NETGEAR Orbi Voice Review: A Router-Smart Speaker Combo Makes So Much Sense

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By Alexander Maxham October 11, 2018, 12:57pm
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NETGEAR and Harman Kardon partnered up to make something unique, and something that makes sense in 2018. A router and smart speaker combined into one product, the Orbi Voice does not disappoint either.

NETGEAR came to IFA last month saying that it had a new product that essentially took three products and put it into one. That was the Orbi Voice. This is a smart speaker (which it is counting as two products: Amazon Alexa and a speaker), that also doubles as a satellite for the Orbi - NETGEAR’s mesh Wi-Fi system. On paper, it sounds like a really good idea. As it means that people will put the Orbi Voice on shelves in their home, or on a table, and not hidden on the floor or somewhere that blocks the signal from the Orbi Voice. But how well does it work in real life? Is it worth the $300 ($430 for the router and Orbi Voice bundle) price tag? Let’s find out in our full review.

Unboxing & Setup

Our review unit that NETGEAR sent out included the Orbi router with the Orbi Voice satellite, so it included both in the box, with the appropriate cables. If you purchase the Orbi Voice by itself, you’ll get just the Orbi Voice, and it can be added to your existing Orbi setup.

Setting up the Orbi Voice seems easy, but it’s not entirely easy. If you don’t already have an Orbi setup in your home, you’re going to need to set up the Orbi router first, which will connect to your modem. You’ll finish the setup process in the Orbi app - available on both Android and iOS. After that is set up, you will find the best place for the Orbi Voice and plug it in. Inside the app, you’ll tap on the “Add Satellite”. It’ll tell you to make sure the Orbi Voice is ready for setup, which includes making sure the LED light on the top is pulsing white. Then you’ll press the Sync button and wait for the app to find the Satellite. After that, it will essentially copy the settings over to the Orbi Voice, and a few minutes later it will be all set.

Connecting the Orbi Voice to your network isn’t actually the tough part, signing into Amazon Alexa is the tough part. Supposedly, once you set up the Orbi Voice, the app will prompt you to sign into Alexa and connect your Orbi Voice to your account. But that doesn’t always show up. I connected the Orbi Voice, and a few days later the Amazon Alexa prompt appeared. I wasn’t the only one having this issue either, it appears to be an early software issue, so fingers crossed that NETGEAR fixes this very soon. Otherwise, setting up the Orbi Voice is pretty simple.

Design

The Orbi voice is a really good looking speaker actually. It is a bit “fatter” than most of the other smart speakers on the market. And again, that is because this is also a router at the same time. It comes in white with a gray fabric wrapped around the speaker portion of the Orbi Voice. The fabric gives it an elegant look without muffling the sound at all. It’s also something we’re seeing more smart speakers sporting, including the new Echo and Echo Plus from Amazon. On the back of the Orbi Voice, there are a few ports there, including a power port. There is also two Ethernet ports and a USB port. The Ethernet ports are great to have, as you can have a wired connection for a TV in your bedroom, while the router is at another end of the home. There is also the Sync button and a power button back there. Those two you will likely never need to actually use.

Network Performance

The Orbi Voice bundle (which includes the router and the Orbi Voice) will cover up to 4,500 square feet. That is going to be more than enough for most homes and apartments. It is a really good option for those that have thicker walls, or taller buildings - like a three-story condo or home. It boasts speeds of up to 400Mbps on the 2.4GHz band or up to 867Mbps on the 5GHz band, and if you use just the 5GHz band you can get up to 1.7Gbps. Now you likely won’t see those speeds, as most ISPs don’t even offer more than 150Mbps depending on the area - very few offer up to 1Gbps or even 2Gbps. So this speed is going to vary pretty widely on what speeds you get from your ISP.

Now during our testing, we found that the Orbi Voice would provide faster speeds than the router that was provided by our ISP. Our cap is 150Mbps download, but with the Orbi Voice was able to hit 179Mbps constantly, and even hit over 185Mbps at one point. Which is pretty impressive, sure it’s not a huge difference, but it is nice to get faster speeds than you are actually paying for.

With the Orbi being a Mesh network, it works great for coverage and connecting many devices to the same network. So depending on the device you are connecting, Orbi will know whether it needs to be on the 2.4GHz band or the 5GHz band. Typically smart home products only work on 2.4GHz and that’s because it covers more space than the 5GHz spectrum, which is more important than the speed that 5GHz provides. It is able to prioritize different devices so that you are able to keep your network nice and fast even with having many devices connected to your network.

