Eero and Orbi

Earlier this month, I installed an Orbi mesh wifi system in my company’s office/lab. This is after over two years of experience with an Eero system in my home. I thought it would be useful to compare the two.

Let’s start with the two reasons I chose to go with Orbi for work after two years of using Eero at home.

  1. The Amazon thing. Amazon bought Eero in February, and although it has said it won’t be peeking at Eero’s data, it’s hard to imagine that being a longterm policy.
  2. Intranet connectivity. A few months after installing the Eero in my home, our Comcast/Xfinity connection went down for an hour or so, and I was shocked to learn that the Eero’s internal routing functions went down with it. Which meant I couldn’t print or move files around until Comcast came back up. This hasn’t proved to be a significant burden at home, where the internet connectivity has been quite reliable and printing file transfer are relatively rare, but it would be a concern at work, where our internet goes out more often and internal networking is more important. Eddie Smith, my go-to for real world Orbi experience, tells me the Orbi works more like a regular router and doesn’t need an external connection to route internally.

Update Mar 20, 2019 10:53 PM
My understanding of Eero’s internal/external connectivity was out of date. A tweet from J Travers pointed me to Eero’s software release note from last August which states that both first- and second-generation Eeros now have “Support for LAN Persistence during WAN outages.”

That I didn’t know about this is probably good evidence that Eero doesn’t drive its customers nuts with emails. Or maybe that I’m in the habit of throwing such emails away without looking at them.

In any event, this eliminates Objection 2 to Eero, leaving just the Amazon thing. Read the rest of the post with that in mind.

Both systems have a base unit, the one connected to the modem, and two satellites. At home, which is about 30′×40′ in plan, there’s a unit roughly centered in each of the basement, first floor, and second floor. At work, which is a single floor about 60′×100′, there are units near the two long ends and the center. The coverage is good everywhere at both places. Speed tests show just about the maximum speed no matter where I go within the buildings. I don’t see any reason to favor one mesh system over the other on the basis of network performance.

The router software is another story. The Eero was distinctly easier to set up, requiring fewer reboots and retries. What sticks in my mind from the Orbi installation procedure was continually being told by the Orbi app that I wasn’t connected, please go to Settings and choose Orbi from the list of wifi networks. And then finding that Settings said I was connected to the Orbi—getting both devices on the same page meant turning wifi off and back on again on the iPhone. This sort of software clumsiness was de rigueur in the olden days of network configuration (actually, things used to be much worse), but I expected even old-line networking companies like Netgear to have upped their game by now.

More annoying is that Orbi’s iPhone app is simply incapable of doing certain router configuration tasks like port forwarding.1 You have to log in to the router via a web browser and hunt through the poorly named feature sets to get to the configuration page you’re looking for. This is great for people into early-2000s nostalgia, but nowhere near as smooth an experience as Eero provides.

Installation and configuration make up a small part of one’s interaction with a router, so Orbi’s software isn’t a fatal flaw, just an annoyance. If you’ve been setting up networks for years and have never used an Eero or an AirPort, you might not even notice that Orbi is behind the times in user friendliness.

Overall, I’m happy with both systems. Despite its inability to route when the external connection is down, Eero was definitely the better choice for my home two years ago. When you’re doing something like setting up a mesh network for the first time, the extra attention Eero puts into its software is a big help. And if the acquisition by Amazon doesn’t bother you, it’s probably still the better choice unless your ISP has a lot of downtime and you’re a heavy user of internal networking. Software holds the Orbi back, but if you’re willing to put in some extra work, and if you’re uncomfortable with the possibility of Amazon owning your traffic data, the Orbi is a fine choice.

If you find the names Orbi and Eero hard to remember, this may help:

  1. I assume the Android app suffers the same deficiencies, but I don’t have an Android device on which to test that assumption.