Google OnHub review

Google's OnHub makes your home Wi-Fi awesome, no IT degree needed

Google’s OnHub router is the easiest I’ve ever managed, and fast too, but the lack of control may bother advanced users.
MSRP $200.00
Google’s OnHub router is the easiest I’ve ever managed, and fast too, but the lack of control may bother advanced users.
Google’s OnHub router is the easiest I’ve ever managed, and fast too, but the lack of control may bother advanced users.

Highs

  • Excellent feature set
  • Setup couldn’t be easier
  • Consistent, fast Wi-Fi
  • Elegant design

Lows

  • One Ethernet port
  • Limited administration options

When Google announced a router with TP-Link, there was a bit of a frenzy over the resulting product, OnHub – and for good reason. The specs look impressive on paper, with a baker’s dozen antennas and a feature set that would make any rented cable company’s router shake in its housing. But it isn’t just the hardware that has users excited, it’s Google’s involvement in the project.

The company’s contribution to OnHub comes in the form of Google’s On management software. The convenient smartphone app takes the complicated admin pages and port forwarding settings out of the equation, and translates it into real, understandable language. It’s a switch from traditionally daunting router admin panels, and a welcome one for most users.

Still, at $199, the OnHub is anything but cheap, and it faces stiff competition at that price point from high-end gaming routers. Is Google’s attempt at Wi-Fi a flash in the pan, or the next big thing?

Design

Right when you pull it out of the box, you’ll notice the OnHub doesn’t look like any other router – as in there’s actually consideration behind its design besides “box with antennas.” An attractive matte navy shell surrounds the central column of the OnHub. User can twist and lift to reveal the ridged body of the router underneath. OnHub is simply the most attractive router I’ve seen – although that’s not saying much, as most look like dead spiders.

There are other benefits to OnHub’s smart, modern design. The first is that it places all of the antennas in a circle around the outside of the device. If you’ve ever wrangled with the antennas on your router trying to maximize your signal strength, you’ll appreciate the new layout, which doesn’t require any tinkering.

The second reason for the design change is more dubious. Google thinks that if your router doesn’t look like someone tried to stab a cigar box with plastic carrots, you won’t mind placing it more centrally. While the OnHub is attractive enough to sit on your kitchen table, that’s not exactly practical. You still have to place the OnHub close enough to your modem to connect it with an Ethernet cable, and you have to plug it into a wall. Still, the cool exterior will help move your router from behind your entertainment center – to the top of it.

Connectivity

In terms of wired connectivity, the OnHub keeps it simple. At the base of the device, tucked neatly underneath the shell with a passage for cables, you’ll find power, USB, and a pair of Ethernet ports – one in, one out.

Google’s On software is clearly what sets it apart from other high-end routers.

That’s a few short of the four LAN ports we’re used to seeing on routers, but Google and TPLink apparently think one is enough, and we’re inclined to agree, especially with the low costs of switches if you need more.

Of course, the OnHub is a wireless router, and that’s where the capabilities really shine. Of the thirteen Wi-Fi antennas in the OnHub, six are for 2.4GHz, six are for 5GHz, and one is a dedicated listening antenna that keeps track of interference from other devices and networks. The interference antenna makes a big difference, and honestly should be a feature in most routers.

Software

As it turns out, apart from the circular design, the hardware features on the OnHub aren’t particularly powerful for the price range. What really sets apart the OnHub from other routers is the firmware and software suite, as provided by Google On.

Having worked in IT, I’ve set up dozens of routers from every major manufacturer, as well as handled installation and management of DD-WRT, so I’m no stranger to a good admin panel. OnHub is by far the easiest and smoothest installation I’ve ever encountered.

The app leads you, step by step, through each piece of the process. Join the default network printed on the router, answer some easy questions, set an SSID and password, reconnect to your new network, and you’re off and rolling.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Once the network is set up, it pokes around through the connected devices to figure out where it exists in your configuration. OnHub was quick to mention that the security router that Comcast had installed wasn’t in bridge mode, and OnHub was creating a double NAT. It resolved the issue by putting itself into bridge mode, but also let me know that wasn’t the best option.

OnHub is by far the easiest and smoothest installation I’ve ever encountered.

If nothing is wrong with your network, the On software will happily report back that “Everything is great” and let you know how many devices are connected. You can view all of the devices that are currently connected, and view their data usage in real time, or over the last hour, week, or month. From this menu, you can also set a preferred device, which will prioritize bandwidth to it for a set amount of time, or forever.

A quick Wi-Fi scan of my home network verified that dynamic channel switching had at least happened once. I happen to know the neighbors on both sides of my house are on channel 1, and the house behind is channel 6. The first time I checked OnHub’s channel, it was set to 11. Plugging it in at the Digital Trends office caused a bit of chaos at first, but ultimately the OnHub navigated the crowded office building’s Wi-Fi frequencies and settled on channel 8, where it had by far the strongest signal.

Google OnHub ports
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

It’s still not an ideal setup for advanced users, who will want more from their administration panel. Port forwarding and DNS settings are accessible, but Google On takes a bit of the control out of your hands in exchange for a cleaner interface.

Connection strength

Outside of Google On’s built-in test, our options for evaluating the speed and strength of the OnHub are limited. Normally the admin panel of DD-WRT would key us into elements of our current connection like the signal to noise ratio, throughput, and packet loss. Unfortunately, On’s admin panel doesn’t include a lot of this information, although the built-in benchmark is a good one. In order to find out if the OnHub can hold its own, it needs to be put through its paces.

Fortunately, my house makes a perfect torture test for any wireless router. The two-story home I share with four roommates was built in 1908, and has lathe and plaster walls, which are notoriously difficult for Wi-Fi signals. Between the five of us, there are at least 15 total devices connected to the network at peak times, including laptops, desktops, streaming devices, and smartphones.

