Best Wifi Mesh Systems
For a top-tier WiFi mesh system router to extend the range of your network, the TP-Link Deco X20 is aces. This mesh system is exceptionally easy to set up, and its companion app has all the features we could ask for. You can monitor your network status, check the placement of satellite nodes, prioritize specific devices, and set up parental controls to limit network access or block content. The router and nodes are simple and sleek, with 2 WAN/LAN ports on the back of each for hardwired devices or for setting up wired ethernet backhaul. This system is also WiFi 6-compatible, making it a bit more future-proof than other routers in this review. It did quite well in our coverage test, and you should get solid data throughput for streaming or gaming with this AX1800 router. We also like that this system is expandable with additional nodes and compatible with other TP-Link Deco routers if you need additional coverage.
However, this router system can be a bit on the expensive side for many people, especially if you aren't planning on using any of its advanced features or aren't likely to get a whole lot of WiFi 6-capable devices anytime soon. We also noticed a slightly larger area of moderate coverage in our signal-to-noise ratio maps than other options with its 5 GHz. network, but this could be easily remedied by tweaking node placement or adding additional points. It's a fantastic option and one of the best out there for anyone looking to extend their WiFi coverage and get much more control over their network.
If you are looking for a premium WiFi mesh system — particularly if you have a Google-based smart home — then we think the Google Nest Router system is a great option. Compatible with both Google WiFi and Google Nest Points, you can mix and match to get the perfect network for your needs and the layout of your home. We tested using a trio of Google Nest Routers and saw some of the best coverage in our signal-to-noise ratio maps, in line with their impressively high claimed coverage area. These AC2200 routers should also have more than enough data throughput for most users, allowing you to get the most of the bandwidth that you pay for. The routers are sleek and discreet enough to blend into the background, with each node having a pair of gigabit ports for any hardwired connection or wired backhaul. You also have plenty of features in the Google Home app, allowing you to optimize your network, blacklist devices, or filter content — even allowing you voice control over your network using the Google Assistant.
Unfortunately, this is also some of the most expensive WiFi mesh systems of the entire group, costing considerably more than many other options. We also found it a little more taxing to set up this system than some of the others, especially if you don't already have a Google Smart Home set up. You need to download the Home app, login/create an account, set up your home, and then go through the process of adding each router by adding a device and scanning a QR code on the base when prompted. We think these are somewhat minor flaws, though, and we wholeheartedly recommend this router to anyone looking for the best — and doesn't mind paying top dollar for it.
Shopping for a mesh router system, but the premium models' price tags are giving you pause? Enter the TP-Link Deco M5 mesh system. These mesh routers were some of the absolute easiest to set up in our experience, with the Deco app walking you through the process with a series of guided prompts — including satellite node layout. The app could automatically detect a node once it had been plugged in and quickly add it to the network, provided appropriate app permissions. The Deco app is intuitive and easy to use, allowing you to block or prioritize certain devices, as well as manage parental controls and check network health. We also like the low-profile and modern look of the Deco M5 routers themselves, allowing you to discreetly hide them or make a subtle style statement. Each router also has 2 LAN ports for setting up a wired backhaul connection or for a hardwired connection to certain devices.
Overall, we found very little to fault with the Deco M5. This system is rated for AC1300, capping your maximum data transfer rate just a bit sooner than the top-tier models. However, most people are more likely to be capped by their ISP before reaching their router's top speed unless they pay for premium bandwidth or fiber. We also noticed the signal-to-noise ratio for this router dropped a bit in more areas in our tests, though it still maintained what should be more than enough signal strength for a high-quality connection in the bulk of the test area. We strongly think this is a great mesh system for most people looking to extend their coverage area without breaking the bank and who might not need all the premium features and advanced functions of the costlier models.
If you are shopping on a more restricted budget and are looking for a way to expand the coverage of your WiFi network, and that's it, then we recommend the TP-Link Deco M3 with Extenders WiFi mesh system. This router costs a whole lot less than the top models and didn't perform too much worse. It's very easy to set up, with the Deco app quickly and easily guiding you through the connections of the primary router to your modem and the initial configuration of your network. Once that is done, you just plug in the wall-mounted extenders, and the app adds them to your network. You even have the option of prioritizing devices, establishing parental controls on both content and access time, or even setting up Amazon's Alexa to give you voice control over your network.
