There's No Place Like Whole Home for the Holidays

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Thanksgiving Day is one of the most venerated holidays in America, traditionally filled with food, fun and family, and that usually brings on a series of challenges. Along with deciding whether you’re going with an all-vegan, no-carb, soy-side-dish menu, you also worry about where you’re going to sleep 12 people in a house or apartment that comfortably fosters two people, or even more serious—when are they all leaving.

In addition to worrying about a dozen people sharing one bathroom, or if your local grocery store has the brand of canned cranberry sauce that Aunt Linda must have before she turns into a total drama queen, you also have other immediate concerns that could turn your gathering from a festive celebration into a gloomy Dinner with the Poe Family. For instance, how do you keep Wi-Fi viable for a large gathering?

We’re not talking about sharing or securing guest networks (for an excellent article on that, click here). Sharing a guest network with a dozen family members is no different than carving the turkey—everyone gets a slice, but if you show up late to dinner, you get a smaller slice. And we’re also not talking about ways to improve your Wi-Fi, (which you can read about here). We’re talking about making a significant Wi-Fi investment by considering a whole home or consumer-level “mesh” Wi-Fi system.

Simply put, whole home systems work significantly better than standard, centrally placed hi-speed Wi-Fi routers. The benefit of a whole home system is that your centrally placed router is supplemented by one or more “satellite” routers that allow you to extend the signal to dead zones or hard-to-reach areas of your living space. And even when the holidays die down and you’re left alone with nothing but the memories, a whole home Wi-Fi system still has significant benefits, including ease of use and enhanced security.

But which whole home system is best for you? Do they all work the same, or do some have advantages over others? We rank the whole home systems we’ve reviewed and recommend our top picks for you so that you can spend more time on dessert choices rather than hardware changes.

#4: The EERO Whole Home Wi-Fi System

When we reviewed the eero way back when (almost a year ago), we were impressed with the simple setup, the uncomplicated setup dynamic, and the stable connectivity when walking from room to room. We were less impressed by the ability to customize the settings (in all fairness, many early systems did not have a diverse customization dashboard). Since then, eero has stepped up the game by being the first to offer an upgrade to prevent intrusion via the KRACK virus, which shows a solid commitment to a customer’s safety. Another knock—a three-piece (one main router and two satellites) system is slightly pricier compared to our top pick. But it was the first to use tri-band technology in a whole home system (one 2.4 GHz band and two 5.0 Ghz bands), which gave it a slight advantage early on.

eero Pro Wi-Fi System

#3: The Luma Home Wi-Fi System

Another early entry into whole home Wi-Fi, the Luma was also reviewed almost a year ago, and at the time, it ran neck-and-neck with the eero in terms of features, specs and innovation. It took a leap forward with a more direct level of parental controls, and we mentioned that if parental controls and not technological hoo-haw was what you needed, this was the perfect whole home system. The coverage was decent and the setup was minimal. Like the eero, though, it lacked a usable USB port, so expansion for networked hard drives or NAS configurations was still a pipe dream. It also used a dual-band router as compared to the tri-band router in the eero, and there was no browser-based administration of the units—everything had to be worked from a smartphone. The system comes in at a more affordable price, but only includes two pieces, making your placement key in receiving whole home coverage.

Luma Home Wi-Fi System

#2: Google WiFi

Of course, Google just had to throw its well-researched and well-funded hat in the ring. Not content to let Amazon creep up on them (and feeling the sting that the Amazon Echo was throwing around at the time), Google introduced a whole home WiFi system that eclipsed competitors right out of the box. The Google WiFi system is not only feature-rich, but the price makes it one of the most appealing whole home systems around. How does it stack up? Our review showcased a quad core 710 MHz CPU and dual band AC1200 capability, along with two Gigabit Ethernet ports per unit and a range of about 1,500 feet per satellite ( a router and two satellites will cover approximately 4,500 square feet, which is impressive). The main sell with the Google WiFi is that is fully integrated into the Google ecostystem—Google accounts are synced, and if you’ve been introduced to the Google way of life, you know how amazingly fluid being part of that system can be. If you don’t like Google or Android, you’re just going to be annoyed with this. The system includes all the bells and whistles you expect from a premium whole home system: Network Check, Priority Device, Network Settings, Guest WiFi, and Family WiFi, which lets you pause (and even schedule pauses) to Internet access for specific devices and during specific times. It is easily one of the most simple, substantive and hassle-free whole home systems available.

Google Wifi

#1: Netgear Orbi AC3000

Our top pick wasn’t easy. The Netgear Orbi and the Google Wi Fi ran neck and neck for the top spot. What nudges the Orbi forward is the tri-band router (on the AC3000 model), the six amplified antennas, and the four Ethernet ports on each unit. You can read more here.

What tickled our Wi-Fi fancies was the range (3,000 square feet with the router and one satellite, almost 4,000 square feet with an additional satellite) and the stability—we were getting clear strong signals from more than 50 feet away. And while the three-unit Google Wi Fi boats a range of 4,500 square feet, the drop-off after a certain distance was higher on the Google Wi Fi than on the Orbi. With almost every whole home system, there is some signal loss the farther you get from the satellite (and the more satellites you use) but the Orbi outdistanced all other home mesh systems cleanly and clearly.

Netgear Orbi Wireless Router AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System

What doesn’t tickle our fancies (and may sour you on the deal) is the price—the two-unit Orbi costs about $45 more than the three-unit Google WiFi. But you get what you pay for. In our experience, the Orbi had an excellent range, strong signal, and reliable performance. There were zero glitches when we tested it, and that included the dreaded handshake drop-off when moving a device from room to room.

Just so you know, mesh or whole home routers, in general, in no way make your Wi-Fi faster. They may increase the range of the signal, and that may equate to better satisfaction, but the speed that your cable company provides is the speed you get. No router is going to deliver 10GB speeds over a 1GB pipe. If you’re only paying for 100MBs of service, that’s all you get, regardless of the speed of the router.

However, if you have a steady signal transmitting from a single source and that signal gets blocked or diluted by walls, stairs or other obstacles, then regardless of your speed, your Wi-Fi signal is going to be affected. A whole home solution lets you transmit that speed of the single source to another source with minimal degradation, and then transmit throughout an area efficiently.

So, when you do settle down for a big feast, sports game or family gathering, consider switching over to a whole home system so that the kids can play online games, the adults can watch streaming movies, and everyone can be on their smartphones, which come to think of it, kills the whole purpose of getting together. Aw, such is tech living in this era.

Do you have any personal experiences with whole home networking that you want to share? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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