Table of Contents
- Highly consistent speeds
- Easy to set up and manage
- Strong smart home support via Google Home app and built-in Thread radio
- Design can blend in just about anywhere
- Excellent value among Wi-Fi 6E mesh routers
- WAN port caps incoming wired speeds from the modem at a single gigabit per second
- Wasn’t fast enough to make full use of a gigabit connection in our wireless speed tests
- Regular latency spikes as high as 150ms
- Support for 160MHz channels on 5GHz band doesn’t work with all devices
I’ve got the strangest craving for marshmallows lately, and it’s undoubtedly because I’ve spent the past week testing out Nest Wifi Pro, the newest mesh router from Google. Available now at $199 for a single device, $299 for a two-pack, or $399 for a three-pack, Nest Wifi Pro builds on the original Nest Wifi mesh router by adding in Wi-Fi 6E support and full access to the newly opened 6GHz band, which comes with more than twice the bandwidth of 5GHz. There’s some subtraction going on, too, as Nest Wifi Pro eliminates the original’s built-in Google Assistant smart speakers.
And yeah, they still look like oversize marshmallows. It’s actually a key selling point. Wi-Fi routers will always perform better when you place them out in the open, so Nest Wifi and Nest Wifi Pro were designed to eschew the antennas and flashing lights in favor of minimalist builds people won’t hate looking at. You even get your choice of four decidedly inoffensive colors: Fog (pastel blue), Linen (beige), Lemongrass (pastel yellow), or Snow (white).
That makes Nest Wifi Pro the only router I can think of that can brag about the availability of beige, but if that doesn’t do it for you, Google is hoping that the promise of faster speeds closes the deal. Specifically, each Nest Wifi Pro device promises combined speeds of up to 5.4 gigabits per second across all three of its bands, which is more than twice as much as the combined speeds of 2.2Gbps that you got across both bands of the original Nest Wifi router. Those speeds represent theoretical maximums — and you can only connect to one band at a time — so your actual wireless speeds will be a lot lower than the AXE5400 speed rating suggests. Still, it’s a big improvement over what was already a pretty decent mesh router.
So, is it worth it to go Pro? I think it’ll certainly be tempting for a lot of us given that Nest Wifi Pro is easily the budget-friendliest Wi-Fi 6E mesh system we’ve seen to date — hundreds less than comparable Eero Pro 6E systems, and a fraction of the cost of high-end systems like the AXE11000 version of Netgear Orbi. However, while Nest Wifi Pro was a highly steady performer in my speed tests, those speeds didn’t exactly blow me away, and I noticed a couple of other performance quirks, too. I also wanted to see stronger hardware from a “Pro”-branded model — namely, a multi-gig WAN jack that won’t bottleneck your speeds at a single gig, like Nest Wifi Pro’s will. It’s still a good pick among mesh routers, and an undeniable value among Wi-Fi 6E routers, but Nest Wifi Pro isn’t as much of an upgrade as some might be hoping for.
Design: Nest Wifi Pro brings the color (but forgot the multi-gig jack)
A little over 5 inches tall and a bit more than 3 inches thick, each Nest Wifi Pro device is identical and interchangeable, and all of them feature a pair of Ethernet jacks, so you can wire any of them to your modem and use it as the main router for your network. That’s a big change from the original Nest Wifi, where the extenders were separate devices from the main router of the system. Those extenders (Nest calls them “Points”) didn’t include Ethernet jacks at all, which meant that you couldn’t wire them back to the router for faster performance.
Nest Wifi Pro fixes that, so wired backhauls are back on the menu. If you’d rather stay wireless, the system will relay web traffic through your home using the 6GHz band, which seems like an appropriate use of that spectrum to me. With enough bandwidth for several 160MHz channels, the 6GHz band is well-equipped to move mass amounts of data, and since the only devices that can access that band are other Wi-Fi 6E devices, it’s largely free from congestion and interference, too.
