Latest in Gear

Image credit: AOL

Eero's new mesh WiFi system packs more power in a pretty package

It's pricey, but it works.
472 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save
AOL

The first-generation Eero was a game-changer. With a mesh network that blanketed your home in WiFi, it finally offered home wireless that doesn't suck. It pledged to rid my home of dead spots and, for the most part, it did. Since then, however, Eero has seen plenty of competition from the likes of Google, Linksys and Samsung -- each promising the same mesh-network capabilities.

Now, Eero is out with two new products -- a second-generation Eero, plus a new Eero Beacon -- that promise a more powerful network overall at a slightly lower entry-level price (you can get both in a starter bundle for $299). I've been using the "standard" home bundle (which is one Eero hub and two Beacons) for the past two weeks and, despite a few quibbles, I can say that it certainly delivers.

The second-generation Eero looks exactly the same as the first-generation Eero, but that's not really a bad thing. Both the second-gen Eero and the Eero Beacon are two of the most stylish WiFi products out there. There are no unsightly antennae or clunky hardware here; instead, the Eero and the Eero Beacon share a similar minimalist aesthetic.

Both are encased in a glossy white shell, with a rather attractive curved exterior. The design doesn't draw your attention necessarily, but it's also pleasant enough that you wouldn't want to hide it behind a piece of furniture. It's an aesthetic so pleasing that many others have copied it since the original's release.

Aside from looks, though, the second-gen Eero is very different from the first. Internally, it has tri-band support, a new thermal management system, a new antenna array and a Thread radio for low-power connected home products, like locks and thermostats. In short, it's just all around better. On the rear of the second-gen Eero are two Ethernet ports, a USB-C connector (for both diagnostics and power) and a power-reset button. The two Ethernet ports don't seem like enough at first, but the WiFi is actually so good that I found I didn't miss it (more on this later).

The Eero Beacon, on the other hand, is basically Eero's Mini-Me. It's half the size of a regular Eero and plugs directly into the wall. It's also not quite as powerful as the second-gen model (it has dual-band instead of tri-band), it doesn't have any Ethernet ports either, so you can't use this as a standalone unit -- it requires the aforementioned Eero hub in order to work. But it has much of the same internal specs, including that aforementioned Thread radio support.

If you're thinking to yourself, gee, the Beacon looks a lot like a nightlight, well, it comes with an LED that works exactly like one. When it's dark, the ambient light sensor will detect it, and voilà, it lights right up. Or, if you want, you can even use the app to have it come on at certain times of day automatically. It's a touch of whimsy that I find quite charming and is definitely a feature you likely won't find in other WiFi products.

Setting the Eero up is pretty easy. You'll have to download the companion app to do so, but once you do, it'll guide you through the installation process. As with the original Eero, you'll have to create an account with your email address and phone number, so that it can easily send verification codes instead of requiring you to set up a password. You can then set up your network name and assign a password, just like with other routers.

From there, it's as simple as plugging the Eero hub (the regular-sized one, not the Beacon) into a power outlet and into your modem. The LED on the front will blink blue to indicate that it's in pairing mode, and the app will detect it soon after. Once it does, it runs a short signal-strength test to see if you've placed the Eero in a suitable spot, and then you're done. Installing additional Eeros and Beacons is done the same way. Because each Eero hub does the job of a router, a range extender and a repeater, connecting multiple Eeros together essentially creates a mesh WiFi network that covers your whole home.

Gallery: Eero app | 6 Photos

The latest version of the companion app offers additional diagrams and animations in the hopes of making the setup even more painless. For example, it asks you what sort of home you have -- is it square, or long? -- and how many rooms, in order to best figure out how many Eeros you should have and where you should place them.

The company says that one regular Eero and one Eero Beacon should be good enough for one- to two- bedroom homes (like a studio or a small apartment), while one Eero and two Beacons is sufficient for most two- to three-bedroom homes. Of course, this may vary depending on the kind of house you have, as well as the position of your outlets.

I bring up the outlet issue in particular because the Beacon is more suited for outlets that are aligned vertically, like in most modern homes, instead of horizontally, which is more common in older houses. This turned out to be a slight issue for me, as my house has a mix of both -- while most of the house has modern outlets, my bedrooms have old-fashioned horizontally-aligned ones, where the Beacon ends up on its side and could potentially block the other outlet. It's not a terrible issue, really, but it's something to keep in mind.

