Overall Experience & Conclusions
In addition to the pure performance tests, we used each mesh system exclusively for more than a week. My home network is relatively complex for a consumer setup, including multiple NAS devices, a home server, and a plethora of wireless devices such as smart TVs, Logitech Harmony hubs, Sonos speakers, an Amazon Echo, and the usual range of smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
As a result, I have long used IP reservations, port forwarding, and Quality of Service (Qos) features to ensure that everything is easy to manage and gets along. My primary concern in testing out these mesh networks was retaining access to these more advanced features. Even though all of these mesh systems promote a simplified interface, I was relieved to discover that all could accommodate my unique network needs. All three platforms support dynamic and static IPs, custom DNS settings, DHCP customization, bridge mode (although you'll lose some of the "mesh magic" when limited to bridge mode), IP reservations and port forwarding, Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), and guest networks.
The only potential exception was manually-configured QoS. AmpliFi lets you prioritize traffic to a particular device, and all three systems let you set up family profiles through which you can stop all traffic to a particular set of devices, but none replicated the advanced and highly customizable QoS I was accustomed to with traditional routers from companies like ASUS and Netgear.
The good news is that all three mesh systems basically handle QoS automatically. My fear of letting go of advanced QoS configurations proved unfounded as all of my devices, services, and network traffic hummed along just fine. My VoIP and video calls looked and sounded great, even when my family was streaming 4K from Netflix at the same time, and file transfers to my remote server didn't slow down other day-to-day network traffic. In terms of eero and AmpliFi, everything simply worked great.
You may have noticed that I omitted Google from the previous sentence. Although Google's bandwidth performance numbers were generally acceptable, I encountered too many issues to recommend the product in its current state. First is the aforementioned handoff issue, which proved to be a bigger pain than expected during my testing period. Google's app is also the least helpful of the three, providing few specifics about network speed (words like "Good" and "Bad" are often used instead of specific bandwidth or signal strength) with an interface that was more difficult to navigate than its competitors.
- eero Home WiFi System (3-Pack): $397.95
- AmpliFi HD Home Wi-Fi System: $339.93
- Google Wifi System (3-Pack): $297.80
Beyond these issues, however, is the fact that Google Wi-Fi simply wasn't stable. Both eero and AmpliFi functioned flawlessly during my week testing each product, but I experienced at least half a dozen issues during Google's trial period. On four or five occasions, my wireless network speeds suddenly plummeted. Some quick diagnostics confirmed that all of my devices were still connected, and Google's app showed no issues, but speeds were crawling at a few kilobytes per second (I confirmed that this was a wireless issue, as wired devices worked just fine). More distressing, the entire network, including wired devices, went down twice during the same period. This time Google Wi-Fi at least gave me a heads up, as all of the LED rings on each access point turned red, but it took a manual power cycle of all mesh points to get things up and running again.
These issues don't appear to be universal, but I've spoken with several other Google Wi-Fi testers and owners who report similar experiences and frustrations with Google's current mesh implementation. Hopefully, for the sake of those who've already adopted Google's mesh platform, problems like these can be ironed out over time via software and firmware updates.
This article was by no means an exhaustive look at every mesh system available, but of the three we tested, eero and AmpliFi are solid choices. Both offer good wireless coverage and speed, and have their own unique benefits.
The ability to utilize Ethernet backhaul with eero will be enticing to users who already have that physical infrastructure in place. And even if you don't opt for the wired backhaul, having Ethernet ports available at every access point's location is convenient for those with desktop PCs, whole-house music systems, or older media devices that lack Wi-Fi. eero's access points are also sleek and easy to place out of the way, compared to AmpliFi's outlet-mounted MeshPoints.
In AmpliFi's favor, you'll get slightly better wireless performance than eero, more responsive bandwidth stats in the mobile app (bandwidth numbers update more frequently and with greater accuracy), and four gigabit LAN ports in the location you're most likely to need them. With eero, its single free Ethernet port (after using one for your WAN connection) means you'll likely need to pick up a network switch, too. You'll also save about $60 compared to the eero (at current street prices).
As for Google Wi-Fi, it's the cheapest of the bunch at just under $300 and will likely tie in nicely with Google's emerging Home platform. It also has the backing of Google, so it's probably not going extinct any time soon (actually, let me take that back…). But there are too many issues currently to recommend it, especially when AmpliFi and eero performed so well by comparison. Still, Google Wi-Fi is one to keep an eye on, and will be worth another look after a few rounds of updates.