However, we did notice some larger areas of lower signal strength in our mapping tests with this system. The extenders can also be a bit harder to hide since they are larger units that plug directly into an outlet rather than using a power adapter and cable. These extenders also lack any gigabit ports, so you only have a single opportunity for a hardwired connection on the primary router and can't set up a system with wired backhaul. Despite that, we think this is a great option for anyone shopping with limited funds and looking to extend their WiFi coverage area quickly and easily.
If you are shopping for an all-around solid WiFi mesh system on a budget, then we think the TP-Link Deco S4 is another great choice. This mesh router is one of the easier to set up and has an impressive array of features. The TP-Link Deco app guides you through the physical connections and initial configuration with helpful diagrams and prompts. Once your network is set up, then you can set parental controls, enable a guest network, or prioritize bandwidth for certain devices, as well as link control of your network to your Amazon Alexa smart home. This router system also displayed excellent coverage in our signal mapping tests.
However, we did find the design of this router to be a little less stylish than some of the other options. The units are also considerably larger, measuring two or three times taller than some of their competitors. The Deco S4 also only has an average maximum throughput with its AC1200 rating. All in all, we think this is a great middle-of-the-road router and is definitely worth checking out if you are shopping on a budget and looking for the most bang for the buck.
The Amazon eero mesh WiFi System did quite well in most of our tests and definitely will increase the overall coverage of your network compared to a single point source. It's quite easy to set up and install, perfectly integrating into an Amazon Alexa-based smart home, and lets you mix and match with other eero products to create the optimal network. The actual units are sleek and compact, with a pair of gigabit ethernet ports on the back for hardwired connections or wired backhaul if your house is wired with CAT5.
However, we did find some flaws with this system. Our biggest issue is the need to pay for a subscription to eeroSecure or eeroSecure+ to use features that are included with other options. We also found the app to be a little more difficult to navigate than some of the others. This could be a great option if you are looking for a router that connects perfectly with your Amazon smart home or if you like being able to create profiles for each person on your network. If that's not the case, however, then we might suggest checking out other routers.
If the price of the Google Nest Router is a bit outside your budget, but you still want a product that will seamlessly connect to your Google Smart Home, take a look at the Google Mesh WiFi System. It offers solid coverage with its three small routers and has most of the desired features, including parental controls and a guest network. You can also pause access for individual devices. You can also use a mix of Google Nest Routers and Google Nest Points with the Google Mesh Routers, allowing you to upgrade later and still retain compatibility.
However, while this WiFi mesh system is less expensive than the Nest Router, it still is far from the cheapest system out there — so it's a bargain for a Google router, though not necessarily the best bargain overall. We also found that this router was a little more difficult to set up, as you need to set up an entire Google smart home before setting up your network. Also, there aren't too many options for prioritizing devices; it only allows you to set a single device to priority access. Though not our favorite of the bunch, it performs well, particularly if you are looking for a Google router for your Google smart home.
Finishing at the back of our list, the Meshforce M3S just couldn't compete with the top-tier products. Still, this router offers solid range and has average maximum data throughput, as well as most of the features you might want. It claims that it can support up to 60 devices and has Smart QoS, parental controls, and a guest network, as well as being capable of wired backhaul or hardwired connections with two ports on the back of each node.
The installation process for the Meshforce M3S took longer since you must connect to the network with the default SSID and password, then go through the initial configuration in the app. We also found the app to be substantially less intuitive to use, and it doesn't integrate with either Alexa or Google Home. We also had to reset this router more frequently in our tests. This is a relatively inexpensive mesh router system, but we just weren't huge fans of it, especially since we felt other comparably inexpensive products outperformed it considerably.
Why You Should Trust Us
David Wise takes the lead on our mesh wifi router review. He has reviewed hundreds of internet-connected and smart home products in the past, giving him a thorough understanding of the ins and outs of consumer electronics. He also brings his formal training as a mechanical engineer with a focus on electromechanical and robotic systems to the review with the design of our testing protocol and the interpretation of results.
