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Review

Hands-on review: Orbi WiFi 6 AX6000 router

Image credit: netgear

WiFi 6, the latest generation of the sometimes confusingly named protocol, can be a hard sell to customers due to its inherently chicken and egg nature.

Both the router and the receiving device, be that smartphone, laptop or tablet, need to be compatible with the standard to receive its benefits including faster data rates and better capacity for multiple devices connecting at the same time

Support is currently thin on the ground; for example, only the latest generation of iPhone is compatible alongside a smattering of other flagship smartphones and high-end laptops.

Coming in around £699, Netgear’s latest Orbi WiFi 6 AX6000 routers do not come cheap, especially considering most users simply put up with the low-grade solutions delivered by their internet providers as part of a package.

While the providers themselves are often cited for unreliable home internet connections, the cheap routers are often as much to blame as the quality of the signal itself. For larger homes in particular, Netgear’s mesh system offers greater coverage across a significantly wider geographical area than any single router can provide.

With the router communicating with its satellites via WiFi 6, receiving devices do not even need to support the standard as they can still connect to the satellite itself using older WiFi standards.

For this review, the AX6000 was put head-to-head with Netgear’s Orbi Voice, a WiFi 5 mesh system released last year. When comparing the two, the quality of the connection differed little when connected directly to the router itself.

The satellites for the AX6000 managed to achieve a much more stable connection when compared to the Voice, in addition to a 10 per cent increase in speed. With the tests taking place in a densely populated residential area in central London, WiFi 6 appeared to be alleviating some of the signal congestion often experienced due to competing routers and overlapping channels.

Unfortunately, the use of 6GHz spectrum for WiFi has only been incorporated into the spec recently and is not supported here. While 6GHz has very poor penetration through walls and solid objects, it can provide excellent latency and speed and will face little competition from nearby networks until the protocol becomes more mainstream.

Devices also elegantly switched to the strongest node when moving around, without dropping a beat.

As one of the most popular suppliers of networking tech, Netgear has gone to great lengths to make the installation as seamless as possible for users without much knowhow.

After downloading the Orbi app and scanning a QR code on the router, the rest of the setup was largely automated, swiftly finding the satellite and integrating it into the network without fuss.

While Netgear has cleverly designed the system to be easy to set up for people who know nothing about networking protocols, that does not mean it has skimped on options for the more technologically minded.

The router settings include a dazzling array of well laid out options for those who need them. While the interface itself may look a little dated in 2020, it’s easy to access specific settings, like static IP addresses, activating guest networks or instituting parental controls as needed.

It’s also possible to drill down on a device-by-device basis to implement specific settings such as parental controls or static IP.

Both the router and the satellite are fitted into a reasonably compact housing and do not feature an ugly antenna array like some high-end routers. But their tall body and plain white exterior may not appeal to everyone, especially when compared to more elegant solutions such as Google’s Nest WiFi.

The AX6000 is an impressive bit of future-facing tech, but with WiFi 6 only just emerging, it may seem a little early to jump onboard. However, for those who need a networking solution now, if you can afford the high cost of early adoption for WiFi 6, it should be able to maintain parity for years to come. For those who can wait a bit longer, next year’s model should come with 6GHz support which is probably worth holding off for if possible.

£699

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