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Nest Wifi first look: Google finally combined a smart speaker and a router

It is the obvious thing

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The new Nest Wifi from Google does the thing that everybody has been asking for since we first laid eyes on smart speakers: combine them with mesh Wi-Fi routers. The Nest Wifi will be available this November in the US at various price points, but the pack Google will want you to buy includes one main router and one “Point” that also acts as a smart speaker for $269.

Both devices are bulbous little cylinders. The router is slightly larger than the Points and only comes in white, while the slightly smaller Points come in three colors: snow, mist, and sand. They are made of a matte plastic and are about as close to characterless as a Wi-Fi router could possibly get. Each Point is about the size and shape of one of those scented candle jars, I suppose, which is fitting as the first Google Home was teased for looking like an air freshener.

As a smart speaker, the Points have a lot in common with the new Nest Mini smart speakers also announced today. They share many of the same internal parts, but the Point is slightly taller than a Nest Mini, which means that it has more room inside to create a bigger sound. It’s still a single speaker driver, and it still won’t sound as good as an Amazon Echo or Google Home, but it is just a little richer than a typical mini speaker.

It also shares the Nest Mini’s main party trick: it lights up when you reach for it to show you where the volume and play / pause touch areas are on top. But the more interesting light is on the bottom: it projects a ring of white light underneath the Point when it’s activated and listening to you — sort of like the running lights on a car.

When you flip the switch to disable the microphone, it projects a ring of orange light instead. Fortunately, there is a setting to turn that orange ring off if you leave your Point muted a lot. Unfortunately, all the settings — including the Wi-Fi settings — will now live inside the Google Home app, which is a virtual labyrinth of nearly every Google and Google Assistant setting you could possibly imagine.

One Wi-Fi setting will get slightly easier to control, however. You’ll be able to issue voice commands to turn Wi-Fi on or off for specific devices or groups (e.g., for family dinner time or bedtime).

The Nest Wifi Router, which is slightly bigger than the Nest Wifi Points and has two Gigabit Ethernet jacks.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: you are putting your Wi-Fi router in the wrong place. It shouldn’t be in a closet or under your entertainment center or in a corner somewhere. It should be about waist height, ideally in the center of a room — precisely where nobody wants an ugly router.

Eero, Google, and others first tried to solve this problem by making consumer mesh network routers that looked nicer, but that’s not really enough. You need to want to put a gadget on your counter, and that’s one of the main reasons Google is taking a shot at turning the router into a smart speaker.

Google says that a two-pack of Nest Wifi should provide about the same coverage as the old three-pack of the Google Wifi (3,800 square feet). They’re also backwards-compatible, so if you already use Google Wifi you can just buy a Point to expand your network. In fact, they should work with any mesh Wi-Fi router that supports the 802.11s standard.

Nest Wifi uses barrel plugs instead of USB-C. The struggle continues.

That improved coverage comes thanks to upgraded radios, which Google says are twice as fast and have 25 percent more range. Some of it also comes from a better antenna structure — both the Router and Point are taller than the original Google Wifi routers.

The main Router supports AC2200 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi, with 4x4 (5GHz) and 2x2 (2.4GHz) antenna configurations. The Point isn’t as powerful; it supports AC1200 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi, using a 2x2 setup for both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. There’s no Wi-Fi 6 support, merely 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, and Google doesn’t believe it needs a dedicated backhaul channel, either. When I asked after that, a spokesperson emailed me this statement:

Google analytics and our own testing didn’t show enough of a user benefit in adding the additional cost, power consumption and size (need space for the radios, antennas and heat sinks) of the third band radios. Instead, we took algorithms from our data centers to manage congested networks and accelerate traffic based on the priority desired by the application (e.g. voice and video packets are accelerated through parallel queues that we adaptively manage).

I can’t actually speak to whether Google’s performance and range claims are accurate, of course. We’ll need to actually use and review the Nest Wifi.

For smart home applications, Google says Nest Wifi supports Bluetooth Low Energy and Thread. Yes, Google is still trying to make Thread a thing — just like Eero. Thread won’t be supported at launch, however, and Google tells me to watch for more Thread news and device support next year. In that way, at least, Thread has achieved parity with Bluetooth: it’ll be better next year.

One interesting thing: pricing. As I mentioned earlier, Google is pricing a two-pack for $269, but there are other ways to buy into Google’s Wi-Fi router ecosystem. You can buy all sorts of different combo packs or purchase pieces a la carte, including the old Google Wifi access points which are sticking around.

  • Standalone Nest Wifi Router: $169
  • Standalone Nest Wifi Point: $149
  • Standalone Google Wifi point: $99
  • Three pack: one Nest router + two Points: $349

There’s one more pack I’m still waiting to get pricing on: two Nest Wifi Routers by themselves. Why would such a package exist? Amazon, of course. You still can’t officially buy Google’s smart speakers at Amazon, but you can buy other Google products there. So Google is making that special pack just for Amazon. These two companies continue to have the stupidest arguments imaginable.

Anyway, all these prices are interesting to me mainly because now it’s Amazon that’s doing the undercutting: its recently announced Eeros sell for $99 or $249 for a three-pack. They do not, however, have Alexa built in.

The Nest Wifi is launching in the US first, with preorders today and shipping in November. Other countries will also get it sometime in Q4, including the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, France, and Singapore.

Google finally went and did the obvious thing, the thing we’ve all been asking for. The next test will be if we really meant it when we said we wanted a Wi-Fi mesh router in our smart speakers.

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