Ian Dixon took a look at the original Orbi here. Already easy on the eye, Netgear is extending the Orbi range in 2017 to include some options kinder on the pocket.
The Orbi has a vaguely cuddly appearance that Netgear is proud of (certainly when compared to the industrial appearance routers of the past), looking like a cross between a Big Hero Six character and the murderous Marshmallow Man of Ghostbusters. The living-room-friendly appearance belies some serious networking power.
Netgear does not like to refer to the Orbi as a mesh router, opting instead for dedicated high speed channels between stations in order to maximise bandwidth for devices. However, the practicalities are the same – a base station router with satellite stations scattered around the property to extend coverage and remove WiFi dead zones without needing extra wiring or powerline networking, all whilst still keeping the same WiFi name.
The original Orbi (now referred to as the 50) has a dedicated 1733Mbps stream (made up of 4 channels) between the router and satellites to maximise speed and avoid interference with client devices. Client devices connecting can expect up to 400Mbps at 2.4Ghz or 866Mbps at 5Ghz from the router or satellites. While a theoretical coverage of 350m² (router and satellite – retailing at £399) should handle most situations, it is now possible to add an additional satellite (retailing at £199) to add an extra 175m²
With a retail price below that of the Orbi 50, and slightly smaller units, the Orbi 40 family should appeal to the more budget conscious. However, sacrifices have been made in order to bring the price down to £269 for the router and satellite and £159 for the satellite by itself.
Externally, the units are smaller (which is no bad thing) but now lack the USB port of the 50. Since this USB port did very little, this is no great loss. More significant is the drop in speed and coverage. The router and satellite combination now only cover 250m² with an additional satellite adding an extra 125m². Client devices will still see up to 400Mbps at 2.4Ghz or 866Mbps at 5Ghz from the router or satellites, but the dedicated connection between router and satellites drops from quad to dual stream, giving only 866Mbps. How much this would be noticed in real world usage is somewhat debatable.
Rounding out the extended Orbi family is the RBW30, which can be plugged directly into a socket for when there isn’t a convenient shelf or sideboard to use for a 40 or 50 satellite. Packaged with the router from the 40 family and retailing at £249, the convenience of the socket-mounted satellite comes at the expense of coverage – up to 200m² with an additional satellite adding another 100m². Performance remains the same as the 40 family, however, making this a useful way to discreetly extend the WiFi signal. And as with the other Orbi devices, the status light can thankfully be turned off. In a darkened room, the blue light could otherwise be a little obtrusive.
Command and Control
Configuring and setting up the Orbi devices remains straightforward, with an app used for configuring options such as a guest network. An interesting innovation is the addition of voice control through the Amazon Echo (aka Alexa). With a few well-chosen sentences: “Alexa, ask Netgear to turn the guest network OFF” it is possible to ruin someone’s evening without lifting a finger. Voice commands may also be used to reboot the router or get the WiFi settings. Netgear plans to extend this functionality in the future with support got Google Home towards the end of 2017.
Already a great device (see Ian’s review here), Netgear have improved the range by catering for the cost conscious without compromising too much on quality and performance.