I went back and forth a few times about writing this post. But here goes. We were thinking earlier this month of doing a TPM Gift Guide, recommendations for holiday gifts. We ended up not doing that and I did my standard book recommendations list. But I had knocking around my head one gift or thing that I really did want to recommend. Now, just to reassure you, I’m not planning on getting into the tech review or tech recommendation business. But again, this was one thing I got this year that seemed dramatically better than any version of the same thing I’d used before. So I thought I’d share my experience.
The thing is Google Wifi. It’s basically a Wifi broadcaster/router you use in your home, a newer version of that gizmo most of us have probably had in our homes now for a couple decades. Before going any further, what I’m really recommending is more a class of device than the particular one Google makes. But I happened to get the Google one and was very happy with it. So that’s what I’m discussing.
First, why is this such a big deal? I’ve had a Wifi thing in my house forever, you say. And each time I’ve heard about a faster version or whatever, it’s really the same old thing. Yep, that’s my experience too.
Here’s the difference.
The Wifi broadcasters I’d used forever are one little device somewhere around the house and it sent the signal to the rest of the house. Now here I need to get into my personal situation a bit. My wife and sons and I live in a fairly small apartment (normal in New York City), about 1000 square feet. But since it’s in an old apartment building it’s divided up by a number of structural walls made of some mix of thick concrete and metal. We always had the wifi device in our bedroom and that was pretty much good enough to get the signal to the rest of the house. Then our sons got old enough to become addicted to their devices. Yep, I know, bad parents. It is what it is.
Over time, the fact that the signal was never very good in their room – at the opposite side of the apartment through a couple structural walls – became a bigger and bigger issue. I tried the various extender devices you can buy. They never really worked that well. I tried the devices you can get where you run the signals through your electrical wires. Our wiring is either too old or too segmented for that to work. I seriously considered having another tap installed by the cable company. (Our sons are persistent.) But that seemed like a crazy expense and I wasn’t sure how straightforward the installation would be.
So one day I’m at the store and see these Google Wifi things and I figure I’ll give it a try. Boom! as my sons would say. In like ten minutes I have this thing installed and every friggin’ inch of that apartment has a fast signal. Classic first world problem I’ve been dealing with for years suddenly solved.
And there’s more!
It comes with an app where you can have various kinds of control over the Wifi you probably don’t need but are cool to geek out about. But there’s one lever that has given my wife and I some slight new strategic advantage in the long and ultimately losing war for dominance and control every parent has with their children. You can selectively turn off the Wifi to different devices. Boom! as my sons would say. This is a powerful parenting tool! Not interested in starting your homework now or going to bed or refraining from talking to me like you’re seventeen when your 12? Let me make this easy for you by turning off Wifi for all your devices. Boom! Seriously, it never gets old. More seriously, it’s helpful putting some limits on screen time and it gets their attention real fast. Believe me.
It is a bit more expensive than a baseline wifi router but not wildly more. You need three of the nodes to create a mesh. The base pack comes with three and you can add more.
Google says each one covers 1500 square feet. So three covers a lot of area. I got four. But that was probably overkill. And in any case, the issue for us wasn’t square feet: a single one covers substantially more area than our whole apartment. It was 100 year old structural walls that made it hard to get coverage spread around the whole apartment.
Now, I said above that this is really a class of device as much as a product. So let me explain briefly how it works. Rather than having a single broadcaster in one place and possibly some extenders, you have a series of nodes creating a mesh of coverage. You have one little device that you plug your Internet connection into and then the others you just spread around the area you want to cover, probably your home or your apartment.
They communicate with each other to max out coverage and make sure it gets everywhere. To some extent this is a more effective version of the extenders I mentioned above but you just have a bunch of broadcasters and they’re all extenders. I think it also uses some of the concept, if not the technology, that cell phones use where you have towers spread around and you get passed from tower to tower as you move around your geographical area. I read up on the technology a bit when I first got them and understood the tech a bit better. You can do that too. Basically you’re created a web of coverage around your home rather than a single broadcast point that may not get everywhere. The relevant point though is that it just works super well.
Some of you are probably thinking, Josh, I’ve been using one of these for a couple years. This isn’t new. Absolutely. This is not some brand new device or some big secret. Basically any Best Buy or box store anywhere in the country is going to have these things on the shelf. But I figured a lot of readers either don’t know about these or don’t realize they work a lot better than the old kind. So I wanted to share. Living in a tech addled consumer society we’re all constantly inundated with marketing for new things and devices and hyped up for the need to get the new thing we probably don’t need all that much and isn’t that different from the old thing. You definitely don’t need this. But, in my experience, it really is different and better than the old thing.
Once again, I used Google Wifi – you can check it out here at Amazon. But there are a number of devices using the same basic approach/technology. I don’t know the quality of those. But I think they’re similar. If you’re interested in poking around at other options, just google “wifi mesh” and that will bring up a lot of options.
[Ed.Note/Disclaimer: This is definitely my recommendation. Neither TPM or I are being paid anything by Google for this recommendation. I bought mine with my own hard earned (or at least earned) cash. I have no particular brief for Google. As you know, I frequently write about Google’s monopoly power and all the bad things that come with that. We can however get an affiliate fee from another major monopoly, Amazon, if you click through one of the links above and purchase one of these from them.]