Google Wifi has been my favorite mesh Wi-Fi system since it launched at the end of 2016. The next generation, which takes on the Nest name, is now available, and it’s a decided upgrade in [almost] every way.
Nest Wifi is a progression from Google Wifi, with notable features that honestly just make sense—like the fact that the point units have built-in Nest Minis (essentially, anyway), so you get Google Assistant baked right into your Wifi points. It’s such a smart decision.
But Nest Wifi isn’t just Google Wifi with Nest Minis tucked into the bottom of the points. It has better radios for more coverage, which ultimately means you can cover more area with fewer points. A house that would’ve taken three Google Wifi units (Google Wifis? Why are products so hard to make plural these days?) can get full coverage with just two Nest Wifi units (the router and one point). Here’s a look at Nest Wifi’s range:
- One router: Up to 2200 square feet
- One router, one point: Up to 3800 square feet
- One router, two points: Up to 5400 square feet
That’s a lot of coverage from just one or two devices—Google tells me that one router and one point should cover the majority of houses in the US, which makes Nest Wifi easier to set up and manage. But it gets better.
It’s Backward (and Forward?) Compatible with Google Wifi
Best of all, you can mix-and-match Nest Wifi with Google Wifi. You could theoretically add Nest Wifi points to your existing Google Wifi setup, but really it makes more sense to add Google Wifi units to a Nest Wifi setup since the Nest router is an overall improvement over the Google Wifi router.
So, for example, since I’ve been using Google Wifi for the better part of the last three years, I already have a Google Wifi router and two points. Before setting up Nest Wifi, I factory reset all three Google Wifi devices, then replaced the router and one point with Nest Wifi. I left one Google Wifi point in place.
Why, you ask? Because while Nest Wifi is better than Google Wifi, it also has a few drawbacks—like the fact that the points no longer have Ethernet ports. I had things wired to each of my Google Wifi points—my desktop on one and Hue bridge on another—which you can’t do with Nest Wifi. I just switched my desktop over to a Wi-Fi connection, which was fine. I can’t even remember why I was using a wired connection in the first place. Heh.
But the Hue bridge was another issue altogether. I used to have it connected directly to the Google Wifi router, but my office lights (which are on the other side of the house) often couldn’t connect to the bridge. So I added a Wifi point in the dining room, which is more centrally located, and attached the Hue bridge to that. Problem solved.
With Nest Wifi, that scenario isn’t possible. If I wasn’t already a Google Wifi user, then I’m not sure what I would’ve done—move the Hue bridge and hope for the best? Probably initially. Buy an additional Google Wifi point just for the Ethernet port? Maybe. I honestly don’t know.
I asked Google why the decision was made to remove the Ethernet port on the Nest points and got the answer I was expecting: only a small subset—about 5 percent—of users were actually taking advantage of Ethernet. As it turns out, most people just use Wi-Fi for everything. Who knew? Anyway, Google figured it was better to remove this to cut the cost since 95 percent of people don’t need it anyway. Fine, I guess. I am the 5 percent.
While we’re talking about changes, there’s another apparent one with the Nest Wifi’s construction: the move from USB-C to a barrel port. Once again, I asked Google the benefit of this. It pretty much boils down to the fact that USB-C is more expensive, so the barrel port was used to keep costs down. That and I was told that it caused some confusion if/when a user needed to replace the power adapter for a Wifi unit—some people were just grabbing old phone chargers and throwing them on there, which often don’t provide enough juice to power the Wifi. This change makes sense, and honestly, it’s not a big deal. The odds are you’re going to plug it in and never think about it again anyway.
Out of the Wifi App and Into the Home App
One interesting (and welcome!) change with Nest Wifi is that setup and management no longer take place in the Google Wifi app—everything is now part of the Home app (iOS, Android). Well, almost everything.
Setup starts in the Home app just like any other modern Google/Nest device, and the process is largely the same as it was with Google Wifi. Nest Wifi will show up as a device that needs to be set up in the Home app, and the process is largely automatic from there. You’ll give your network a name (SSID), a password, and then just let it do its thing. After that, you can connect additional points. It’s so easy and streamlined.
During the setup process, you can also set up the Guest Network and Family Network. Despite having similar names, these two things are pretty different. The Guest Network is exactly that: a network specifically for guests in your home. It’s separated from the rest of your network, so guests can’t get nosey and start poking around in your computer or stream things to your Chromecast.
Unless you want them to be able to, that is. Once you have a Guest Network up and running, you can add devices that will be shared with this network—like Chromecasts, Android TVs, other computers, and the like. It’s super cool.
Further, there’s now a better way to share the Guest Network password with folks in your house. Instead of telling them, or sharing it through text or email, you can just show them on a Nest Hub or Hub Max. How cool is that? If you’re having a party and need to share the password with 24 people, just toss it up on your smart display and let them fight over who gets it first. The added bonus is that you get to watch them huddle around the display like a pack of wolves on a fresh kill. Good stuff.
