingly and spent a day taking measurement after measurement after measurement. What resulted was a colorful set of nifty-looking heat maps showing us just how strong the signal is from room to room.

A couple of things about those heat maps. First, we tested each system with a single router, then a router and one extender, then, in Eero’s case, a router and two extenders (we haven’t tested the three-piece Nest or Netgear setups yet).

Second, know that we placed each router and extender in the exact same spot for each test (the software approximates their location, which is why it looks like they’re in slightly different spots from map to map).

Finally, it’s worth reiterating that these maps show you the aggregate signal strength of each system throughout the house, and not their actual download speeds. That said, better signal strength means better wireless speeds. My partner-in-testing Steve Conaway summed it up thusly: “yellow means you’re in heaven, green means good enough, and blue means WTF.”

The first big takeaway from our coverage tests is that Netgear Orbi did an impressive job at spreading a strong signal to the basement, even with both the router and the range extender located upstairs. That lines up with our speed test data, where Netgear consistently kept up with Nest and Eero at range. These coverage tests suggest that in a large enough home, Netgear might actually outperform those two systems outright.

All three systems provided comparable coverage in a big space like the CNET Smart Home — but Eero’s $250 starter kit adds in third device. We placed it in the basement, where signal strength tends to be weak, and it made a big, noticeable difference.


Steve Conaway/CNET

I’ve highlighted the other key takeaway in the adjacent GIF, which shows the coverage for the full, three-piece Eero setup. No huge surprise, but that three-piece setup provided noticeably better coverage than the two-piece Nest and Netgear setups, because we were able to add an additional range extender down in the basement.

Translation: If you’ve got a large home that’s 4,000 square feet or more, then you should prioritize getting a setup with more than one range extender. I think Eero is your best option at $250, and a better value than the three-piece Nest Wifi kit, which costs $350 — but note that a three-piece Netgear Orbi kit is now available for $230. I’m comfortable recommending that most spend the extra $20 on Eero for the steady performance and the superior app, but I’ll update this space once we’ve had a chance to test those other three-piece setups out, too.

The Asus RT-AX92U is a mesh Wi-Fi system that uses Wi-Fi 6 for faster data transfer between the router and the range extender. It’s one of the next systems we’ll be testing out.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

What about Wi-Fi 6?

There’s a new generation of routers that support the newest, fastest version of Wi-Fi (802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6) — but none of these three systems are among them. Google and Amazon each skipped Wi-Fi 6 in order to keep costs down. Netgear, meanwhile, offers a separate Wi-Fi 6 version of Orbi that costs a whopping $700.

That system isn’t alone — there’s also a new, Wi-Fi 6 version of the Linksys Velop mesh system that also costs $700. Meanwhile, Arris offers a two-piece Wi-Fi 6 mesh SURFboard setup for $445 — a similar Wi-Fi 6 mesh system from Asus costs about $400.

All of them are expensive options, but perhaps tempting for folks interested in future-proofing their home networks. However, it’s worth remembering that your router can only pull data from the cloud as fast as your internet connection allows. With the average download speed in the US currently sitting around 100 Mbps or so, there’s very little chance that you’ll be able to push a Wi-Fi 6 router to its full potential anytime soon — and aside from a few key flagships like the iPhone 11 and the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Note 10 smart phones, there aren’t very many client devices that can take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6 yet, either.

All of which is to say that I think it’s still probably about a year too early to buy in on a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system. That said, all of those aforementioned systems are up next in my test queue, so we’ll have a better sense of how they stack up against Wi-Fi 5 systems like Nest and Eero in the coming weeks. Like I said, expect regular updates to this post as the test data keeps coming in. 



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