You use it every day, and unless you are having issues, it’s one of the most out of sight, out of mind critical technologies in your world – WiFi. Nearly all of our tablets and ultrabooks connect exclusively to the wireless internet in our homes, schools and workplaces, all of which is provided by a WiFi router.
With all of the different connection technologies available, not to mention the obstacles and distances between you and your router, it is as crucial as ever to have the right WiFi router for your needs. Join us for our quick look at some of the best WiFi routers around.
What to look for
Let’s run through the theory really fast, WiFi is often referred to as its IEEE network standard, 802.11. This number extends via letter to designate the available technologies. The early days provided 802.11a, b and a bunch of other lettered versions that are a part of the history and the backbone of what makes WiFi operate today, but you won’t see those letters on retail routers at the store today. 802.11g became the household standard for many years, until 802.11n slowly took over in the last five years. While 802.11n offered higher speeds than the more common 802.11g, these were only fractional increases compared to the capabilities of the latest 802.11ac technology.
Where 802.11g routers were rated for file transfer speeds up to 56Mbps, 802.11n was usually promoted at 300Mbps, but could get up to 600Mbps. 802.11ac, on the other hand, takes things upwards of 2000Mbps and beyond by combining multiple streams of connectivity simultaneously. You’ll see quickly that a router rated for 1900Mbps is actually combining 600Mbps on one band with 1300Mbps on another.
802.11ac routers look to offer the best of the best from the previous standards, as such, routers with ‘ac’ provide connections across both the 5GHz band, and the 2.4GHz band. The primary characteristics of these bands are that a 2.4GHz signal can travel much greater distances – depending on the power and directionality of the antenna, this can be several KM. In your home, however, it will get a few hundred feet, depending on obstacles.
The 5GHz band offers vastly greater speeds than the 2.4GHz band, but, it is less capable of travelling through walls or making great distances. These speeds, if you’re in the zone, can reach up to 1300Mbps, but you really may only get 20 feet of usable range. I had a low-end router once that offered about 5 feet of line-of-sight connectivity, I’m not talking about the connection slowing after 5 feet, I mean it completely dropped off and my device had to revert to the 2.4GHz signal.
This is why we are here today, let’s compose a list and see if we can determine the best WiFi router for your needs.
The company that brings us the largest internet search tool, and the world’s most popular mobile operating system, has been dabbling in hardware a little. In this case, the result is two WiFi routers of the same name, but with slightly different capabilities and from two different manufacturers. The first to market was the TP-Link built Google OnHub, followed a few months later by the ASUS built Google OnHub. These cylindrical devices put aesthetics at heart, producing a router that can easily live in plain sight without a mess of wires and antennas protruding all over the place.
The power of the Google OnHub routers is their array of antennae that allow them to handily feed connectivity to dozens of devices at a single time. Granted, you’ll need a pretty solid network connection backing it up, but at least in-house you’re looking at being able to connect all your devices without crashing the router.
The tech inside includes 13 antennae on the TP-Link model, with one that is directional to help you prioritize a device or area of the home. 802.11ac in this WiFi router offers speeds up to 1900Mbps. The ASUS version of the OnHub router takes to higher quality antenna materials, resulting in fewer of them being packed under the plastic hood, as it were. Instead of offering a directional advantage, the ASUS version assigns priority to a single device, and you just swipe your hand over the router to activate it.
Behind the scenes, the OnHub router is one of the easiest WiFi routers you’ll ever configure. Granted, there is a shortage of in-depth configuration options, but for your more basic home routing needs, just fire up the companion mobile app, provide a network name and password, then off it goes. It even updates itself in the background, a powerful set-it-and-forget-it tool, and one of the only options to support more than 100 simultaneous devices.
Check out our hands-on of the ASUS Google OnHub
You can grab the TP-Link Google OnHub for $179 on Amazon, or the ASUS Google OnHub for $199 on Amazon. Both are available in the Google Store as well.
Apple Airport Extreme
The folks that provide your iPad, Macbook and more want to help keep those devices connected as well. The Airport Extreme is Apple’s cream of the crop in that regard, packing WiFi standards 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, you’ll be able to connect up to 50 concurrent devices. Setup is also very easy, connect via the built-in configuration tools on iOS and MacOS, or through your PC, and off you go.
