The premium experience Google is shooting for here starts before you even get the OnHub out of the box. The packaging is thoughtfully designed; it reminded me of unboxing an iPod in the days of yore. Certainly, it's the most elegant non-Apple router unboxing I've ever encountered.
And then there's the OnHub itself: a cylindrical tube that's ever so slightly wider at the top than at the base. A removable plastic shell (available in blue or black) snaps into place surrounding the guts of the hardware, all of which are encased in the gray tube, which that shell hides away. A little bit of the tube peeks out over the cover, with an LED ring surrounding it that immediately brings to mind the ill-fated Nexus Q music and video-streamer. There are no sci-fi antennas or hard angles to be seen here. Google even included special flat Ethernet cables that can easily wrap around its base to be more unobtrusive. It is, without a doubt, the nicest-looking router I've ever used.
But who cares? This is something you'll set up and hide away and hopefully forget about, until it misbehaves, right? On the contrary, Google designed this router so you'd be inclined to place it out in the open, hopefully on a high shelf somewhere. That's because Google believes the most important thing it can do to improve people's WiFi experience is making a product they won't want to hide away in a closet. Mission accomplished: I've typically obscured my ASUS router behind my TV, but I have no problem displaying the OnHub on my media stand.
The thoughtful design isn't restricted to just looks, either -- Google picked a cylindrical router to help aid with signal distribution. Around the inside of the cylinder are the 2.4 and 5GHz wireless antennas; three pairs of antennas for each band are evenly distributed around the cylinder, and there's another large 2.4GHz antenna built right into the casing itself.
The rest of the OnHub's guts are about what you'd expect for a router in this price range: It's an AC1900 device that covers all 802.11 bands in use at this point (a/b/g/n/ac, if you're counting). Its WiFi radio can detect congestion and move devices between the 2.4 and 5GHz bands for optimal performance; there's no need to set up an additional 5GHz SSID as many routers do these days. Google even included support for Bluetooth, Weave (Google's Internet of Things protocol) and the ZigBee local wireless networking standard, even though they don't do anything yet -- Google says it can enable them in future software updates. That's part of the whole OnHub concept: a router that can get smarter and better as years pass.
Google did leave out a few things that are generally table stakes for a router in this class. Notably, there are only two Ethernet ports: one to plug the OnHub into your modem, and one to use for wired internet. Most routers in this price range include four ports for hooking up wired devices. Google's clearly looking at that as a legacy feature that doesn't have a place in our modern, wireless world -- something that fits with Google's larger ethos. It didn't bother me, but it's definitely something to be aware of. Additionally, the single USB 3.0 port is essentially useless. You can't hook up a networked printer or hard drive here; its only purpose is for USB recovery if the internal software gets horribly corrupted. If you're a power user who relies on more Ethernet ports or USB connectivity, you'll need to look elsewhere.
If distinctive, elegant hardware is one of Google's major tentpoles for OnHub, equally elegant and intuitive software is the other. Nearly every router out there has simply atrocious software; even doing basic things like setting a password or changing the name of your network can be a real hassle for the average user. Google's gone in the opposite direction and crafted an interface that's simpler than any I've ever seen -- but again, it's at the expense of features that power users might crave.
The first thing to note is that everything on the OnHub is done through the Google On app on your mobile device, available for Android 4.0 and iOS 7 or higher. Google told me that it will eventually offer a simple web interface for setting up the OnHub, but at launch, a smartphone or tablet is required.
The setup process is incredibly simple, particularly if you're using Android. Once you download the application and log in with your Google account, just tap the "add new OnHub" prompt to start setup. The app will detect if there's an OnHub nearby that's in setup mode; once it finds the new OnHub, your phone will prompt you to move right next to the router. That's because the OnHub will then play an audio tone that's used to pair the router with your phone and your Google account. Once your phone recognizes the code, you're prompted to enter a network name and password, and that's it. You wait a minute or two, and the OnHub should be good to go. (You'll know it's up and running when the LED ring stays blue.)
Sadly, the process for setting up the OnHub with an iOS device is less elegant, although not necessarily more difficult. Instead of the audio tone, you connect to the router using the standard iOS wireless settings with a default network and password found underneath the device. Then, when you jump back into the OnHub app, you'll set up your permanent username and password and the router will finish setup automatically. Either way, it's faster and simpler than just about any router installation I've experienced. It feels very Apple-esque in its focus on just the basics -- in fact, it's even easier to set up than Apple's routers.
Once you're up and running, the OnHub app gives you an overview of your entire network, providing useful tools that are generally buried deep in the settings on other routers. At a glance you can see if both your internet connection (from your ISP) and your router are functioning properly; you can also see how many devices are hooked up to your network. Tapping on the number of devices brings you to a detailed view that shows the bandwidth being used by each individual device as well as its name on your network. So if your PS4 is hogging all the bandwidth in the house, you'll be able to see it here.
Beyond the real-time view of each device's upload and download speeds, you can also switch things to a one-hour, seven-day or 30-day view to see exactly how much data has been uploaded and downloaded to each device. You can also see total data usage stats for your entire network. It's another thing I've always wondered about, but never bothered to do the research to discover -- the Google On app puts it front and center for you.
Another feature built into the app is a speed test, one that provides more detail than what you see on, say, Speedtest.net. Google tests your network connection in two ways. First, it checks your speed between the router and your internet provider. Then, it tests the strength of the connection between the OnHub and your device and presents this as an "efficiency" percentage. So if your internet speed is rated at 50 Mbps and your device is seeing WiFi efficiency of 90 percent, that means your phone is getting speeds of 45 Mbps (you can see this calculation if you tap on the efficiency score).