Top critical review
Maybe good for simple setups; but my OnHub died after two weeks of use
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on January 21, 2018
I'm a software engineer who's been writing code for multiple decades. I know networking far better than I should, and I'm the guy everybody *else* calls to fix problems. So the story below is the experience of an expert in installing and using the Google OnHub AC1900.
My old TP-Link C9 WiFi router joined the big network in the sky over the holidays, so I had to buy a new one. My initial inclination was to buy a WiFi router made by, say, Netgear or Linksys — I've owned lots of networking equipment from both of them in the past, and their stuff has generally been pretty reliable. But when I went on Amazon, there were all these glowing reviews for the new Google OnHub — and I thought, why not? I use and like a lot of Google products, and I haven't encountered a dud from them yet, so I thought I'd give it a try. Plus the notion that the software was self-updating was quite enticing — I have to update a *lot* of software and firmware in a typical month, and I liked the notion of not having to do it for at least *one* thing I own.
The OnHub arrived promptly, and I set it up. — enqueue surprise number one, which is that the device is made by TP-LINK, the same company that made the WiFi router that had *just* died over the holidays. I hadn't realized when I bought it that they were Google's manufacturing partner, and perhaps I might have chosen differently had I known I was replacing a dead product from a company with an untried product from the same exact company. But nevertheless —
Setup should have been easy, but it was surprisingly more awkward than I expected: I'm used to having some kind of web-based configuration UI, but instead the OnHub insists on you installing an unusual custom Google app on your phone. It's definitely a weird process, but at least it's not insecure the way they have it designed, and perhaps it's an easier solution for the tech-phobic. Going through the really basic part of the setup process wasn't too bad, although getting my network configured the way I like it was pretty unpleasant and required multiple reboots of the OnHub and took a lot more time than it would have with a simple old web-based configuration UI: I use custom IP ranges, and some static IPs, and port forwarding, and I like controlling how my DNS works, and I do some other techno-geek stuff that most people will never do. But if your needs are simple, OnHub could still be a good fit for you.
One interesting caveat with the app: The product packaging tells you to install the "Google OnHub" app, but there is no such thing in the Apple app store; there is a "Google Wifi" app, but it's not at all obvious that some time recently they renamed the software. Pro tip for the product owners in the audience: Don't rename your software downloads while your printed instructions are still shipping!
Another interesting caveat: To my great surprise, there was no separate configuration for different wireless bands, which again, fits the target audience (beginners) but which left me scratching my head. Normally, you'd set up separate wireless networks on each of the 2.4 and 5.0 GHz bands, and your wireless devices connect to whichever they're able to work with (older devices can often only do 2.4 GHz). The OnHub had no such option, but none of my devices seemed to have significant trouble with its dual-band setup, so whatever — again, it's obvious they designed this for beginners, and not for experts. Either way, I like simple devices that Just Work as much as the next guy, so I was really willing to give this its best chance despite some configuration oddities.
The caveats aside, let's look at the OnHub with a quick summary of its good, bad, and ugly:
THE GOOD: The connection was reasonably fast, and it supported multiple wireless devices well. The configuration software is very pretty, if a little oversimplified. Built-in speed tests are a nice touch. The physical build of the WiFi router is arguably the best of any WiFi router I've ever seen: It's sturdy, feels solid to the touch, and the protective plastic sheath goes a long way toward keeping my kids' hands off the more-delicate hardware underneath. The unboxing was a *delightful* experience — it was very well-planned, and nearly as elegant as that of an Apple product.
THE BAD: In addition to the wonky, oversimplified software, the OnHub only has *one* Ethernet port on the back. I spent some effort over the years fully-wiring my house with CAT6 Ethernet cables, and that meant that in order to use the OnHub, I had to do some really awkward network rewiring to support all of the rooms connecting to it: I prefer to use the house's WiFi adapter as the primary router/firewall, and having only a single Ethernet port makes a proper hub-and-spoke model really challenging to set up. Again, this issue is only relevant for more advanced network configurations than many homes probably have: If you only have a few WiFi gizmos and you need no wired networking at all, the OnHub is probably just fine for your needs.
THE UGLY: The OnHub got steadily more and more "cranky" over the last week or so, and today it finally died altogether: No WiFi, no Ethernet, no nothing. Initially, I could at least interact with its configuration UI, but after a few hours, it wouldn't even respond to a ping, much less route packets out of the building. Finally I got to the point where I had a physical PC directly wired to its sole Ethernet port but no ping packets were being returned by it, and I had had enough. I installed in its place my backup WiFi router, which is an ancient Linksys WRT54GS, and that's working acceptably, albeit a bit on the slow side.
In short, the OnHub died after two weeks, and I'm sending it back. That means two TP-LINK-manufactured WiFi routers died in two years here, so I probably won't be buying TP-LINK again.
In summary, I admit that my household probably isn't the ideal household for the OnHub: We have a lot of WiFi stuff, but we also have a lot of wired stuff, and we need a more sophisticated network configuration than most. I can forgive the OnHub being an oversimplified device for the average consumer, and maybe if your needs are simple and you manage to get one that works, it'll be good for you. I would *not* recommend this to anyone with IT skills, though; it's dumbed-down to the point where you'd probably get frustrated with it. Assuming, of course, that yours doesn't simply die outright.
But mine died within two weeks, and after the return is complete, I have every intention of buying a different brand for my next WiFi router.