The other main point of note about those Ethernet jacks on each device is that both of them cap incoming wired speeds at a single gigabit per second. That’s a bottleneck as far as your Wi-Fi is concerned, because you’ll need to use one of those jacks to connect the router to your modem. If you’re paying for a multi-gig internet plan, those faster-than-a-gigabit speeds won’t make it past that bottleneck, so you won’t see Wi-Fi speeds any faster than a single gig.
It’s a head-scratching omission for a couple of reasons. The first is Nest’s “Pro” branding, which positions the system as an upgrade pick. That pitch makes considerably less sense given the growing number of competitors that offer multi-gig WAN ports, including systems from Eero, Asus, Netgear and more. Some of those systems have been on the market for years at this point.
The second reason? Multi-gig internet plans are on the rise, with several new options available this year from names like AT&T, Frontier, Xfinity, Ziply Fiber, Verizon… and Google Fiber, which was one of the first to offer a multi-gig plan at 2Gbps, and which recently touted speeds as high as 20Gbps in its latest field tests. If you sign up for a multi-gig internet plan like that from Google, then you’ll want to be sure to use something other than Google’s own top-of-the-line mesh router, because it doesn’t support multi-gig Wi-Fi speeds at all. Again, head-scratching.
App controls: Google Home goes all-in
Getting started with Nest Wifi Pro is easy: just plug one of the devices in and connect it with your modem using an Ethernet cable, then open the Google Home app on your Android or iOS device. An option to setup my new Nest Wifi Pro system immediately appeared right at the top of the app’s homescreen; I gave that a tap, followed a few simple instructions, and had my network up and running within a few minutes.
With no mish-mash of flashing lights to decipher, no buttons to press, no IP addresses to punch into a web browser and no settings to toggle, it’s really about as simple as router setup gets. That’s a big part of the appeal, here — “Pro” branding aside, this system is a good fit for home networking noobs.
That said, it’ll help if you’ve got at least some interest in smart home tech, because that — not Wi-Fi management — is the core focus of the newly redesigned Google Home app. It’s not just Google stuff, either. Google wants its app to serve as a central control station for smart home gadgets from the huge number of brands that support Matter, a newly released universal smart home standard.
To that end, each Nest Wifi Pro device also includes a built-in radio for Thread, a low-power protocol that transmits over Wi-Fi and will help deliver Matter smart home signals to Matter smart home gadgets with Thread radios of their own. That’s a nice carryover from the original Nest Wifi, and with all sorts of new devices that support the standard expected to arrive in January, at CES 2023, it might be awfully relevant awfully soon.
So, maybe a router that doubles as a smart home control station is exactly what you want. I happen to think it’s a good, cohesive pitch and something to watch as Matter makes its big debut. If not, and smart home tech doesn’t appeal to you, then Nest Wifi Pro and the Google Home app might feel like overkill.
Performance and speed: Nest Wifi Pro vs. its top Wi-Fi 6E mesh competitors
Now that the days of quarantine are behind us, we’ve been busy moving our router testing setup out of my own home and into our test lab. That means that I can’t fairly compare Nest Wifi Pro’s speeds to any of the systems that I tested elsewhere over the past few years, so we started fresh, and tested it alongside two other Wi-Fi 6E mesh routers: Amazon’s Eero Pro 6E, and the AXE11000 version of Netgear Orbi.
Both of those cost considerably more than Nest Wifi Pro. Though it’s currently on sale, an Eero Pro 6E two-pack typically sells for $499, or $200 more than the Nest Wifi Pro two-pack. Meanwhile, the Netgear Orbi AXE11000 system is only available in a three-pack that costs a whopping $1,500. Still, price gulf aside, I wanted to see if the Nest Wifi Pro’s speeds could keep up, both with Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E client devices. Let’s start with a look at how my Wi-Fi 6 device fared:
Wi-Fi 6 speeds
Though I’m in a new spot, my router testing setup is largely the same as before — a 1,350-square-foot space with multiple rooms and gigabit fiber internet speeds. With each system’s router set up in the living room and a single extender set up in the kids’ room at the opposite end of the test space, I spent several days measuring average upload and download speeds across four rooms in the space as well as a fifth room several meters away that we’ve designated as the “garage.”
