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Google OnHub Wi-Fi router review: It's designed to coddle novices and annoy power users

Michael Brown | Sept. 1, 2015
On the upside, it’s a very good performer. On the downside, it makes all networking decisions for you.

The OnHub has one gigabit WAN port (as is typical of home routers), but it also has just one gigabit LAN port. Most routers have four; Apple’s AirPort Extreme and Airport Time Capsule each have three LAN ports).

There’s nothing to stop you from connecting that one LAN port to a stand-alone switch with as many ports as you need, of course, but Google would really, really like you to put the OnHub out in the open where everyone can admire its industrial design: a blue (or black) cylinder that flares out just a bit at the top (the part you see is actually a sleeve that slides over and covers most of the router). Unfortunately, that sleeve has a very small cutout at the bottom, from which the power and ethernet cables emerge. If you don’t use the ribbon cables that come in the box, you might not be able to lock the sleeve into place, because the hoods on more conventional cables will get in the way.

Google wants you to put the OnHub out in the open for two reasons: It will perform better than if you hide it behind the doors of a closet (duh), and they want you to advertise that you’re using their router. I can’t argue with the first reason, and I can’t blame Google for the second. What Google seems to forget, however, is that you’ll need to hardwire its beautiful router to the invariably ugly modem/gateway your ISP gave you. So for most people, router placement will be dictated by where they can put the gateway.

This is less of an issue for the tech enthusiast, who is likely to have a homerun closet where all of the home’s phone, ethernet, and coaxial (for TV) lines terminate. In that case, you put the OnHub anywhere in your home with two ethernet ports in the wall (one to connect to the modem and one to connect to the rest of your network). But the OnHub is clearly not intended for the tech enthusiast.

Regardless of your interest level, you’ll want to know that the OnHub is missing some features commonly found in routers in almost every price range these days. For instance, the OnHub is outfitted with one USB 3.0 port; most routers have one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port, so you can share both a printer and storage on your network. You can’t do either with the OnHub. The sole function of its USB port—for now, at least—is to restore an image of its operating system should it get borked.

Because you can’t share storage via the OnHub, its designers decided they didn’t need to put a DLNA media server inside it either (it does have a UPnP server). That’s not a big deal if you stream all your media from commercial services such as Netflix, Apple Music, Hulu, or Google Play, but it will suck if you rip your own music and movies and store them on a USB hard drive. Then again, enthusiasts are more likely to store their media on a NAS box or even a home server, so maybe they won’t care.

 

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