The refreshed app has an improved dashboard as well, letting you see all of your connected Eeros and devices in a single view. You can dial down to each connected device to see which WiFi band it's using as well as which Eero hub it's connected to (the Eero system is intelligent enough to switch frequencies and connections depending on network load). If you're a parent, you can easily assign different devices to different family members and keep track of their internet usage. If you want everyone to come to the dinner table right away, for example, you can just shut off their internet access. Pretty devious.

On to the part you've all been waiting for: performance. I'll start by admitting that I don't have the fastest ISP in the world -- I'm just on DSL -- and I live in a two-bedroom 1,200-square-foot home with multiple levels. I decided to run a few speed tests (using Speedtest.net) with my laptop plugged directly into my modem to get a good benchmark to test against. With a wired connection, I had an average latency of 26 ms, download speeds of 28 Mbps and upload speeds of 2.27 Mbps.

Next, I ran speed tests while wirelessly connected to the Eero network in both the downstairs living room and the upstairs bedroom. In my living room tests, my WiFi speed tests were on par with my wired connection, with an average latency of 27ms, download speeds of 28.5 Mbps and upload speeds of 2.2 Mbps. The upstairs speed was a touch slower, but not by much, with an average latency of 28ms, download speeds of 27 Mbps and upload speeds of 2.16 Mbps. In short, the wireless connections throughout the house had more or less the same performance as my wired connection, with hardly any dead spots. That's pretty impressive.

Then I tried to see if I could maintain a decent connection while moving from room to room. I tested this by having a FaceTime call with a colleague and then walking around the house. It was a pretty great connection for the most part -- the high-res video looked crisp and clear -- but I did experience a hiccup when I went into the bathroom, where the video suddenly dropped in quality. Interestingly, though, the video went back to being good again in just a few minutes, which Eero attributes to the dynamic rerouting finally kicking in. Meanwhile, I also had about seven or so devices connected to the network at the same time, and I suffered few to no bandwidth concerns when streaming video or playing games.

There are a few more Eero features worth mentioning. For one thing, all of the new Eero devices are compatible with the original ones. So if you're an existing Eero customer, you can still use your old hubs with the newer models in the same mesh network. Next is that you can add a guest network that's just for, well, guests, with the added ability to simply text them the guest password directly from the app. And, because the Eero is connected to the cloud, the firmware is updated over-the-air, without you having to do anything.

Last but not least is Eero Plus, which is an additional paid subscription that promises premium protection against malware and viruses on all of your connected devices. The service also offers stronger parental controls like content filtering or enabling SafeSearch on certain profiles. And, of course, Plus subscribers get priority customer support. The Eero Plus subscription is available for either $9.99 a month or $99 a year.

The cost of having an Eero in your home is certainly more than a traditional router. You can get a starter Eero and Beacon package for $299, but if you live in a multi-tier house like mine, you'll probably want the Eero and two Beacons bundle, which sells for $399. If you live in a larger house, or you just want more Ethernet ports, you can cough up for the three Eero hub bundle for $499. Eero also sells the devices individually; the second-gen Eero is $199 while the Beacon is $149.

Comparatively, the Google WiFi three-pack is $299, while a single Google WiFi hub is $129. Samsung's Connect Home product, on the other hand, costs $380 for a three-pack and $170 for a single unit (there's also a more powerful single-device Connect Home Pro for $250). Linksys is selling its mesh WiFi solution in individual units for $200, and in packs of two and three for $350 and $500, respectively.

While the original Eero seemed expensive at the time (a three-pack was $499; a single was $199), the second-generation Eero bundles actually seem on-par with what's on the market currently. Sure, the individual second-gen Eeros are still on the high-end price-wise, but you can mix and match with the more affordable Beacons, which are really just as capable. Plus, you could just get the starter $299 Eero bundle to see if that's enough for your WiFi needs before splurging on more.

All told, I believe the Eero works as advertised, and delivers on its promise of whole-home wireless coverage in an attractive, user-friendly package. That said, though, if you already have an existing mesh-networking solution like Google WiFi or the original Eero, the slight performance difference is probably not worth upgrading to the second-gen model. But if you're interested in diving into the whole mesh WiFi thing and you have cash to spare, the powerful, prettier Eeros could be well worth it.

Raised in the tropics of Malaysia, Nicole arrived in the United States in search of love, happiness and ubiquitous broadband. That last one is still a dream, but two out of three isn't bad. Her love for words and technology reached a fever pitch in San Francisco, where she learned you could make a living writing about gadgets, video games and the internet. Truly, a dream come true. Other interests include baseball, coffee, cooking and chasing after her precocious little cat.

472 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save
Comments

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr