Since 2011, my home Wi-Fi network had been powered by an Apple Airport Extreme base station. Having gone way too long with a basic Netgear router that constantly needed rebooting and had spotty signal throughout the house, I was looking for something that was fast, reliable, and accessible.
At that time, Apple’s router business was at the top of its game, making, in my opinion, some of the best wireless routers the industry has ever seen. For this reason, in January 2011, I bought an Airport Extreme to replace my aging Netgear router. Setup with Airport utility was straight forward and in almost no time, I had massively increased my network performance and reliability. The improvement was so great that I went ahead and bought a second Extreme to extend coverage to an area of the house that didn’t get the best signal strength.
The upgrade to 802.11ac technology in 2013 brought even further improvement to my Wi-Fi network’s performance.
However, since then, the market for home Wi-Fi has changed, owing to the increased popularity of mesh Wi-Fi systems. Apple never caught on to this trend and in 2018, officially discontinued all Airport products. While I was intrigued to read about this phenomenon on tech blogs, I had a sort of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” mentality when it came to appliances like wireless routers.
Then, one day, I suddenly lost my Internet connection. The Airport Extreme connected to my cable modem, the one responsible for hosting the network, had completely stopped responding. After trying and failing to restore it, with and without the help of Apple support, I decided I needed a new router or home Wi-Fi system. Enter the long, complicated process of comparing products in a very crowded space.
How I chose the Eero
Note: I made this determination based on my own considerations of performance, simplicity, and accessibility. Everyone’s needs are different, and all of these products have a place. Also, technology changes rapidly, so while this information may give you an idea of what to look for when making your decision, it should not be considered authoritative.
The market for home Wi-Fi solutions in 2019 is quite different from what it was in 2011. Most notably, there are a number of products that are characterized as, “Whole home Wi-Fi,” meaning they essentially are systems composed of multiple nodes spread throughout a house to create a wireless mesh network. The goal of this is to eliminate dead spots in a house by flexibly scaling the network. Previously, users would connect a router to their modem and maybe a second one somewhere else to extend their network, albeit with possible degradation of performance.
When I researched the available products, I was amazed by the sheer number of options and how similar they sounded. With this in mind, I narrowed my research to five possible candidates.
- Ubiquiti Amplifi HD
- Eero Pro
- Google Wi-Fi
- Netgear Orbi
- Linksys Velop To start my comparison, I watched numerous Youtube videos and read reviews of these products, focusing on simplicity of management, speed, and overall network reliability. Especially helpful were videos that narrated the setup, giving me an idea of what was involved before I made the plunge.
One thing that immediately jumped out was the number of complaints regarding the Linksys Velop system. This was markedly different from the other products I was considering, as most reviews of them touted speed, reliability, and simplicity. For that reason, it was ruled out; one down, four more to go.
Then, I looked in-depth at the Netgear Orbi, an impressive home tri-band Wi-Fi system from a company that boasts over twenty years of experience in the networking arena. However, I learned that to set up the Orbi, a unique temporary password printed on the bottom of the base unit was required. For someone who is totally blind, like myself, this did not seem feasible without sighted assistance, so I subsequently ruled it out.
Next was the Google Wi-Fi, a simple and intuitive mesh Wi-Fi system that integrates well with the established Google ecosystem. Already having a Google account, this looked like a viable option, until I learned about the QR code that needed to be scanned to set up each device. While this would not be impossible without sighted assistance, it might be a little awkward moving the camera with the hope of aiming it just right to scan the code and continue with setup.
Adding to that, the specs in the Google Wi-Fi were not as robust as some of the others on my list. While I don’t have particularly fast Internet, 100 down and 10 up from Spectrum, router speed was a factor, as I wanted as much of that theoretical advertised speed as possible, and wouldn’t let a slow router take away from that.
So then, it was between the Eero Pro and Ubiquiti Amplifi HD, a very close call.
One thing that attracted me to the Amplifi was the company behind it, Ubiquiti networks, who had specialized in enterprise networking for a long time, and had recently saw the potential of scalable home networking. While the wireless range of the Amplifi looked impressive when compared to the Eero Pro, reviewers found that overall speed appeared to drop more significantly when moving away from the dual-band Amplifi. In addition, I was a little unsure about the mesh points, described as being plugged in and sticking out like an antenna from the wall. The thought of myself, another person, or a pet bumping into a mesh point, moving it, and disrupting wireless signal did not seem worth the US$ 349 price-tag.
That left me with a close winner, the Eero Pro two pack, priced at US$ 349. With two tri-band routers placed in my house where my Airport Extremes used to be, they offer a simple, fast, and accessible setup and management, and faster speeds than my Airport Extremes under the same Internet plan. Not having any wired devices, only two ethernet ports was no problem.
