There's nothing like a Wi-Fi dropout to hit you off your stride. Whether you're midway through a marathon on Netflix, or you work from home and can't afford to lose connectivity with your office, there's no good time for your network to have a wobble.
We've looked at routers that you might be able to replace your bog-standard one with elsewhere, as a way of getting some extra range and stability, but, if you're serious about making a home network that can expand to cover big areas, and doesn't risk flakey connections depending on where you stand, you'll probably want to invest in a mesh Wi-Fi system.
These systems effectively extend and strengthen your home Wi-Fi network, to make sure that it can reach even your most remote corners and provide even coverage throughout your home. Better yet, they're no longer the preserve of IT experts and techies. There are now countless mesh Wi-Fi systems on the market that offer nearly plug-and-play simplicity so that you can reap their benefits without needing a degree in electronics.
With that in mind, we've rounded up the best of the best to create a list of options for you to explore, and choose between if you're thinking of going down the mesh Wi-Fi route. We've tested these models carefully with ease of use, affordability, range and speed all in mind, to ensure they merit a place on our list.
Our Top Pick
Google Nest Wifi
- Great speeds
- Easy setup and controls
- Google Assistant works like a dream
- Cheaper alternatives out there
- Configuration options are slim
- Speaker isn't that loud
It took Google a couple of iterations to perfect its mesh offering, but Nest Wifi is something special. It's supremely easy to set up, and within a few taps on your phone, you'll have a strengthened network that can be extended at will with extenders that also pack smart speaker capabilities and Google Assistant.
The system's design is super clean and anonymous, letting them blend into the background in your home and provide silent benefits, and super parental controls make it perfect for parents.
It's not the absolute cheapest on the market by any means, but it's still reasonably priced, and because it's Google you can rely on solid software support for years to come. Sometimes the biggest names know what they're doing, and Google has hit a home run here.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems we also recommend
Below, we'll detail the four other mesh Wi-Fi systems we recommend looking into.
Netgear Orbi AC1200 (RBK13)
- Brilliant speed potential
- Nice design aesthetic
- Easy setup
- No ethernet options
- Parental controls cost extra
- No QoS settings
Netgear is one of the premier names in networking full stop and its mesh networking sub-brand - Orbi - pretty much guarantees a premium product.
Here we've got a 1.2Gbps dual-band system consisting of a base and two satellites that you can easily add to. It helps that the boxes are also small. When testing it out we had one on top of a sideboard in the living room and it doesn't seem out of place.
The app setup is really easy and enables you to manage access and you can easily create guest networks and apply a single SSID to your whole network.
The only real negative is that the satellites don't have Ethernet ports, so if you want to connect up devices like a TV that doesn't have Wi-Fi or an older games console, you'll need to look at a slightly different solution.
Devolo Mesh Wi-Fi 2
- Impressively versatile
- Great speeds and range
- Ethernet for wired connections
- Pretty ugly
- Not Wi-Fi 6
- App is a chore
The Mesh Wi-Fi 2 is a slight upgrade on the standard Devolo Magic 2 in that all three units here are identical - all three are mesh units this time around, pushing Gigabit Wi-Fi around your whole home.
The tri-band 2,400Mbps 802.11ac mesh system works in tandem with a Powerline network as the backbone - a difference between Devolo mesh products and that of the other competitors here. Each adapter features dual Gigabit Ethernet ports for maximum flexibility.
Amazon Eero 6 dual-band mesh Wi-Fi 6 system
- Nice design
- Superb value for Wi-Fi 6
- Works great with Alexa
- Not the quickest option
- Can't split Wi-Fi frequencies
- Singular ethernet port
A superbly-priced option from the Amazon-owned brand, this is a newer version of Eero's system that's incredibly easy to set up, just like our top pick.
It's not as speedy as many other options - supporting speeds up to 500 Mbps - but its 460 square metre coverage remains impressive.
You can also control Zigbee-compliant smart devices using these units, and control them with Alexa if you have a separate Echo device.
BT Whole Home Mini
- Extremely affordable
- Attractive design
- Easy to set up and place
- Not useful for all territories
- Relatively slow speeds
- Not feature-rich
While the standard Whole Home setup features 2600Mbps maximum throughput speeds, this lower-priced solution takes the speed down to 1,200Mbps.
This is still great if you're not going to be streaming several high bandwidth things like console games services or 4K Ultra HD video at the same time in addition to connecting tens and tens of devices.
With mesh systems, coverage is really the name of the game and you can still cover almost as sizeable a home with the Mini discs as with the full-size discs.
These Mini discs come in dual or triple packs - the triple pack is our pick and all the discs have Ethernet for connecting wired devices to your network.
Other products we considered
The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours testing and researching hundreds of products before recommending our best picks for you. We consider a range of factors when it comes to putting together our best guides including physically testing the products ourselves, consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. Many of the devices we consider don’t make our final best guides.
These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5:
How to choose a mesh Wi-Fi system
There are plenty of reasons why you might be looking to add a mesh system to your home network, but, regardless of what they are, there are some key areas that you'll want to think about before you commit to an option, even if it's one of those we've rated.
Why should you get a mesh system?
The biggest reason you're likely to want a mesh system is signal dropouts - if you have spots in your home where your router's signal either doesn't reach at all or is flaky enough that the speeds you get are no good, that's a recipe that calls for a mesh system to give you complete coverage. Mesh systems also make it possible in many cases to control what devices can connect to your Wi-Fi, so they can be great for parenting, too.
How important is speed?
A big question when judging different mesh systems is around speed - how fast is your base connection, and how much of that speed do you need to be translated through to the furthest reaches of your home? If you're on gigabit internet, that'll restrict your choices, but if you're happy to accept something like 500MB/s, which is pretty good in our opinion, you'll have more options.
What range do you need from your mesh system?
The other big question to our minds is how far you want to extend your network. There are two ways this can change your choices - firstly by impacting on which models you go for according to how far they can cover per satellite, but also how many satellites you opt for in the first place. The best options hit the sweet spot of big coverage areas without requiring loads of different satellite points.
Do you need ethernet ports?
Finally, a smaller question for you comes in the form of good old wired internet. If you want to be able to hook something like a console or gaming PC up to ethernet from your satellite points, you'd better be careful to check whether it's possible, as some of the options out there don't have this capability.
More about this story
Testing mesh systems involves the obvious matter of setting them up and using them for a good chunk of time in order to get a sense for how easy they are to get running, how reliably they work and whether they live up to their manufacturers' claims.
That's what we've done with these models, and that's how we've come to the ranking you find above, taking into account all those factors as well as their raw statistics and, of course, pricing, to decide what order they belong in.
The team at Pocket-lint has been using mesh systems since the point when they were an incredibly niche option for high-speed enthusiasts, so you can be confident that we've put everything through its paces in a rigorous way before even starting to consider where it should go on this list.
Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Conor Allison. Originally published on 13 January 2020.