Why I bought a Google OnHub router

When the Google OnHub router was announced, I was excited. Not just because the client software was developed at Google Waterloo where I used to work, but because the router represents Google continuing to take seriously the fact that how people get on to the internet is as important as what they use on it (the first play being Google Chrome and then expanded through their various projects to provide internet access to people). And so when they announced the router was coming to Canada I decided immediately that I was going to buy the router in spite of its high cost of CAD 280.

While I waited to go buy the OnHub, the Wirecutter updated their "best Wi-Fi router (for most people)" review to include the OnHub. If you read that review the OnHub seems to not come off very well; half the speed at distance compared to the Wirecutter's pick (the TP-Link Archer C7 v2), a lack of features like remote access to your network or printer, etc. Ars Technica's review basically said it was decent router, but rather pricey for something that has unproven potential once all the stuff that's under the hood is actually used (there is a bunch of IoT stuff that's there hardware-size but not software-wise yet). The Engadget review was mostly positive if you wanted an easy-to-use router and didn't need any power features. But after reading these reviews ranging from somewhat negative to mostly positive, I realized I still wanted the OnHub for two key reasons: auto-updates and it ain't ugly.

The various security issues of my former ASUS router [1, 2] helped convince me that routers need to have an easy way to be updated (it also doesn't help that hackers are using compromised routers to launch DDoS attacks). Maybe it's the latent UX designer in me, but the fact that all popular routers seem to require you to manually check and update your router software seems wrong and a horrible oversight. I shouldn't be reading Ars Technica to find out my router has been compromised and then have the only way to resolve the issue is to go home and manually log into my router and click some buttons to trigger an update. And thank goodness I even knew how to update the firmware on my old router; I don't even want to imagine trying to walk various family members through the process over the phone. I want my router to automatically update in the background and reboot when I'm not using my network because that's just the right thing to do for the user.

The look of the router also plays a part in how effective it can be as, well, a router. In our apartment we have the internet hook-up is in our living room. That means anything that sits out is what people will stare at when we have people over, when we watch something on our television, etc. In other words anything visible should strive to not look ugly. This is why our former routers sat in a box on the floor, hiding away from the outside world. The OnHub, though, has received spousal approval to be put out in the open where everyone can see it. That means unobstructed radio broadcasting from the OnHub, helping to make sure it performs well. Any of the picks from the Wirecutter, on the other hand, would never pass muster for sitting on top of our TV stand in plain sight, unobstructed.

Now the Wirecutter said the OnHub didn't perform nearly as well as their top pick, but how much performance do I really need? I have a 60 Mbps internet connection at home and the only thing I do on my LAN is stream videos from my laptop to my Android TV using Videostream. Since Netflix says I need 25 Mbps or faster for UHD video, that makes my full-speed internet connection the key goal in performance for the fastest downloads I can possibly get, but with about 30 Mbps the bare minimum goal. And you know what, I tested the OnHub from my room where my phone charges which happens to be the farthest you can get from the router -- they are essentially at opposite ends of our place which is laid out lengthwise -- and I got over 57 Mbps which comes pretty close to the max speed of my internet connection.

Now why am I writing this blog post to begin with, you may be asking? Well, when the OnHub was announced I saw a bunch of comments on the internet showing a misunderstanding of who this router was meant for. This router isn't for technical people who already have a network setup that they are happy with and are competent enough to maintain; there is nothing so groundbreaking here that it beckons you to replace a router you're happy with. But in instances where a new router is required/desired, the OnHub does stand out for its ease of setup and use. After setting my OnHub up I would not hesitate to recommend it to my family even if I'm not physically there to help them set it up. As for my technically-inclined friends, I still would have no issue recommending the router unless they had an explicit need for some advanced feature the router didn't provide as the performance seems solid and no one should have to waste any time managing their wireless network at home. So consider the OnHub the next time you're in the market for a new router, but don't worry about it if you're happy with what you already have.