The best easy-to-use router
Why you should buy it: You just need a Wi-Fi router that works without fussing with settings.
Who it’s for: Families, students, anyone tired of acronyms like NAT, WPS, and MTU.
How much will it cost: $200
Why we picked the Portal Wi-Fi Router:
The Portal Wi-Fi router is the solution to every Wi-Fi problem you’ve ever had. If you’re just bone-tired of messing around in Wi-Fi settings, fighting with your router, and just want something simple, easy and reliable, then the Portal is your best bet.
The first thing you probably noticed about the Portal is its unconventional appearance. It doesn’t look like a router, it just looks like a white plastic blob, and it’s honestly a little forgettable – in the best way. The Portal is designed to get out of your way, and provide a Wi-Fi experience so good, so seamless, you just forget it’s there at all.
It can do all of that in part because of an integrated antenna design which hides its Wi-Fi transmitters under a sleek plastic shell. Don’t let its appearance fool you though, it has some serious horsepower underneath that cute exterior. The Portal is capable of pumping out a powerful wireless signal in part because of a system of “FastLanes” which allow your Portal router to temporarily hop into radio bands commonly reserved for military and aircraft traffic, so your signal is unobstructed by interference from your neighbors, or devices in your own home.
The Portal accomplishes this by using “Dynamic Frequency Switching” to hop around in radio bands depending on local and ambient traffic. Naturally, if your Portal router detects any active radar signals it will jump out of those military and aircraft bands for a set period of time, so it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s safety.
For years DFS has been an interesting concept, but the Portal is the first router to really bring it to life in the consumer market. Still, the Portal isn’t cheap. If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, read on.
The best cheap router
Why you should buy it: You just need a router that’s going to work without any hiccups or headaches.
Who it’s for: Anyone who just needs reliable no-frills Wi-Fi, and doesn’t have a Chromecast.
How much will it cost: $100 or less
Why we picked the ZyXel NBG6815:
Maybe you don’t need a mesh network, dynamic frequency switching, or nine Ethernet ports. If you just need a router that serves up a fast, reliable, wireless network and you don’t want to spend more than $100, the ZyXel NBG6815 is a good bet. Before we get into specifics let’s be clear, the ZyXel NBG6815 is a good, solid router and one of the best you can buy under $100, but it has a few quirks.
Right up front it’s important to mention that the ZyXel NBG6815 has issues with the Google Chromecast. No matter how hard we tried, we could not get the ZyXel to cooperate with our Chromecasts. There are scattered reports that the ZyXel NBG6815 might be incompatible with some protocol required by the Google streaming device.
That aside, the ZyXel is a rock-solid router for the price. You get some serious bang for your buck here, even if the router itself isn’t particularly attractive. It doesn’t have to be, it’s a router that looks like a router, and it gets the job done. The ZyXel NBG6815 is capable of offering up Wi-Fi connectivity around 2.2Gbps, which is pretty fast considering the price.
In fact, chances are it’s faster than your home internet connection, unless you’re lucky enough to be on fiber. But it doesn’t offer any external antennae, which can limit the signal strength in a multi-room house or large apartment. However, unlike the Google OnHub, it does offer four wired Ethernet ports in the back. So if you really need to, you can plug your highest-priority devices directly into the router.