In the end, it was Eero Pro 6E that logged the fastest average speeds to my Wi-Fi 6 test device, a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop that I picked up in late 2019. The Netgear Orbi system was close behind it, followed by the Nest Wifi Pro in a not-too-distant third place. All three kept my speeds in the triple digits in all rooms at all times, which would make for a pretty satisfying internet experience at home. Still, I was disappointed to see Nest Wifi Pro return average upload and download speeds across the whole space that fell below 500Mbps. With Eero Pro 6E, my average Wi-Fi 6 download speed was 586Mbps, with uploads at an even more impressive 720Mbps. With Netgear Orbi, those figures were 566Mbps and 631Mbps, respectively.
But again, those systems are each more expensive than Nest Wifi Pro, so a slight dip in performance seems like a reasonable trade-off so long as the speeds are consistent, reliable and fast enough for everyday activities like streaming, working from home, video conferencing and gaming online. Nest Wifi Pro checks all of those boxes, but it still would have been nice to have seen a little more oomph here.
Wi-Fi 6E speeds
With Wi-Fi 6 speeds tested, I set the ThinkPad aside and started running tests on a Samsung Galaxy S21 that comes with full support for Wi-Fi 6E. This is the forward-looking part of my tests — will these systems make use of the 6GHz band to deliver noticeably speedier performance to next-gen devices, and if so, how much speedier?
The graph above gives you a sense of how they did. This time around, it was Netgear Orbi that led the way, particularly with upload speeds, where it returned extremely solid average speeds of 800Mbps across the entire area. Eero Pro 6E came in second with average uploads of 591Mbps, and Nest Wifi Pro brought up the rear with a surprisingly low 397Mbps. Nest’s average download speed to my Galaxy device were a little better, coming in at 524Mbps, but that was still behind the 745 and 708Mbps download averages for Netgear and Eero, respectively.
I’d have liked to have seen Nest do a lot better here. That 397Mbps Wi-Fi 6E upload average was even lower than I saw from my Wi-Fi 6 laptop, where the average upload came in at 463Mbps. Then again, the same was true with Eero — the average uploads were faster with my Wi-Fi 6 laptop (720Mbps) than with my Wi-Fi 6E smart phone (591Mbps). Only the Netgear Orbi system was able to boost the uploads on my Wi-Fi 6E device, and that makes sense given that it’s an ultra-fancy, quad-band router with two separate 6GHz bands, one dedicated to the wireless backhaul and another that’s designated for client devices like my Galaxy phone. The Eero and Nest systems are tri-band models that only include a single 6GHz band, and each of them uses that band primarily as the system’s wireless backhaul.
Latency was all over the map…
Latency is something else I keep an eye on in my tests, as it measures the time it takes a router to send a signal to a given server and receive a response. Routers that are able to hold latency as low as possible are better picks for things like videoconferencing and online gaming, where a half-second delay in your connection could be a major drag.
To test for this, I run all of my speed tests to the same server, and I log the latency result for each and every speed test that I run. What results are those radar graphs up above — each one shows you each and every latency result for a given router plotted out as a circular line graph. What you want to see is a ring that’s as smooth and close to the center as possible.
That’s essentially what I got from Eero and Netgear, each of which held latency to a test server roughly 275 miles away to about 20ms across several days of tests. Things were different with Nest Wifi Pro, though — although latency once again came in at around 20ms for the majority of tests, I also saw regular spikes to 50, 80, or even 150ms, which is why the Nest graph looks more like a kindergartner’s finger painting of the sun. In a lot of cases, you might not even notice spikes like those, but still, it’s less than ideal if you’re in a sudden death online gaming scenario, or if you have a big job interview over Zoom coming up.
