For months now I have had readers ask me to review the Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System. This week I walked into my local Best Buy and walked out with my $500+ (after tax) Wi-Fi system with high expectations. Sadly, though, I have returned it and went back to my Netgear Nighthawk.
Now to be clear I love Netgear products and anyone who has followed the site and our Q&As know that Netgear is the brand I highly recommend for routers; however, this one had a few major flaws that resulted in it not being the right fit for us. I even went on to replace the Orbi with a Netgear product.
Here is a video I made about why I returned it:
So what is the Netgear Orbi?
The Netgear Orbi has a set of satellite routers that help make sure you have strong Wi-Fi signal around your house. One of the main causes of buffering is weak Wi-Fi.
So why did I want to test out the Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System?
I do most of my work for Cord Cutters News from a home office located over our garage. In order to have access to Ethernet I put my modem and router in the office. That means it’s in a poor location because the best place to locate a Wi-Fi router is in the middle of your house. For my house we did see some weak signals in the living room, which sits as far as possible from my office. I also noticed that the back porch has weak Wi-Fi.
I paid to get the two satellite version so I could put one satellite repeater in the center of the second floor and one in the center of the first floor.
What issues did I have?
My main issue was slow Wi-Fi speed caused by two issues.
First, my Roku TV in the living room kept connecting to the main router located on the far side of the house. This meant I was once again seeing a weak signal in the living room even though I had an Orbi satellite unit sitting much closer to the Roku TV.
The second issue was with its triband. There really are two bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 5GHz is the one you want for gaming and streaming because it gives a far faster speed. The Netgear Orbi is a tri-band Wi-Fi system, meaning it has one 2.4HGz for slower speeds but better range and two 5GHz for faster speeds but shorter range.
The Orbi is said to have a smart system that will select the best network for each device; however, my Google Pixel, laptop, and Roku TVs all kept being forced on the 2.4GHz system. This means my speed was a fraction of what it had been with my old Netgear Nighthawk.
As you can see in this speed test—the top one being 5GHz from the Nighthawk and the bottom speed being from the Orbi in the same spot in my house—that there is a huge difference in speed.
Now, unfortunately, there is no way to manually set the Orbi to let you select a 2.4 or 5GHz network. That seems like a strange move because most routers today will create two networks to select 2.4GHz and 5GHz. You can hack the router, but I highly recommend unless you know what you are doing not to try it. A little search on Google and Reddit will show my issue is not unusual.
After testing the Orbi in my house I found buffering and poor streaming caused by the 2.4GHz network and weak signal. At first I thought this was a glitch, but according to Netgear’s help pages and others online say this is how it is meant to work.
All of this could be fixed if Netgear would allow two simple fixes.
First, allow a way to manage what devices connect to what device. If I could force my living room Roku TV to the satellite, the weak Wi-Fi would have been resolved; however, the Orbi kept forcing it to the main router on the other side of the house.
Second, if the Orbi had the ability to have two networks I could have manually selected the 5GHz network. Sadly, Orbi has a “we know best” view and will tell you what it thinks is best for you even when it means slower speeds.
I do plan to test other whole home Wi-Fi networks. Unfortunately, the Orbi was just not the right fit for my house. These issues are simple and hopefully, with a software update, Netgear will give users more control over the Wi-Fi network it creates. Until that happens this is not a device I can recommend.
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