When everyone is home and trying to stream movies and video chat with friends, our network frequently buckles under the pressure. Between the dropped packets and limited bandwidth, online gaming becomes near impossible in the later evening. In an anecdotal capacity, the OnHub cleared up a lot of those issues immediately.

Even while several roommates were watching different movies on Netflix, I was able to continue playing Heroes of the Storm with no issue. My roommates were similarly impressed, noting that Wi-Fi speeds and signal strength were better in all parts of the house after installing OnHub. We also noticed a slight bump in our download and upload speeds, just over two megabytes per second download and .8 upload better than before. The improved bandwidth was less noticeable than the router’s improved signal strength and lower packet loss, however.

Conclusion

Google’s first venture into wireless networking with TP-Link is a success, but the target demographic is clear. If the thought of accessing your router’s admin panel makes your eyes gloss over, or you don’t have a password on your network because you don’t know how, the OnHub is definitely for you. Setup is clearly explained step by step, and the OnHub reports back on its status in clear, easy to understand terms.

That’s not to say users who are already expert home network administrators won’t find the Google On app useful. Being able to run a network test from the sandbox environment of your phone helps you identify issues and find optimum placement quickly, without having to walk around the house with a laptop.

Google’s On software is clearly what sets it apart from other routers in its tax bracket. The hardware options are very similar in the $150-200 range, like the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900, or even TP-Link’s own Archer C3200. They boast multiple or dynamic channel switching, 1900Mbps speeds, and anywhere between 3 and 6 antennas, plus device prioritization and advanced security settings, although they’re bit tougher to get to.

Ultimately, the OnHub is designed to put Google On squarely in control of your network. That’s not a bad thing, considering the automatic security and channel settings are better than most users will ever set theirs to. Advanced users will find network administration tools to keep themselves and their housemates happy, as well, although not as many as when they had to roll up their sleeves and take a wrench to the admin panel.

Buy it now from: Amazon Walmart

Highs

  • Excellent feature set
  • Setup couldn’t be easier
  • Consistent, fast Wi-Fi
  • Elegant design

Lows

  • One Ethernet port
  • Limited administration options
Home Theater

HDMI ARC and eARC: What they are, and how they can simplify your home theater

HDMI ARC is one of the coolest TV features at your disposal. But if you're like most folks, you have no idea how it works, if you even know what it is at all. Here's our primer on HDMI ARC, as well as the next-generation technology, eARC.
Gaming

Nvidia GeForce Now vs. Shadow: Which streaming service is right for you?

Nvidia GeForce Now and Shadow came out of the gate early in the race to conquer cloud gaming. GeForce Now is currently in beta, while Shadow is already available in most states. How do they stack up against each other?
Deals

Amazon cuts 50% off the Currant Wi-Fi Smart Outlet with energy monitoring

The Currant Wi-Fi Smart Outlet brings you more than convenience – it helps you save on energy costs thanks to its energy monitoring feature. Get it for 50% less than its usual $60 on Amazon today.
Gaming

The most common Xbox One X problems, and how to fix them

The Xbox One X is a brilliant console, but it's not without its issues, ranging from simple annoyances to severe hardware problems. Here are common Xbox One X problems and how to fix them.
Computing

Keep your laptop battery in tip-top condition with these handy tips

Learn how to care for your laptop's battery, how it works, and what you can do to make sure yours last for years and retains its charge. Check out our handy guide for valuable tips, no matter what type of laptop you have.
Deals

Now’s your chance to get the latest iPad Pro for $100 less on Amazon

The latest iPad Pro has always been our favorite since its release last year, and we even tagged it as the best tablet ever. Don’t miss out on Amazon’s discount on the 12-inch 256GB Wi-Fi model and get yours today for $1,049.
Computing

1.5% of Chrome users’ passwords are known to be compromised, according to Google

In February, a new feature was introduced to the Google Chrome browser which checks whether users' passwords are secure. Now, Google has released eye-opening stats gathered from Password Checkup.
Computing

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for August 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work, we have you covered. We've put together a list of the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Deals

Amazon cuts $52 off this Samsung Galaxy 10.1-inch tablet for the whole family

Normally priced at $330, you can grab the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1-inch 128GB Wi-Fi tablet now for only $278 and enjoy $52 savings. On top of that, Amazon is offering an extra $28 discount when you apply for a coupon during checkout.
Computing

Tired of choosing between Windows and Mac? Check out these Chromebooks instead

We've compiled a list of the best Chromebooks -- laptops that combine great battery life, comfortable keyboards, and the performance it takes to run Google's lightweight Chrome OS. From Samsung to Acer, these are the Chromebooks that really…
Computing

Tired of your Mac freezing? Try these tips to fix your Mac

A Mac that keeps freezing can be an incredibly annoying thing to deal with, but fixing it doesn’t have to be a pain. There are six main things you should try, which we got through in this guide to help you fix the issue once and for all.
Computing

Here's our guide to how to charge your laptop using a USB-C cable

Charging via USB-C is a great way to power up your laptop. It only takes one cable and you can use the same one for data as well as power -- perfect for new devices with limited port options.
Computing

Latest Windows 10 update is causing random reboots and can break Visual Basic

The latest update for Windows 10, made available on Tuesday this week, includes patches against two critical vulnerabilities. But it is causing a string of issues including random reboots and failure to install.
Computing

Delete tracking cookies from your system by following these quick steps

Cookies are useful when it comes to saving your login credentials, but they can also be used by advertisers to track your browsing habits across multiple sites. Here's how to clear cookies in the major browsers.