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Rejoice: Google Just Created a Stupidly Simple Wi-Fi Router

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The price is high but the concept of a smart wifi hub is good.

Today, the company is launching a new device called the OnHub, in partnership with router-maker TP-Link. There’s another, Asus-made device in the works. For $199, it promises to make your Wi-Fi faster and more reliable, and to give you the ability to update and fix your connection. (You know, for the rare times unplugging it and plugging it back in just won’t do.) Presales start today, and devices will ship in the coming weeks.

The most striking thing about the OnHub is the way it looks. It’s not your average router, with wires and antennas poking out from every side; it’s a large cylindrical device with a blinking light on the top, shades of the Amazon Echo or Apple’s Airport Extreme router. Its outer shell is removable, and comes in either blue or black (more colors are coming, Wuellner says, to better suit your room). It’s pretty, in its way.

This is intentional: Google doesn’t want you to crawl behind your desk every time you need to get at your router. It wants the OnHub right in the center of everything. This itself is a boon to your connection; hiding your router behind closed doors or underneath your TV is horrible for your signal. (Yes, people do that.)

“We discovered that when you put a router on the floor,” Wuellner says, “versus on the shelf, the one on the shelf performs twice as well as the one on the floor.” Wuellner’s team also discovered that making it a tall cylinder made users less likely to stack things on top of it, which also destroys signal.

If step one was to build a router people want on their shelf, not in the closet, then step two was to make it work really well. The OnHub has 13 antennas inside, 12 for casting signal and one for measuring congestion on your network. The device’s software is constantly monitoring channels and frequencies, making sure you’re connecting in the most efficient way. Wuellner says Google didn’t just want to blow your mind with antenna power, but figure out how to use it properly. “Imagine yourself in a battle with your neighbor about who can listen to their stereo,” he says. Most routers just keep cranking the volume to try and drown out the other; the OnHub wants to help everybody share.

There’s a lot of Chromecast DNA in the OnHub, in that most of your interaction with the device happens through an app on your phone. It’s called Google On, and it’s available for iOS and Android. You set up your network through the app, which uses sound to find the router in your home. Once you’ve picked a username and password, there’s an easy way to text or email the password to people who need it. Through the app, you can spot-check a network, prioritize a device to make sure you’re getting enough juice for your Netflix stream, and even troubleshoot a connection. (By the way: If Google’s finally figured out how to make a troubleshooter that isn’t both complicated and unhelpful, well, that might be way bigger than the router.) As long as the light on top is glowing green, everything’s hunky-dory. Orange is like your car’s Check Engine light, prompting you to open the app to see what’s gone wrong.

OnHub supports the latest in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, plus Google’s new Weave language, which is designed to help appliances and connected-home devices talk to each other. The OnHub is a trojan horse similar to Amazon’s Echo, offering a single great feature—really, really, ridiculously easy Wi-Fi setup—as a gateway into the many other things this box could one day do. The device is the OnHub, not a router; the app’s called On, not Router Connector App. 

Google has intentionally left itself room to expand on the OnHub’s capabilities, and expand it will.

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