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Google OnHub REVIEW: Connected to the future

by Mark Burstiner | September 27, 2015September 27, 2015 3:00 pm PDT

Routers aren’t sexy, and Google wants to change that with its OnHub, the company’s first foray into the connectivity space. As far as routers go, the OnHub is gorgeous, and features a handsome deep blue with a smooth finish. A gentle blue glow at the top lets you know things are running smoothly, and the top is home to a visually pleasing speaker grill.

The outer shell slides off to reveal the inside of the device, which houses the ports you’d expect a modern router to have. On the back, you’ll find an input for ethernet, but only one other port, so if you have multiple devices that need a hard line, you’ll have a tough choice to make. You’ll also see the as-of-yet non-functional USB port.

OnHub features a whopping 13 antennae and the range performance demonstrates it. The OnHub’s range was fantastic. Our bedroom is through a wall and on the other end of our apartment. I removed the repeater I had set up in the bedroom and the OnHub reaches into the bedroom, no problem. It reaches well into the street and almost all the way to our car’s parking spot, which is a huge step up from the Airport Extreme’s range in our home.

Speed didn’t seem to change much, though. While the OnHub intelligently supports 2.4 Ghz and 5Ghz frequencies, both on one network, my speed tests on a plethora of devices remained the same. But that’s a good thing! Speeds weren’t any worse.

The major killer feature here is the OnHub app. The app lets users keep an eye on their home network, see all devices and usage in real time, and administer the network. The app even lets you run a speed test right from the home screen.

The app’s most useful feature is the ability to prioritize devices for up to four hours. Prioritizing a device limits all other devices on the network to a 3Mbps up and down to ensure that the prioritized device gets as much bandwidth as possible. This worked great in my experience. While we don’t normally have issues with streaming at home (we have 50Mbps down), the OnHub did ensure the PS4 had a consistent connection to Netflix.

Where it did come in handy was in the office. While we have 50/50 fiber in the office, if we’re all uploading videos, streaming music, and watching videos, our producer Ralph can have a hard time uploading a meatier video to YouTube. With the app, we can prioritize his device for an hour, and we’re good to go.

Plus, the OnHub is enabled for Weave, Google’s boilerplate fork of Android that serves as an OS for smart devices, which means that your OnHub might be more than just a router very soon.

Now, for the disappointing parts. One ethernet port is a really big downer. I typically plug in my SmartThings Hub, Sonos, and my PS4 directly to my router. One port means I need to buy another $10 ethernet switch. Plus, since the USB port doesn’t work yet, it’s essentially a non-starter, because that’s where I plug in my Plex library. The port should be enabled later this year but it’s the main reason why I won’t be using the OnHub as my permanent router at home.

While the OnHub is an impressive first entry into the router market for the big G, it’s missing a handful of features that you’d otherwise expect to get for the price tag, so if you’re looking for a true sysadmin router, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for something that works, is easy to use, and has some future-proofing, the OnHub might be for you.

If it goes on sale, I’d say definitely definitely pick one up if you only have one device that needs a hard line. Alternatively, if you’re really hard up for better range and throughput, $200 shouldn’t break the bank, and the range and reception really are fantastic, so I’d say pick it up anyway and ride the wave into the future.

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Mark Burstiner

Mark is a former entrepreneur from New York by way of Chicago. He's a tech enthusiast and heavy gamer. If it's bleeding edge, he wants it. If it's...

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