We extensively tested these routers head-to-head. We compared all the different features and functions each product has, as well as smart home integration options. We also measured each mesh node's signal strength and range to create WiFi heat maps for direct comparison side-by-side. Finally, we also looked at the satellite nodes and main routers for each system, scoring them based on their dimensions and appearance.
Analysis and Test Results
We grouped all of our different tests into four metrics: Range, Ease of Installation, Features, and Physical Characteristics. Some of the standout product performances for each metric are highlighted in the sections below, as well as any products that we found to be particularly lackluster.
For our range metric, we looked at the claimed coverage for 3 units, the expandability of the network, and made heat maps of the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of each router installed in a typical split-level home using NetSpot network mapping software. Using this software, we mapped the SNR throughout the home at a series of points, with the software interpolating data between measured areas.
We looked at the coverage maps of both the 2.4 GHz. and 5 GHz. network, as well as combined coverage. When looking at these maps, more dB's are better, with the scale going from blue to red, where red indicates the strongest signal to noise ratio and blue is around the bare minimum to establish a connection. The location of the access points is denoted by the small WiFi symbols. For reference, an SNR of around 20 dB is about the minimum for basic browsing, with 25-40+ dB best for high-speed streaming or large downloads. We also compared the coverage with just a single router operating compared to the mesh network and were quite impressed with the increased coverage for all of these products.
Overall, we were the most impressed with the Google Nest Router and the TP-Link Deco X20 when it came to coverage. The Nest Router and the Deco X20 have some of the largest claimed coverage areas for three units at 6600 sq. ft. and 5800 sq. ft., respectively. You can create hybrid systems with these routers as well, with the Nest compatible with both Nest Points and Google Mesh routers and the Deco X20 expandable with other Deco units. These managed to cover the bulk of the house with 5 GHz. coverage that topped out the chart.
When looking at combined coverage with the 2.4 GHz. network, this further reduced the zones with only moderate coverage.
The TP-Link Deco S4 only claims a covered area of 5500 sq. ft but actually did quite well, matching the X20 and the Google Nest Router when it came to 5 GHz. coverage. This router system is also compatible with other Deco models.
The Meshforce M3S system also has an impressive coverage claim of 6000 sq. ft. and did back that up with its performance in our mapping test. The combined coverage map showed just shy of 55 dB of SNR throughout most of the house.
However, this dropped considerably when we isolated the 5 GHz. network, with a few areas showing SNR as low as 20dB. These did have better coverage with the 2.4 GHz. network, but could be problematic if you were looking to put a streaming device or anything else that would benefit from the faster 5 GHz. speeds in those areas.
Ease of Installation
For this metric, we rated and compared the steps for the physical installation process, the initial network configuration, and the user-friendliness of the companion app. Overall, we found the TP-Link models — the M3, the Deco M5, the Deco X20, and the Deco S4 — to be the quickest and easiest to set up. All four of these models use the Deco app, which is dedicated solely to setting up and managing your network with these routers. We found this made the app much simpler and more intuitive to use than the models that relied on an app that runs a whole smart home to set up, like the Google Nest or Google WiFi systems.
Once you get the initial node set up, it's very easy to add additional nodes. The app gives you ideas about placement and can usually automatically detect the routers after you plug them in and they have time to turn on. You can also check your placement and make sure it's good once the nodes are connected. However, we did usually have to update the firmware with the TP-Link models before they were good to go.
We think the Amazon eero Mesh WiFi System is the next easiest to set up. It follows a very similar process to the TP-Link routers, with guided prompts walking you through the process. Like the TP-Link model, each of the eero nodes has two ports on the back, with your main router node having one of those taken up for the connection to your mode. The app hung on us once during the install, forcing us to restart the process before we could successfully get all three nodes connected. We also thought the app was just a bit less intuitive to find things, but all in all, the process was fairly painless.
