Google OnHub: Yet Another Google Product Hits The Market
There may soon be no segment of our online existence untouched by Google – at least if the search giant has its way. Google has now entered the home Wi-Fi market, with two versions of a home router called Google OnHub. The first iteration came out a couple of months ago, developed in a joint venture with Chinese networking giant TP-Link; the company has now released a second version produced in conjunction with Asus.
Google’s stated goal for OnHub is to offer a router which is easier to use and provides a stronger Wi-Fi signal than traditional models. However, what stands out immediately about OnHub is its design. The latest version looks somewhat like a stylized desktop air purifier, while the first was described by some as resembling a tiny, solid wastebasket (and by kinder observers as resembling a small desktop speaker). Google obviously wanted to create a circular, sleek product which you wouldn’t be ashamed to put out in the open – since a round device can send wireless signals to every area of a home, and routers hidden in a cabinet or behind furniture aren’t going to provide the strongest WiFi signals possible. The current OnHub models may not look stunning, but they’re certainly a lot prettier than the rectangular box with blinking lights that you’re using right now. (The blinking lights are gone too, replaced with a subtle, colored status ring around the top.)
As for the OnHub’s performance, there are some definite positives, but Google still has a lot of redesigning to do. For some reason, the router was designed to only handle one wired LAN connection; that may be a good plan eventually, but everyone who currently owns a wired home won’t like it. There’s also just one USB port available only for recovery purposes, and you have to remove the outer shell of the router to get to any of the ports. Also missing from the OnHub: guest-network capability, parental controls and VPN support. The router will eventually support Zigbee home automation and is equipped with Bluetooth 4.0, but neither function is enabled yet. That sounds great – but Google has no public timetable for enabling them.
Now, for the promise that the OnHub shows. You discover the first cool feature during setup, because you don’t configure this router online through a web portal. You do it through an app downloaded to an Android or iOS device (and of course, you need a Google account). It’s great for non-techies because it takes only a minute or so to complete the setup, but you don’t get to control advanced options like firewalls or setting separate SSIDs for bands or devices as you can with traditional routers. One other note: remote access and credential sharing are much easier with the app-based system.
The second cool feature involves the antennas inside the router. There are six for 2.4GHz and six for 5 GHz signals, plus a reflector to increase signal strength – and one more which is simply a sensor which continually monitors activity and performance, and automatically changes channels to ensure optimal performance. It’s a great idea.
As for actual performance, the OnHub is designed to provide 600 Mbps at 2.4GHz and up to 1300 Mbps at 5 GHz. Independent tests show that – so far – it doesn’t close to approaching those levels, particularly at distances further than 30 feet. The good news: most of us don’t need that kind of speed, and the OnHub works just fine for everyday applications. In fact, it’s downright fast, and the 360° coverage area provided by the router’s round design does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
The bottom line: Google OnHub will probably be a terrific router for most people – eventually. Right now, it doesn’t have the functionality it should, particularly when it costs around $200. You’re better off spending your money elsewhere until the "real" version of OnHub is ready.