Have a look around and you can probably find the router you use to connect your computer to the internet. Chances are it’s a bit dusty and possibly covered up or hidden. Chances are also good that it was given to you or you bought it from your ISP, you set it up and then haven’t thought about it since. Over the years there have been better and better solutions available if you were willing to put in the time and money to implement them but up until recently they’ve all needed a certain amount of technical ability and most people simply haven’t had that.

So what does the Orbi do? The basic kit consists of two squashed cream cylinders. One plugs into your modem (which you switch away from wifi router mode) and the other goes towards the other end of your house. The Orbi takes over controlling your network and using a different radio frequency than wifi lets the two units talk to each other. Plug it in, set it up and the wifi in your house gets faster and crucially covers a much wider area.

Exactly how much improvement you get is hard to quantify. Netgear says the single router covers up to 2,000 square feet or 185 square metres and each extra satellite adds another 2000 square feet. The problem is that that’s under ideal conditions. The location of your base station, what sort of walls and floors you have, the shape of your house, interference and many other things make a difference. In my case we have a fairly standard 1950’s semi-detached house that’s a bit longer than most. The modem is at one end and with our old Superhub we had a good signal in that room and okay signal in the next room along with on the ground floor and the bedroom above. The other two bedrooms got an intermittent signal and the kitchen at the opposite end of the house got none.

I setup the Orbi completely without tweaks and the base unit in the dining room and we’ve now excellent signal in every room. I was able to push the satellite a little further away from the base station so that we also now get wifi signal outside on the driveway – great to let me tie in security cameras. There are two real questions – will this improve the wifi speed and coverage in my house and is it straightforward? The simple answer is yes. The Orbi does what it claims and will increase the size and probably speed of a standard wifi network significantly. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much but in my testing it was significant and noticeable. The setup process is also very simple and straightforward needing a minimum of technical ability.

The system isn’t cheap especially when you consider it will probably be replacing a box that you got for free and already probably works but getting extra coverage might well be worth it. The ultimate recommendation is perhaps this. My daughter is enjoying fast internet in her bedroom for the first time. She wants to keep the Orbi. Recommended.

Ergohacks Essential

Buy it from Amazon 

Price: ±  £179 – 470 There are several different versions available with two or three base stations and different wifi strengths.
We tested the 5000sq ft and two base station version.  for one base station and one satellite costing £275
Paid Included: All cables including a 2m ethernet connector cable included.

Features

The Orbi base station and satellite station look surprisingly attractive. The off-white cream colour fits well into a neutral colour scheme and the branding isn’t in your face. Unlike most older wifi hubs it doesn’t have a number of blinking LEDs but instead has a single LED ring around the top which can be turned off if needed. All the cables come in and out of the back of both of the Orbi’s and I found the cables easy to hide.

Security is an obvious worry on an IoT device and a home hub even more. Netgear seems to have got the process right, requiring you to set at least a reasonable length password on setup and automatically checking for firmware updates. The only thing I’d disagree with is their having UPnP turned on by default.

So what connectors do we get? Seven-gigabit ethernet ports – three on the base station and four on the satellite. That also has the advantage of giving you somewhere to plug in your wired gadgets away from where your base station is without having to thread wires throughout your house. There are 3 USB 2.0 ports on the Orbi – two on the satellite station and one on the base station but they’re not enabled in the firmware. This might change in the future but right now they are not good for anything other than charging ports.

Other Features

  • Amazon Alexa integration – this is interesting but can only turn the guest network on and off, reboot the router and send wifi settings.
  • Two apps – one simple Orbi app and a more full-featured Genie App. You need to install both to get the most out of the system.
  • Parental Control options that let you black and whitelist particular services and categories of sites, control access times and set specific abilities for specific devices.
  • OpenVPN services built in to allow your whole internet connection to be encrypted with the correct service.

Specification

Product dimensions: 17 x 23 x 6.5 cm plus cables
Ethernet ports: 3 on base and 4 on satellite
Wifi: 2.5 and 5GHz
Colour: Cream with LED ring

Energy use: Between 6.1 Watts at idle up to 34.6 Watts of power with a satellite, multiple wifi connections and multiple ethernet connections
Release date: 2016
Materials: ABS Plastic
Connectivity:  Three USB 2.0 – currently not turned on
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz) capable
Ethernet: 7 Ethernet out
Bluetooth: no
NFC (Near Field Communication): No

Requirements

The Orbi system is a wifi system, not a modem/router. You will need a separate either ADSL modem or cable router to actually connect to the internet. Chances are that the box you have is already fulfilling that function as well as wifi so you will need to switch exactly what it’s doing. If you’re not sure about this look up the exact model of your current unit on Google and there are likely to be instructions available for switching it between modem and hub modes. The Orbi will also not boost your internet connection in any way – if you have a slow connection increasing the speed of your wifi won’t make a significant difference to your surfing although increasing the range might be a help.

About Netgear

Netgear is a very well known American network technology manufacturer. You probably know them best for their home hubs and wifi routers, but they’re a major supplier to industry as well and make a range of network-connected devices like NAS (Network Hard Disks), firewalls and security cameras. They were set up in 1996 and have just over a thousand employees spread around the world. We reviewed their Arlo Q camera last month and gave it a recommended rating.

The review is based on the Netgear Orbi with one satellite kindly provided by Netgear during March 2017. This article was first published on 27 March 2017 and last updated on 20 November 2017.