The great success of Amazon Echo speakers has made voice technology more and more common in today’s connected home. This new technology finds its application in other types of products: multi-room speakers and smart screens from many other manufacturers who currently use Alexa or the competing Google Assistant. And now Netgear has begun work with the latest addition to its range of mesh networks, aptly called Orbi Voice, so here is our complete overview.
Like most mesh routers, Orbi Voice consists of a set that contains two routers that can be placed in different rooms or locations and connected together to provide a wider and more reliable Wi-Fi signal than you normally get from one regular router
But in this case, one of the routers also has an intelligent speaker, which allows you to listen to music and use Alexa voice commands, as well as simply strengthen the Wi-Fi network. But, like most of its cellular competitors, the Orbi router does not include a modem, so you still need to connect it to an existing modem or router to use a broadband Internet connection.
Netgear Orbi Voice Design
As we already mentioned, the “main” router in the Orbi suite is one of Netgear’s original Orbi mesh routers, which is a high-performance device that provides tri-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. It also includes six internal antennas that support MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple input, multiple output) for simultaneous data transmission to multiple devices.
The primary router includes four Gigabit Ethernet ports for high-speed wired connections, although one of these ports is required to connect to an existing modem or router. There is also a USB port for sharing the printer on your home network, although Netgear does not officially support the use of USB hard drives with Orbi.
But, of course, Orbi routers have existed since 2016, and it is the new Orbi Voice satellite that sets this new bundle out of the crowd. Designed in conjunction with Harmon Kardon, which has a pretty good reputation for its line of computer speakers, Orbi Voice is very similar to a regular speaker, not a Wi-Fi router.
Orbi Voice wrapped in a stylish gray fabric cover has a height of only 220 mm, a width of 170 mm and a depth of 120 mm, so it will easily fit on a shelf in any room in your home. But look at the rear panel and you will see a couple of Gigabit Ethernet ports that provide wired connections for devices such as a game console or Smart-TV, as well as the Sync button, which connects Voice Orbi to the main router. elsewhere in your house.
Netgear Orbi Voice Configuration
The configuration process for Orbi Voice is pleasantly simple since you just need to download the Orbi application for Android or iOS devices, and then scan the QR code printed on the base of the main router. Then the application can automatically configure the main router and help you in the process of connecting the Orbi Voice satellite.
The application has some rough edges. He has an annoying tendency to leave you alone with the message that “it may take a minute or two” – and in fact, there have been cases where the application has reacted so long that we thought it broke, so a bit more feedback from the application here would be helpful.
At first, the application also confused us, because its “dashboard” interface did not fit all its functions on the screen of our smartphone or a larger 10-inch tablet. However, there was no scroll bar or any other visual indicator on the screen that would help us find those functions that were hidden behind the scenes.
However, the application has several useful features, such as a network map showing all devices connected to your network, as well as a speed test and a traffic meter, which will help you monitor network performance.
There are also options for remote control when you are away from home, setting up a guest network and temporarily turning off individual devices when you need the children to put their smartphones on and go to the dining table. However, Netgear justifies itself when it comes to broader parental control.
The Netgear website says that the Orbi set “has a parental control Circle on Netgear”, but in fact, Circle is an independent third-party parental control service that requires downloading a separate application. The Circle app provides some basic filtering and monitoring features for free, but you need to pay a monthly subscription of $ 4.99 to use the full range of parental control features, which is disappointing given the high cost of Orbi routers.
And while Orbi is easy to use for newbies who just want their new network up and running as quickly as possible, it doesn’t provide many additional features for people who may need more control over their network settings.
You can configure the Orbi network using a more detailed web browser interface, but we had to spend some time looking for help files on the Netgear website to just figure out if this is possible so that the application can provide more detailed information for advanced users who need these additional controls.
Netgear Orbi Voice Performance
At times, the Orbi app could be a little frustrating, but the speed of the new Orbi network won’t disappoint you. Sure, it’s expensive, but Orbi’s tri-band Wi-Fi has surpassed our usual network settings without any problems. Devices located in the same room as our regular router can usually get pretty good speeds of around 490 Mbit / s, but the new Orbi network has developed rapidly, moving smoothly at a speed of 665 Mbit / s.
But the real test is our back office, where Wi-Fi speed usually drops below 100 Mbps. But with the help of the Orbi Voice satellite, installed in this office, we were able to increase the Wi-Fi speed to an impressive 510 Mbps, which made it one of the fastest mesh systems that we have considered so far.
And, of course, Orbi Voice can also act as a speaker. This side of things, however, is a bit mixed. The speaker itself works very well, with a clear, detailed sound that works well even when streaming audio with the low bandwidth used by services such as Spotify.
Bass maybe a little more stable, but it’s a common weakness of such compact speakers, and Orbi Voice is more than powerful enough to listen to music in the bedroom, or perhaps even to expand your network in the garden so you can liven up barbecue music when summer finally comes.
And of course, the speaker also includes an array of four separate microphones so that it can listen to your voice commands. After you enter your Amazon account information, Orbi Voice works just like one of the Amazon Echo speakers, which allows you to request Alexa a weather report or cricket results.
You can even use Alexa to manage your network with commands such as “Alexa, ask Netgear to enable the guest network” when you have friends for this barbecue.
But, oddly enough, for a device that includes both a speaker and a router, Orbi Voice does not have all the services available. It can only be used to play music from several streaming services, including Spotify, Deezer and – of course – Amazon Music. But there is no support for things like Apple Music or my personal Tidal account.
Orbi Voice also does not support streaming via Bluetooth, so there is no way to play the music that you could save on your computer, smartphone or tablet. For some people, these restrictions may violate the terms of the agreement, so you should go to the Netgear website to find out if it supports the music services that you prefer to use the most.
Netgear Orbi Voice Price
The two-component Orbi kit that we are testing here is officially called the Orbi Mesh WiFi System with the Orbi Voice speaker (although you can choose a shorter model number “RBK50V”). It includes one of the standard Orbi Netgear mesh routers, which acts as a “core” router that you connect to an existing modem or router.
The second part of the kit is Orbi Voice itself, which acts as a “satellite”, which you can place in another room in order to expand the coverage area of your new mesh network, as well as listen to music and use Alexa voice commands.
This two-piece kit costs £429 / $429, which certainly makes it one of the most expensive networks at the moment. But, of course, there is really nothing like Orbi Voice, which combines a high-performance tri-band network with a built-in speaker and Alexa voice technology, so you get a lot for your money.
You can purchase the Orbi Voice satellite device for £279/ $ 299, but this can only be used as an extension to an existing Orbi network and by itself will not work as a separate router.
In the UK, you can buy it from retailers such as Amazon and Ebuyer. Meanwhile, in the USA it is available from such as BestBuy, Amazon, and Newegg.
Netgear Orbi Voice Conclusion
It’s expensive, but we can’t blame the high speed of Wi-Fi and the network features of the Orbi Voice system. This is one of the fastest grid systems we tested.
The price also includes a smart speaker that also works well, and this is a good option if you have an account with services such as Spotify or Amazon Music.
Just keep in mind that the lack of Bluetooth means that it is little used for other services or for playing music that you actually own and store on your own devices at home.
Netgear Orbi Voice Specification
Mesh network kit with two tri-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi routers (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz / 5 GHz)
MU-MIMO with six internal antennas
Main router – 4x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB 2.0
Satellite – 2x Gigabit Ethernet
Speaker Orbi Voice – 1x Woofer, 1x Tweeter (total power 35 W)
Streaming Services – Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora, Deezer, Audible, iHeartRadio
220 x 170 x 120 mm