In 2016, Google made its first foray into mesh networking with , a puckish, three-piece mesh router system. Like , you connect one Google Wifi device to your modem and then scatter the others throughout your home to spread a speedy Wi-Fi signal from room to room. The $300 system tested well and quickly earned a spot as one of CNET’s top recommended routers.
Then, at the end of 2019, Google unveiled a follow-up. Rather than calling it Google Wifi 2, Google called the system smart display as the and ., which matched the company’s efforts to rebrand the smart speaker and
But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s just the same system with a different name. Though they both make the same basic pitch — steady, reliable, whole-home Wi-Fi — Google Wifi and Nest Wifi come with some key differences. And, with both currently available from major retailers, you’ll want to be sure you understand those differences before you buy in. Let’s run through them:
A new, Nesty design
With stout, cylindrical devices that pair together wirelessly, Google Wifi and Nest Wifi both take the same basic approach to design — but that doesn’t mean that Google didn’t spruce things up for generation 2.
For starters, Nest Wifi softened the edges and ditched the blue LED lights to give the system a gentler look that’s meant to better blend into your home’s decor (and yes, they look a lot like marshmallows). And while the Nest Wifi router is only available in white, the range-extending Nest Wifi Points come in your choice of three colors — white, blue, or coral.
That brings up another key hardware difference. With Google Wifi, each device is identical. You can connect any of them to your modem to serve as your network’s router, and you can use any of them as range extenders in other rooms of your house. That’s not the case with Nest Wifi, which features a dedicated router and smaller, separate range extenders — those Nest Wifi Points.
Google Wifi devices each include an Ethernet WAN port and a separate Ethernet LAN port. That gives you the option of a direct, wired connection to any Google Wifi device in your home, and it lets you wire your Google Wifi devices together for faster speeds, too. The Nest Wifi router features those same two Ethernet jacks, but the Nest Wifi Points don’t include Ethernet jacks at all.
Oh, and speaking of those Nest Wifi Points, Google built a microphone and a speaker into each one. That lets you use the things like smart speakers, with the full intelligence of the Google Assistant just a quick voice command away.
Along with the usual voice-assistant staples like asking for the weather, playing music and turning smart home gadgets on and off, you can also ask the Google Assistant to run a quick speed test for your network, or to pause the Wi-Fi for a device or group of devices. Google also built touch controls into the top of each Point, which lets you pause playback or adjust the volume with a quick tap. And, if you’d rather disable the voice controls altogether, you can flip a physical switch to turn the microphone off.
Google Wifi vs. Nest Wifi
|Google Wifi||Nest Wifi|
|Wi-Fi standard||Wi-Fi 5||Wi-Fi 5|
|Range||1,500 square feet per point||2,200 square feet per router, 1,600 square feet per point|
|Built-in smart speakers||No||Yes (Points only)|
|Capacitive touch controls||No||Yes (Points only)|
|Top wireless transfer speed, 5 feet (router only)||451 Mbps||612 Mbps|
|Top wireless transfer speed, 75 feet (router only)||201 Mbps||431 Mbps|
|Single router price||$99||$149|
|Additional extender price||$99||$129|
|3-piece mesh system price||$259||$299|
Speeds and specs
With three years of development separating them, Google Wifi and Nest Wifi come with different hardware capabilities. For starters, Google Wifi is an AC1200 mesh system, which means that the combined top speeds of its 2.4 and 5GHz bands is 1,200 Mbps. With Nest Wifi, that speed rating jumps up to AC2200, so between the 2.4 and 5GHz bands, you’re getting a more capable access point.
Just remember that your router can only connect you to one band at a time — though both Google Wifi and Nest Wifi will automatically steer your connection between the two bands to optimize speed and signal strength. That band-steering worked particularly well when we tested both systems, so this seems to be one of Google’s strong suits.
Like, those AC1200 and AC2200 speed ratings are derived from optimized, lab-based speed tests that don’t take factors like distance, obstructions and interference into account, so your actual top speeds will likely be a lot lower. In our own lab, we clocked Google Wifi with top wireless transfer rates of 451Mbps at close range and 201Mbps at a distance of 75 feet. With the more capable Nest Wifi, those numbers jump to 612 and 431Mbps, which is .
That AC bit tells you that both Google Wifi and Nest Wifi support Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), which has been the go-to version of Wi-Fi for the past several years. A new, faster, AX version of Wi-Fi calledjust started rolling out last year (802.11ax), but Google opted .
However, Google did upgrade the antennas with Nest Wifi, boosting it up to a 4X4 configuration that’s capable of simultaneous MU-MIMO transmissions that are more robust than the 2X2 Google Wifi. Nest Wifi also supports— Google Wifi doesn’t.
Google Wifi comes with its own, dedicated control app that does a good job of walking you through setup and offering basic controls. It doesn’t offer as many advanced features as something like a gaming router will, so it isn’t ideal if you like having lots of advanced network settings at your fingertips.
Nest Wifi relocated the controls into the Google Home app, so you’ll control your router alongside things like Google Assistant smart speakers and compatible smart home gadgets. Along with parental controls and other user-friendly features, you can run a quick speed test from the app, and you can group devices together to quickly turn their Wi-Fi access on and off. It’s more streamlined and simplified than the controls in the original Google Wifi app, but you can still use those Google Wifi controls with Nest Wifi if you so choose.
The bottom line
Google Wifi had a good run as one of the top mesh systems of the past few years, and it’s still on sale at some retailers. If you spot it on the shelf and see the solid reviews online, you might be tempted to buy in.
For almost everyone, I think the new Nest Wifi is the much better mesh system. It costs a bit more than Google Wifi does at this point, but not by much — and for the extra money, you’re getting faster top speeds, stronger connections, and access to the latest encryption standards, which is good for future-proofing. The lack of Wi-Fi 6 support is, but not as disappointing as you might think — especially if you’re holding out for .
The best argument for Google Wifi at this point is that it works with Nest Wifi in full, backward-compatible fashion. If you’ve already got a Nest Wifi router and you want to extend its range to a back room in your house, you can save a little money and get the job done with a Google Wifi Point instead of a Nest Wifi Point. It won’t be quite as fast, but it’ll save you a few bucks, and might be the way to go if you aren’t interested in the Google Assistant voice controls that come with Nest Wifi Points. Aside from that, I’d recommend that most people stick with Nest Wifi devices for a network that’s fully up to speed.