The Family Network, despite the name, is not a separate network just for your family. It’s a way to group devices by family member so you can easily pause the connection to those devices when you need to. So, when it’s time for homework, you can kill the connection to little Tommy’s Xbox, PS4, Chromebook, desktop, Android phone, iPhone, Google Home, and whatever other internet-connected devices he may have. And you can do it all in one tap. Then tap again to restore the connection. The future is a fun place.
While that’s cool, I’d still love a way to pause individual devices without having to set up a family group just for them. I’d like to be able to just pause my kids’ gaming PCs or phones on an individual basis, without the hassle of needing a specific family group, for example.
Pretty much everything is managed in the Home app now, save for more niche features like port forwarding. Those will still live in the Wifi app (iOS, Android) for the time being, but I was told that the plan is to move everything over to the Home app eventually.
Voice Control Makes Everything Better
Okay, so check this out: you can also pause/unpause Family Network devices with your voice. Since Nest Wifi has Google Assistant integration and it lives in the Home app, you can say “Hey Google, pause Timmy’s Wifi,” so neither Timmy nor Tommy has access to stuff (since Tommy’s was paused in the app earlier). That’ll teach them. And when they get all their homework done, you can say “Hey Google, unpause Timmy and Tommy’s devices.” Then they can play Fortnite or whatever.
In my testing, pausing devices worked better than unpausing them. I was able to pause devices on the first try every time, but it took about five tries (using different wording) to get it the Assistant to unpause things. And by the time it worked, I had already forgotten which phrase actually did the trick, so I’ll get to do it all again next time. Yay!
But that’s not all you can do with your voice, either—you can tell Assistant to run a speed test (“Hey Google, how fast is my internet?”). Other functions seem to be pretty limited—you can’t ask it to test your network’s mesh connection, for example.
At some point, I expect Google to add more voice control features to Nest Wifi, though I can’t think of anything else I’d like to see added off the top of my head.
Also, They Look Like Cake
Google Wifi was an aesthetic improvement over most routers, which are futuristic-looking boxes with antennas sticking out all over the top. As such, most people don’t want them sitting out in the open, nerding up their living rooms.
That’s why Google Wifi doesn’t look like a router—and neither does Nest Wifi. The latter is a fairly minor aesthetic upgrade over the former, with softer edges and a smoother overall look. To me, they look like little cakes covered in fondant. Can someone make a Nest Wifi cake now? That would be fantastic, and I would like to eat it.
Where Google Wifi’s router and point look basically identical, there’s a noticeable difference between the two with Nest Wifi. Both are very understated, with minimal markings and lights. Google Wifi’s ring of light is gone on the router, which now just has a small dot of light on the front. It’s super classy and ultra-minimal. I love it.
The point is smaller than the router and is otherwise visually distinct thanks to the speaker “grille” on the bottom for the integrated speaker. It also has two lights on top to indicate the touch areas for volume control, though they’re only on when you touch the device or activate Assistant.
Speaking of Assistant and the ring of light, the points do have a super-sexy light ring on the bottom that activates as soon as it hears “Hey/Okay Google” (shown above). It pulses to let you know that Assistant is listening, giving a very defined visual cue that it’s ready to go. It’s a small detail, but man, I love it so much. I wish the Nest Mini had that too.
Additional Features: WP3 and Stadia Optimization
Finally, I want to touch on some additional features tucked into the Home app. For starters, Nest Wifi supports WPA3 for improved security. Google Wifi is currently getting an update with WPA3 support, as well.
It’s also worth noting that when you try to enable the feature, the network will restart, and devices that aren’t compatible with WPA3 may have connection issues. So if you are concerned with WPA3 support, it’s probably best to leave it disabled.
More interestingly (at least in my opinion) is the option for “gaming preferred” mode, which automatically optimizes traffic when a Stadia session is detected. While the support page for this feature is a bit vague, I assume that this sets the Stadia device as the Priority Device on the network, which gives it first access to all the available bandwidth. Priority Device is already a feature on both Google and Nest Wifi that you can enable manually, so I imagine that Gaming Preferred mode just does it automatically. That’s pretty neat.
Conclusion: A Worthy Mesh System, Especially for New Users
Ultimately, Nest Wifi is a solid successor to Google Wifi. If you’re looking to upgrade your home Wi-Fi setup and have been considering mesh (and you should be), there’s no reason not to buy Nest Wifi. It’s easy to set up and manage, has excellent range, and the included speaker with Assistant support is just the fondant on the cake.
But what if you’re already a Google Wifi user? That’s a harder sell. Nest Wifi is an upgrade over Google Wifi, but I don’t think it’s enough to suggest buying a whole new system. You could, however, just upgrade the router ($169 on its own) and get most of the benefits of the overall Nest Wifi system, as the router is the core of the whole thing. Aside from a built-in speaker and Assistant access, there isn’t much the new points can do that the old ones can’t, especially once you consider the lack of Ethernet.
Here’s What We Like
- An excellent mesh system with good coverage
- Easy to set up and use
- Wifi points have a built-in speaker and Google Assistant, a la Nest Mini
And What We Don't
- Still no easy way to enable/disable individual devices on the network