Finishing at the back of the group, the Meshforce M3S was our least favorite to set up. You need to plug in this router and then connect using the factory default SSID and password on the base of the router, then start the initial configuration using the MyMesh app. This app just seemed to be a bit clunky to us and took us about twice as long as the TP-Link X20 or the Deco M5
Next, we rated and compared the different features and functions available to you with these mesh systems, looking at things like smart home integration, guest networks, QoS/device prioritization, wired backhaul, parental controls, and internet standards.
In general, we found the TP-Link routers — the Deco M5, the Deco X20, and the Deco S4 to be the top contenders when it came to features. These are AC1300, AX1800, and AC1200, respectively, and all three of these routers have both MU-MIMO and beamforming. Even better, the X20 is an orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) router, as it is WiFi-6 compatible. These routers all have the option for wired backhaul, allowing you to connect nodes via ethernet cable, and have the option for a guest network.
They also allow you to prioritize or blacklist certain devices and set up parental controls to limit specific content or schedule internet access. You can also connect these with your Amazon Alexa smart home, as well as link it with the Google Assistant for some basic controls.
The AC1200 TP-Link Deco M3 has just about all the features of the other Deco models except for wired backhaul. The plug-in extenders lack ethernet ports, rendering this impossible. All of these Deco routers also support WPS — handy if you have a printer or other device that can only connect to your network in that way.
The Google Mesh WiFi and the Google Nest Router both have the option for parental controls and a guest network, but we didn't like their QoS quite as much. You only have the option to set a single device as a priority device for a set period of time, rather than establishing permanent priority for a streaming box or work computer like you can with the TP-Link routers. These routers also can be set up in a wired backhaul configuration and seamlessly integrate with your Google smart home, but Alexa users are out of luck if you want voice control over your network. These routers also are not WPS-capable out of security concerns.
The Amazon eero mesh router has plenty of features, like extensive parental controls, a guest network, and a device blacklist, but you'll need to pay for a subscription to eeroSecure or eeroSecure+ to make the most of them. We also didn't find an option to set priority access for certain devices, but you can use wired backhaul with these routers and integrate them with Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit.
Fortunately, wireless router design has improved quite a bit when it comes to looks. These products look considerably sleeker and more stylish than the typical black plastic rectangle with multiple protruding antennas. For this metric, we looked at the physical size of the main router and satellite nodes, as well as the appearance of the components when it came to determining scores.
Of all the routers we tested, we like the TP-Link Deco M5, the Google WiFi System, and the Amazon eero WiFi System the most in this regard. The Deco M5 is one of the smallest options overall. All three nodes are identical, measuring around 4.7" across and are only 1.3" tall. These circular pucks have a very modern look that can be quite discreet and blend into the background easily. The Google WiFi and the Amazon eero are just a bit bigger, and all three of these routers have a pair of Auto-sensing WAN/LAN ports on the back.
The Google Nest Router, the TP-Link Deco X20, and the Meshforce M3S are next in our eyes when it comes to appearance. These three products all have identical main routers and nodes, with all three having a fairly modern and sleek look. The Meshforce M3S is angular, while the Nest and the Deco X20 are cylindrical.
All three are roughly 4"x4"x4", have a pair of ethernet ports, and we don't think they would be too much trouble to tuck out of sight. The Meshforce routers also have keyhole slots on the back if you want to mount them to a wall.
The TP-Link Deco S4 is next when it comes to looks, being about twice the height of the X20 or the Google Nest. We also don't think it looks quite as nice as some of the other WiFi mesh systems.
This WiFi mesh system is followed by the TP-Link Deco M3. The main router for this system looks almost identical to an S4, but the two satellite nodes are decently sized boxes that plug straight into an outlet. We felt this made them just a bit less discreet, and the two extender nodes both lack any ethernet ports, making wired backhaul or hardwired connections impossible.
Having spotty WiFi coverage can be incredibly frustrating. We hope that this has been a helpful comparison of all the top WiFi mesh systems currently available and has been useful on your quest for a better network. All of these routers will increase the useable area of your WiFi network, but if you are trying to get the fastest internet possible, it's also worth checking with your ISP about upgrading your service or updating your modem, as even the best router can't improve on a bottleneck caused by your modem or provider.
— David Wise
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