Your WiFi router is probably the most annoying piece of crucial infrastructure in your home. Think about — if one room in your house just didn’t have electricity, how would you deal with it? Would you try resetting your electricity every few hours? Of course not. And you shouldn’t stand for that when it comes to your internet.
Google, everyone’s favorite search engine and corporate overlord, has built a router that aims to finally fix common WiFi problems. But Google didn’t stop there. Their router, the unfortunately-capitalized Google Wifi, also adds extra features that make it an essential purchase for families.
Get a signal in every room of the house
Using one router in a house is a bad idea, unless you live in one of those tiny houses where your toilet folds out from behind your pillow (also known as living in New York City). The farther you move away from that router, the weaker your signal will be, and if you live in a home with a lot of walls or even (just imagine!) multiple stories, you’ll have vast dead zones with no WiFi signal.
Enter Google Wifi’s "mesh" network. Mesh networks aren’t new, but they are new to the home. If you’ve ever worked at a company with building-wide WiFi or went to school with a campus-wide network, you’ve used a mesh network.
Basically, a mesh network utilizes multiple routers to create a single network that covers a large area. Software inside the routers helps your device — be it a laptop, cell phone, or smart scale — connect to the nearest router with the strongest signal. That’s why a college student’s cell phone can stay connected to the same WiFi network while they’re walking from the dorm to their first class without the student having to manually pick which router to connect to.
Let's say you get three Google Wifi routers (Google calls them "points"). Only one needs to be connected to the modem in your home office. You put one in the living room, since that’s where your smart TV and video game consoles are, and you put another upstairs to cover all of the bedrooms. Your work computer will stay connected to the point in your office, since that’s the strongest signal. But if you move it upstairs so you can edit some Excel spreadsheets in bed (romantic), it will automatically connect to the point upstairs instead. You’ll never notice the difference, and your connection will be just as strong as it was in the office.
This seamless transition between points is part a suite of features that Google named "Network Assist." Network Assist works behind the scenes to keep every device on your network — from Junior’s PS4 to Yolanda’s iPad to your work laptop — connected at the highest speed possible. I have had over fifteen separate devices connected to my Google Wifi in the last month, and have never experienced network congestion because of it.
Each Wifi point should cover around 1500 square feet, and are sold individually for $129 or in a 3-pack for $299.
Give your kids — or yourself — priority access
The "mesh" network isn’t the only smart software running behind the scenes in your Google Wifi. Each Wifi point is constantly figuring out the best way to optimize each device’s connection to keep your internet strong and fast.
But you can also give some devices a little extra boost when they need it. Google Wifi allows you to set a "priority" device using the free smartphone app, which prioritizes (natch) internet traffic to a chosen device for up to four hours, while still allowing other devices to connect and get reasonable speeds. Consider this like the carpool lane — every car is still allowed on the highway, but only the priority cars get the consistent speeds of the carpool lane.
Naming a priority device can be a mostly practical concern. If Yolanda has a big research paper due tomorrow, you can name her Chromebook the priority device so that Junior’s Rocket League matches don’t interrupt her studying.
It can also be a reward. Junior wants priority device privileges for his Hearthstone tournament? He’s got to wash the dishes for a week first.
Of course, you can also just set your own devices as the priority devices all the time. When was the last time your kids paid the internet bill?
Take a pause
Since you can give one device priority access over the others, it only makes sense that you can do the opposite, too. Google Wifi’s "Family Wi-Fi" feature allows you to "pause" devices — basically, cut off their internet access for as long as you please. The feature allows you to pause individual devices and create groups of devices that you can pause all at once. Example group: "Kid’s Phones." Another: "Game Consoles." A third: "Husband’s Man Cave."
By default, you’ll pause devices indefinitely. But you can also set specific end times — one hour, two hour, "until morning," or a custom time of your choosing.
I don’t think I need to belabour the ways parents can use this feature to manage their kids’ internet access and device usage. In an age where sending a teenager to their room can seem more like a reward than a punishment, Google Wifi lets you create a real communications embargo for your child.
The most important thing about Google Wifi
Google Wifi is an essential purchase for families for one simple reason: it puts you in control. You’ll no longer have to worry about your network slowing down or failing completely in half of your home. Instead, you can focus on the important things like controlling your kids’ internet access and prioritizing your own Game of Thrones marathons. (Hey, parents need to have fun, too.)
Plus, you can control it all from your phone. The app allows you to add multiple administrators (so you and your spouse can control it), and it lets you control the network when you’re outside the house. It doesn’t get more convenient than that.
Google Wifi is available for $129, or in a three point pack for $299.