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Netgear’s new Orbi router looks like an oversized air freshener

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Netgear Orbi routers Netgear

Last year, all the big router companies (and a lot of little ones) started coming out with multi-unit systems to help blanket large homes with strong Wi-Fi coverage. And today, Netgear is showing us what comes next: multiple styles of routers to fit different homes.

Netgear is expanding its Orbi line of routers with two new pieces today, both of which have smaller bodies and lower prices — but at the expense of slower speeds.

The first is a wall-plug unit that kind of resembles an oversized air freshener. The router plugs into a wall outlet, and then it just stays there, broadcasting Wi-Fi from its place against the wall. Notably, the plug-in doesn’t have an Ethernet port or any other connectors, so it has to be used as a secondary unit.

This is something Netgear has done with Wi-Fi range extenders in the past, but it’s the first time we’ve seen one as an option within a multi-unit system (although, another multi-unit Wi-Fi system, Plume, operates entirely off wall plugins). For people who don’t want to place another router on a shelf somewhere, it could be a helpful choice.

Speaking of which, the other Orbi unit Netgear is announcing today is a smaller version of the router it introduced last year. It still looks the same, like some strange white pottery, but Netgear says it’s “about an inch shorter” and “significantly thinner” than the old model. You can get a sense for sizing in the image below: the new model is in the middle, the old model is on the right.

Netgear Orbi family 2017 Netgear

Both of these new units are important for the Orbi line, as size has been one of the factors holding Netgear back. Its original Orbi router was pretty big — not something you’d want to put on a shelf, let alone on two shelves, since you were expected to install two of them at a minimum.

Neither of Netgear’s new routers can exactly be described as tiny, but they should help to make the Orbi line something that actually fits in inside a home.

The drawback to both of these new units is that they trade speed for their slimmer size. Netgear’s original Orbi kit has consistently been ranked the fastest multi-unit Wi-Fi system. Netgear says it has a top speed of 1.7 Gbps, but these new units max out at 867 Mbps. That may not be a problem if your internet provider doesn’t offer gigabit speeds, but it still suggests you’ll see worse performance.

The reason for the speed decrease is a drop in antennas, from 4 x 4 streams to 2 x 2 streams. But Netgear is still maintaining one of the features that kept Orbi so fast: its use of a third radio dedicated to communication between the routers. Even the wall plug-in maintains that third radio, which should allow for faster and stronger connections than two-radio systems, like Google Wifi or Eero, despite the top-speed reduction.

Netgear’s original Orbi will stay on sale, and all three of its Orbi units will be able to be used interchangeably within one system. That’ll allow homeowners to mix and match to figure out what works best for them — it’ll also allow for less expensive systems than what you originally had to pay for Orbi.

All of the routers will be offered individually and in bundles. A pair of the original Orbi will continue to sell for $399.99, but Netgear will offer two of its mid-sized Orbi units for $349.99, and a bundle with a midsized unit and a wall plug-in for $299.99. Individually, the large units will be available for $249.99, the midsized for $199.99, and the wall plug-ins for $149.99.

That still makes the Orbi line among the more expensive multi-unit router systems available. But if Netgear can maintain its speed advantage — and that’s something we’ll have to test when we get them — its tweaks to price and size could keep it among the most competitive systems out there. The new units are both available to order starting today.