A note about the Amazon acquisition of Eero
When researching the Eero, it came to my attention that the brand had recently been acquired by Amazon. While the official word is that nothing will change for users in terms of privacy or support, it’s never clear long-term.
However, making a purchase based on this sole factor at the current time was, in my view, misguided, as whose to say that another company or brand wouldn’t come under the ownership of another entity in the future?
As stated above, setup of the Eero was fast and straightforward.
Before I disconnected my functioning Airport Extreme from my cable modem, I downloaded the Eero app from the AppStore and created an account. This allows me to manage my network from anywhere. Next, the app took me through simple setup instructions, unplug modem, connect ethernet cable to the Eero you want to use as your gateway, it could be any of the identical devices in the box, and plug in the router and modem. After following the instructions, I waited a few minutes for my modem to reboot, and hit the next button. My gateway Eero was detected in seconds, and I was able to name my network, choose a location, in this case kitchen, and a network password.
One very welcome improvement from the setup of the Airport Extreme was the dual sensing ethernet ports on the Eero, meaning I could plug in the cable to my modem to either of the two ports and it would detect the proper connection type. On the Airport Extreme, which had four ethernet ports, one for connecting to the Internet and the others for wired devices, it was a pain to set it up and get an error message that there was no Internet connection, requiring me to try the other ones until I found the correct one.
When agreeing to the obligatory terms of service, the agree option was presented as something like, “Table view not selected button.” A more natural button label would’ve been better.
Once the gateway Eero was set up, I got to the point of adding my additional node. The app presented me with two unlabeled buttons. Unsure of what to do, I double tapped the first one and it gave me a list of tips for optimal mesh point placement. Once I got through that, it instructed me to plug in the mesh point and hit next. True to form, the mesh point was detected and seamlessly added to the network. A quick software update later, and I was all set.
The Eero app
Update: Since posting this review, Eero has revamped the app's interface. Now neatly organized into four tabs across the bottom, Home, Activity, Discover, and Settings, the app presents information about, and controls for, my network more intuitively than before. Many of the buttons have received improved labels, and VoiceOver focus when flicking through the list of devices on my network is more reliable. Device categories like, "Computers and personal," and, "entertainment," make identifying various cryptically named devices on my network easier.
However, there still seem to be some weirdly labeled buttons, such as the, "Glyph navigation add," button at the top left of the screen. This is the button that allows the user to add a new smart device, user profile, or mesh point to the network. Therefore, a button label like, "Add," or, "new," would be better.
Below are my initial observations of the app as documented when first setting up the system.
Once set up, the Eero app presents your network as a dashboard, displaying network status and listing connected devices, mesh points, and speed. A menu accessed from the top left allows you to change settings on your network, create profiles for specific devices, add mesh points, and more. Apart from some weirdly labeled buttons, it is very usable.
With an Eero Plus subscription, which costs US$ 9.99 per month or US$ 99 per year, you get access to network level threat scanning, ad blocking, content filtering, and access to 1Password password manager, Malware Bytes anti-malware, and encrypt.me VPN. As I did not test these features during my thirty-day free trial, I can’t say how good they are or comment on their accessibility.
Update: Since posting this review, this service has been rebranded as Eero Secure. For US$ 2.99 per month or US$ 29.99 per year, you get access to network level threat scanning, ad blocking, and content filtering. For US$ 9.99 per month or US$ 99 per year, you can upgrade to Eero Secure+, which gives you access to all of the features of Eero Secure with the addition of 1Password, MalwareBytes, and encrypt.me.
It is not currently available for purchase in the app, but can be purchased from Eero's website.
As I did not test this service, I cannot comment on its accessibility or overall utility.
Overall, I am impressed by the increased performance my Eero driven Wi-Fi network has given me in comparison to my Airport Extremes. I consistently get speeds close to my advertised rate, and have even gotten as high as 117 down and 12 up, according to speedtest.net.
However, every home and configuration is different, so your milage will obviously vary.
In my experience, the Eero Pro home Wi-Fi system has been a worthy investment in improving my home network speed and reliability.
One thing where it could improve is with the app, fixing some of the weirdly labeled buttons that make the interface look less than polished from a Voiceover user’s perspective. Version 3.0 looks like a step in the right direction, and I'm looking forward to seeing what improvements come in future updates.
Overall, I’d say it’s a winner.
If you have any questions or experiences, be they positive or negative with any of the products mentioned, I’d be interested to know. Sound off in the comments.