This is actually the sixth generation of this device already, clocking in at just over 1300Mbps.
Head on over to the Apple store or Amazon to learn more, you’ll need about $199 to take the Apple Airport Extreme home today.
Borrowing a number of the same specifications as found on their OnHub router, the TP-Link AC1900 offers up 802.11ac with up to 1300Mbps over the 5GHz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Unlike the two previous routers on our list, this TP-Link offering looks like a more traditional WiFi router, with three external, adjustable antennas poking out the back.
Also like their Google branded offering, this router includes beam forming to focus the connection to the devices that you use most, or to reduce the speeds your opportunistic neighbor is enjoying. Stepping things up, there is a small touchscreen on the front of this router, for easy setup and configuration without the need of an external computer.
Check out the TP-Link AC1900 WiFi router for $149.99 on Amazon today.
Netgear Nighthawk AC1900
For some, Netgear spent a few years considered to be a budget brand with quality products, but just not quite as good as the top sellers out there, I urge you to throw that mindset out the window. Here is the Nighthawk AC1900, a similarly equipped WiFi router to the contenders on this list. 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band in the 802.11ac configuration. As a highly customizable router, you can control things like data prioritization for upload or download, take advantage of beamforming and much more.
As one of the highest rated WiFi routers on Amazon, the Nighthawk AC1900 is actually a low powered model in the line. The AC2600, AC3200 and AC5300 offer up things like multiple radios, extra antennas and multiple active data streams, but the price goes up accordingly.
Check out the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 for $173.86 on Amazon.
When the world of WiFi routers was looking a little stale, companies like Securify came along with devices like the Almond, one of the first routers with a touchscreen and focus on security and extensibility. The current rendition is the Almond+, a 802.11ac router rated at 1750Mbps with a few tricks up its sleeve.
Almond+ is able to operate as WiFi router, extender, bridge or access point and you can control it, including setup, right from the touchscreen or a mobile app. Best of all, this router can operate as the hub for your smart home, connect to Securify smart plugs or other smart home technology, including the Amazon Alexa, to control it all right from your router. Of course, Almond+ is aesthetically designed to attach to a wall or live on a table in your living space.
Check out the Securify Almond+ and associated smart home tools for $199.99 at Amazon.
Picking up where difficult routers left off, Eero hit the market with a new approach to network connectivity, a whole home solution. Traditional routers, including each of the other devices on this list today, are a single device providing the WiFi network. Proximity to this device will determine your quality of connection. Proximity to the device is still important with Eero, but instead of a single point of connection, Eero lets you blanket your home with multiple access points.
The starter kit includes three units, each interchangeable and fully interconnected, created a mesh network that covers your home. These stylish looking little boxes plug into the wall and require an iOS or Android device to setup, with one unit attached to your modem, the others can offer wired connection around the home as well.
In short, Eero is a powerfully simple solution for the less tech savvy internet user, and while it provides 802.11ac, the speeds are a little slower, but with greater chance you’ll be sitting close to an Eero unit, your actual connection should be adequate.
Check out Eero for $498 on Amazon today.
Have you ever wondered what it would look like if you created a spaceship designed to look like a cross between a turtle, an Egyption pyramid and an upside down spider? Neither had I, but here is what I imagine we’d get if we tried. The D-Link AC3200 Ultra Tri-Band router is a step above most of our other offerings here today, with 6 antennas offering 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and two connections of 1300Mbps each on the 5GHz band.
As fun as this router looks, it is not exactly made for sitting in a prominent place in your home, you’ll be locking this powerful device in a closet like your old gear, and you’ll be enjoying high speed connectivity for a number of your devices throughout the home. D-Link has included what they call SmartBeam, which tracks your connected devices and focuses the WiFi to provide better connectivity.
Check out the D-Link AC3200 WiFi router for $249.00 on Amazon. D-Link has many other offerings as well, many in the same prices and capability range as the rest of our list, but that specific offering has been giving people no end of connectivity trouble.
There you have it, in addition to the best gaming routers we explored recently, here are the best routers in our opinion regardless your connectivity needs, that is, making sure you’re connected no matter what. We hope that you get and stay connected using one of these great routers.
With so many great routers out there, is there a device in your home that surpasses what you are seeing here today?