With the Orbi and Orbi Voice, you will no longer need to worry about dead zones. I have the Orbi setup with the Orbi Voice as a satellite in my apartment which is around 1,000 square feet. There is not a single place in this apartment that is a dead zone for WiFi now. And I can get WiFi coverage outside. We’re not talking about that puny one bar of WiFi either, it’s full signal outdoors, which is really nice for those times you are hanging outside but don’t want to use your 4G LTE data.

Overall, the performance of the Orbi Voice is basically what you’d expect from NETGEAR - perhaps the most popular company in terms of routers and WiFi connectivity. And if you put the Orbi Voice on a table or a shelf in your home (not on the floor) you are going to get an even better signal. This is because there are antennas at the bottom and top of the Orbi Voice. So, it looks nice without having antennas going in every direction like a “gaming” router might have.

The Orbi Android App

The Orbi app is where you will control basically all aspects of the Orbi Voice. That includes changing your network name and password, a list of devices that are connected to your network, Guest WiFi, Parental Controls and so much more. For the most part, it’s a pretty good app and does its job pretty well. NETGEAR has even added the Remote Management feature, so you can control your WiFi when you aren’t home. With the Orbi Voice connected, there will be another “Voice Controls” tile added to the app, towards the bottom. This will give you options for the Amazon Alexa portion of the Orbi Voice. Which includes renaming the satellite, adjusting the language, changing the EQ and a few other things. Compared to other apps out there that are made to control routers and your WiFi network, the Orbi app is really good, and is very easy to use.

Audio Performance

NETGEAR did partner up with Harman Kardon on the Orbi Voice, so the audio here is tuned by Harman Kardon and it does sound rather nice. But what’s interesting here is that the Orbi Voice does not sound as rich as the Harman Kardon Allure which is its Alexa smart speaker. That could be because the subwoofer isn’t at the bottom, pushing bass towards the surface that it is sitting on. And it could also be due to the fact that this also doubles as a router, and not just a smart speaker.

The speaker has a 3.5-inch front-facing woofer, with a one-inch front-facing tweeter. Harman Kardon says that this provides a total peak power of 35W, and that will fill a room. But it’s not quite as loud as the Harman Kardon Allure, which has a total peak power of 60W, and also has a larger woofer, with two more tweeters. Which results in it offering a better audio performance. Basically the skinny here is that you’re going to get some decent audio quality here, just don’t expect it to blow your socks off, or beat out some of the other premium speakers out there like the Harman Kardon Allure or even the Sonos One - both of which use Amazon Alexa.

Amazon Alexa

With Amazon Alexa being built into the Orbi Voice, it means that you can ask your router for the weather - which sounds cool and silly at the same time. All of your Alexa skills will also work on the Orbi Voice, and are copied over as soon as you sign into your Amazon account. That means you can start streaming all of your favorite music using your voice here. It does support pretty much all of the music services that Alexa supports, including Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Pandora and much more.

Harman Kardon has four far-field microphones included in the Orbi Voice, which work really well to hear when you are saying “Alexa” and giving her commands. Even with music playing pretty loudly, Alexa can still hear you without any issues. That’s a great thing here, but it’s also not a surprise seeing as most smart speakers do support this.

Now those four microphones are always listening, but there is an option to turn them off. On the top of the Orbi Voice, there is a button that you can use to turn off the microphone and another one to mute the speaker. When it comes to volume, there is a crescent at the top that you can use as a slider to change the volume level on the Orbi Voice. This also works really well, and can sometimes be easier than telling Alexa to lower the volume.

Conclusion

Orbi Voice is a really interesting product that you can use to eliminate a couple of devices in your home. If you were looking to improve your WiFi network, or add another satellite to your home, then this is a no-brainer, as you can also bring Alexa into your home without needing a separate product. Of course, the strength here is the fact that it will improve the WiFi speeds and coverage in your home. Having Alexa here for the ride is definitely a nice thing too. But for $299 for the Orbi Voice alone, it is one of the more expensive smart speakers out there. However, it’s important to remember that this is also a router, and when you factor that in, this is actually a really good price and more than worth the purchase.

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October 11, 2018, 12:57pm
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