…but on the bright side, speeds were highly consistent
Even if Nest’s speeds were a little slower than I’d like to see in these tests, I was struck by how consistent those speeds were from run to run.
Specifically, I ran three sets of tests to my Wi-Fi 6 device with each system I tested, one during morning hours, one during evening hours, and one during the middle of the day. For each of those sets, I’d run multiple speed tests in each room, starting with the living room and working my way to the garage. Then I’d disconnect and reconnect right there in the garage, the farthest point from the router, and repeat my speed tests backwards, ending up where I started in the living room. Splitting my tests into a front-to-back set and a second back-to-front set lets me see if performance differs based on how close you are to the router when your device establishes its connection.
With Nest and Netgear, it made very little difference at all, which is a very good result for a mesh router given that the addition of satellite extenders adds some variability into your connection and the way it’s routed. You can see it in the graphs above, where each dot represents the download speed from a single speed test. Across all tests, the dots in the Netgear and Nest graphs stayed very close together in each room. That tells you that the speeds stayed consistent no matter whether it was morning, noon or night, and no matter whether I started my connection close to the router or far from it.
It’s a different story with Eero. Though the Eero Pro 6E logged some of the fastest close-range living room and kitchen speeds that I saw during this round of comparison tests, it also logged some of the slowest speeds in those rooms — and that’s because the system was keeping my traffic routed through the extender during test runs that started in the garage, even after I’d move back into the kitchen and living room. In fairness, that seemed to happen a bit with Netgear and Nest, as well, but it hardly had the impact on my speeds that it did with Eero. At any rate, it’s typically a very good result when a $299 mesh system can keep up with one that costs $1000 or more.
160MHz channel support on 5GHz might be a no-go for some
The last thing I’ll note on the performance front is that Nest Wifi Pro offers support for 160MHz channel width on the 5GHz band. The feature is off by default, as not every device out there supports it. That includes my Wi-Fi 6 test laptop — as soon as I tried turning it on, my speeds collapsed to 100Mbps or less, even at close range. That’s because it wasn’t connecting over 5GHz at all any more — without 160MHz support, it had no choice but to move all traffic to the much-slower 2.4GHz band.
“This is for devices which support 5GHz and are compatible with the new, high power 160MHz channel,” a Nest spokesperson explained when I asked for clarification about what was going on. “Some 5GHz devices fully support the new 160MHz channel. Some 5GHz devices don’t fully support the new 160MHz channel, but use it as if it were an 80MHz channel. Unfortunately, other 5GHz devices not only don’t fully support the new 160MHz channel, but also don’t use it as if it were an 80MHz channel; these are the devices which connect to a 2.4GHz channel instead.”
Google says that it expects a growing number of devices to come on board with that feature in the coming year, and that it’ll consider turning it on by default once enough devices support it. That’ll be something to watch for if you’re using this system.
Is ‘good enough’ good enough for you?
That’s really the question here. Nest Wifi Pro doesn’t offer game-changing Wi-Fi speeds or truly unique features — but it is a consistent and reliable mesh Wi-Fi system that brings the benefits of the 6GHz band to your home network. Those benefits aren’t going to be that meaningful in a lot of homes at this point, so Wi-Fi 6E isn’t a must-have feature — but with the number of Wi-Fi 6E devices expected to rise steadily in the coming year, it’s still a nice-to-have feature.
With no multi-gig jack and speeds that fall short of other 6E mesh systems we’ve tested, Nest’s “Pro” branding might be a bit much here, so if you’re looking for a true upgrade pick that makes better use of the 6GHz band, you may want to keep shopping around. Along with the aforementioned Netgear Orbi and Eero Pro systems, TP-Link, Linksys and others have Wi-Fi 6E mesh systems that are worth a look, particularly as Black Friday draws near. But if you’re just looking for a workable, affordable Wi-Fi 6E system that can capably fill your house with a reliable Wi-Fi signal, complete with strong support for the Matter-based smart homes of tomorrow, then Nest Wifi Pro might be exactly what you’ve been waiting for.