NETGEAR is a pretty well-known name in the router and networking space. It has a number of routers in its portfolio, and it's likely that you have a NETGEAR router in your home right now. NETGEAR is one of the many companies that are pushing Mesh WiFi these days - others include D-Link, Google, TP-Link, ASUS and Linksys. And the NETGEAR Orbi is one of the most popular models out there. We have spent some time (around a month or so) with the RBK50 model, which includes the router plus one satellite, and it's a tri-band system, so let's see if it's worth the retail price.
Setup is pretty simple. You'll get started by plugging the Orbi into your router and the app will walk you through the setup process. So first thing you'll need to do is download the Orbi app onto your smartphone - it's available for both Android and iOS, so no matter which platform you're using, you can use the Orbi app. It'll walk you through creating an account and then getting Orbi setup. This includes changing the WiFi network name and password - this is important and will add more protection to your network. While the main Orbi needs to be plugged into your router, so it'll need to be near the outlet, the other one can be placed somewhere else in your home. The best place is pretty far from your router, that way it can cover more area. This particular model can cover 5,000 square-feet.
What is Mesh WiFi?
Before we jump any further into this review, we need to talk about what exactly "Mesh WiFi" is. Since it's something that all the companies in the networking business are now pushing pretty hard, but many consumers don't really know what it is, or why it's better than a signal repeater or range extender. So let's explain it.
Mesh technology is not new, actually, it's been around for quite some time. Mostly used by the military and at hospitals (think about it, hospitals and military bases are huge, so a regular router won't cover it all). Mesh routers essentially use satellites to talk to each other, to provide coverage throughout your home. Now the Orbi does it a bit differently, as it uses an entire WiFi band to connect to each other. This is why two Orbi's can cover more space than three Google WiFi's or TP-Link Deco M5's. The difference between Mesh and a signal extender is that the signal extender creates a secondary network, and thus the signal it outputs is actually half of what your router gives it. That's not the case with Mesh WiFi networks, and why it's becoming so popular in the age of the Internet of Things.
Routers used to be pretty ugly. Most of us would do what we could to hide them as much as possible, because they just didn't look good. Especially gaming routers that had all sorts of antennas coming out, like the NETGEAR Nighthawk router. But with Mesh WiFi networks, companies have been able to make the routers look nicer, and even fit in with your decor. The Orbi is no exception. Now it's not as small as some others on the market, but it does perform better and still look quite nicely. I have mine sitting in a shelf unit, and it looks pretty nice (not on the ground, so you get better signal throughout the home).
The Orbi has a sort of soft touch feel around it. It's plain white on the front, with a simple "Orbi" logo towards the bottom. The Satellite is white on the top, while the main router is slightly blue on the top. This is so you know which is which when you are setting them up and such. The back of the Orbi is where you'll find all of the ports. There is a DC power port available, a USB-A port, and then four Ethernet ports, in case you need to do a wired connection. There is also a Sync button, which you'll use when setting up (and sometimes if the power goes out). As well as a power button and then a reset pin. Otherwise, the Orbi is very clean and looks really nice sitting in an entertainment setup in the living room. Since you'll want your TV near the router anyways for better wireless speeds when streaming, that's a great place to place it.
Orbi's software all lays within the app. The Android app does not have the best design, but it does work pretty well, which is what matters. The main page shows your router with status on the satellites that are connected. Below that you'll find WiFi Settings, Device List, Parental Controls, Guest WiFi, Speed Test and then a Traffic Meter. Within WiFi Settings, things are pretty simple here, you can change your WiFi Network and password here - you will want to change it from the default network and password as they are very easy to hack, that's the case with every router. What's also cool is that you can share the WiFi network information from here as well. So instead of having to explain some long complicated password to someone, you can just share it with them through your phone.
Speaking of sharing a password with a guest, Orbi also has a Guest WiFi network that you can toggle on. You can create a name for the Guest network and also create a password and use it when you are having guests over and such, and then turn it off once everyone's gone. Much easier than having to tell everyone your WiFi password too. Device List isn't anything too impressive, here you can see what devices are connected to the network, as well as seeing which band its on (2.4GHz or 5GHz) and its mac address - which is why there aren't any screenshots showing the details for devices in the gallery below.
In this world, having parental controls on your network is definitely a good thing, to protect your children. And NETGEAR has built some into Orbi, which can be controlled from your smartphone pretty easily. It works with the Circle With Disney products, so you can limit how much time kids spend online as well as the content that is seen. So you can keep your kids off of the network when they should be studying or going to sleep for school the next morning, or even reward them with more time if they've gotten good grades or something.
Orbi also has a built-in speed test, that is powered by Ookla (the folks behind Speedtest.net). Here you can do a speed test and make sure that your network is running up to speed and that nothing is slowing it down. You can also check its history in the right tab, to see how it compares to previous tests. Then there is the traffic meter. This will show you usage for the day, as well as yesterday, this week, this month and last month. It can also show you the averages for this week, this month and last month. So you can see how much data you've been using compared to how much you normally use. This is a good feature to have if your ISP has a data cap enabled (which many do, around 1TB, which is a hard cap to hit). The only changes we'd like to see on the traffic meter is it showing which devices used the most data. Something like a breakdown showing how much my laptop used, versus my smartphone or my NVIDIA SHIELD TV, etc. Which would be a bit more helpful.
The Orbi app won't get used a ton, since you really don't need to be changing the WiFi password all that often, but it is good that you can do that on the fly. It does have some really useful features, and again the design isn't the greatest, but it does work and do its job which is definitely important.
With the NETGEAR Orbi, I didn't actually use the Satellite all that much, since I live in an apartment, and the main Orbi more than blanketed my apartment anyways. But being able to have that Satellite somewhere else in the house and essentially have a wired connection elsewhere is really nice. As far as performance goes, the Orbi performed really well. I never experienced a time where I needed to restart the Orbi, nor a time when it slowed down. In fact, it provides me with faster speeds than I am actually paying for. I'm on Comcast's 100Mbps plan which gets you 100Mbps download and around 12-14Mbps upload. However I consistently got 119Mbps download and around 12-14Mbps upload. So it outperformed what I am supposed to be getting on the download side, which isn't bad at all. All in all, no complaints when it comes to this router, especially when it comes to performance.
Bottom line is, if you are experiencing dead spots in your home, then the Orbi is likely the way to go. It'll provide you with plenty of coverage, even if you do live in a smaller home or apartment. Seeing as some older buildings do have thicker walls, and it makes it harder for WiFi signal to pass through. The NETGEAR Orbi is definitely worth getting if you are picking up smart home products too, as it is able to better control your network with plenty more connections on it, that's one of the major advantages to a Mesh WiFi network. You can pick up the NETGEAR Orbi for $292 from Amazon right now. NETGEAR does also offer it in a slew of other variations. Some with smaller satellites, or more satellites, if you have a bigger area you need to cover (like an office building).