NETGEAR Orbi Home Mesh WiFi System: Hardware
When we reviewed the AC3000 kit, both the router and satellites were roughly the same size. This time around the satellite is roughly a third smaller, while the modem/router combo has similar dimensions to the originals. The difference is the previous model was a router only, not an all-in-one solution. The design language has also been tweaked to blend better around the house.
The router that's part of the CBK40 kit we evaluated offers 2.2Gbps of bandwidth with both Tri-Band and MU-MIMO support. Both of these features have become a must for any modern router and for good reason. Tri-Band essentially allows more devices to access the router via extra pathways. Think of it like a highway. The more lanes you have the more cars can travel through without creating a traffic jam. MU-MIMO on the other hand allows a Wi-Fi router to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously. So, not only do you have more lanes for your devices, but each lane can accommodate more than one connection at at time. The end result is more efficient utilization and potentially faster throughput on all the connected devices in your home.
The connectivity options included with Orbi are standard for most high-end routers. On the back of the main unit there are 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports, a cable in port, a power button, a SYNC button, an AC adapter power plug, and a pinhole reset switch. There isn't, however, any sort of dedicated or proprietary link or connector for the router and satellite. The Orbi doesn't need a physical port though, because the main hub and satellite communicate wirelessly over a dedication connection Netgear calls FastLane 3. This means all you need to do is plug the satellite into a wall outlet and it will automatically connect to the router on its dedication link. Even though the satellite is connected wirelessly it does still have dual Ethernet ports that can physically connect additional LAN devices to the network.
Compared to the stock Xfinity router in our office, the Orbi router / modem combo is a big improvement. It's roughly a third smaller, has more features, and its design allows it to seamlessly blend in with your home decor. At nearly 9 inches tall the modem is by no means small, but it's better than what Xfinity is currently offering. Beyond just the aesthetics, the Orbi also offers a wider gambit of features. In comparison, the Xfinity router only has dual-band support and it doesn't support MU-MIMO. This means as more devices are connected to the Xfinity router it will start to get bogged down. On top of the lackluster features, Xfinity also charges a yearly $120 in rental fees. The Orbi on the other hand doesn't have any fees after the initial purchase.
The included satellite connects to the router automatically, but just in case the devices can't find each other there's a manual sync button on the back of the router. You will know if the satellite isn't syncing with the main hub by the halo ring on the top of the satellite. If the halo is glowing blue, the two devices have successfully synced and the connection is strong. If the halo glows amber, they are connected but the signal is weak. If you're getting magenta, there is a problem and you'll probably have to move the satellite closer and try again.
Included with the Orbi system are dual plugs and a Ethernet cable. Each plug is labeled so you won't get them confused while setting up the router. Along with the assortment of cables Netgear also includes a quick start guide to get you going. In the guide you'll find step-by-step instructions to setup your Orbi, as well as a barcode scanner that can be used to download the "Netgear Orbi" app onto your Smartphone.
Orbi's neutral color and modern design fit right in with our home decor. Not only did it look nice, but with the placement of the satellite we were able to boost our range enough to not only fill the entire office with a strong WiFi setup, but cover our deck and barbecue area as well. Simply put, the Xfinity router wasn't able to cover as much ground.
Once you’re all up and running, you can access the Orbi via app, or through a web browser. Next we'll take you through the setup process and see how the Orbi performs over both short and long distances.