More than a year ago, a startup called "Eero" announced that it was reimagining Wi-Fi from the ground up to make it easier to set up and manage, less prone to performance issues, and even—from an industrial-design standpoint—stylish. It started taking preorders for its system, which it said would be out by the summer of 2015.
It shouldn't come as a shocker that reimagining Wi-Fi was a huge project. Actually, it was even huger than Eero expected: Only now is it starting to ship its product to consumers.
Now that it's arrived, Eero isn't for everybody. The price is steep compared to more mundane Wi-Fi equipment, and there's a lot of stuff that gearheads may care about that it doesn't even try to do. But judging from my time with a pre-release version, Eero took the extra time to make sure that its product was polished, approachable, robust, and generally capable of living up to its potential.
In short, it feels like what Apple might have come up with if it had invested considerable energy into rethinking Wi-Fi. Which might be a weird way to put it given that Apple does sell Wi-Fi routers. Even so, Eero feels more ambitiously Apple-esque than Apple's own Airport gear does.
Eero isn't the first attempt to fix what ails Wi-Fi, and it has certain things in common with some of the others. An Eero is a diminutive, low-profile white box without any external antennas; you might mistake it for a Roku- or Apple TV-style video-streaming box. It's designed to blend unobtrusively into its environment; the top is even a tad shiny so it reflects some of its surroundings. As with Google's OnHub, the decision to make Eero look good wasn't purely aesthetic; you'll be more likely to stick it out in the open—where its signal is less likely to be obstructed—if it's pleasing to the eye.
But Eero goes way beyond OnHub by offering not just a Wi-Fi router, but a Wi-Fi system. The first Eero you set up, which you plug into your modem, serves as a dual-channel 802.11ac Wi-Fi router. Plug in one, two, or more additional Eeros in other areas of your home, and they form a mesh network, spreading Wi-Fi around your home so that wireless devices such as laptops, phones, tablets, and TV boxes can get signal from a nearby Eero rather than by trying to connect a router that could be in a distant room on another floor.
This approach involves multiple Eeros. When the company began taking preorders a year ago, it was at $125 a box, or $300 for a three-pack. Now it's asking $200 for a single Eero, or $500 for three. That's more than most people invest in Wi-Fi infrastructure for their homes. Then again, if you tried to deal with coverage problems by buying a high-end conventional router and supplementing it with something like network extenders or HomePlug power-line networking equipment, you might run up a total bill in the same ballpark. And Eero aims to offer an all-in-one way to eliminate dead spots and other network gremlins, without requiring consumers to assemble multiple items and figure out how to integrate them.
Setting up a Wi-Fi network usually isn't an experience I'd mistake for fun. But everything about Eero shows that its designers worked hard to make the process pleasant in a way that's rare for the category.
For instance, each Eero has two ethernet ports, and it doesn't matter which one you connect to your broadband modem: The box is smart enough to figure it out. You can use the extra jack for something situated nearby, like a networked hard drive or desktop PC, or can plug it into a ethernet network if your house happens to be suitably wired.
Even the power brick is a good-looking custom job rather than the homely, generic brick that's otherwise standard equipment in the networking world. It's kind of shocking to see a Wi-Fi company sweat a detail like that.
As with Google's OnHub, you set up Eero using a smartphone app. The app talks to the network boxes via Bluetooth LE to bootstrap them onto the network, and connects to a cloud-based service that manages your network. It also gives some advice about how to situate multiple Eeros: Ideally, you should place them within 40 feet of each other, with a clear line of sight. Depending on your home's layout and where you have power outlets, you might or might not be able to achieve that. (In my case, I was able to meet the 40-foot goal, but with walls in the way).
Setting up the first Eero box—in place of my 802.11ac Linksys router—took me just a few minutes. Adding two others, in the living room and a bedroom, took hardly any time at all. I just chose a spot for each one, plugged it in, then added it to my setup via the Eero app. Everything worked without the additional fiddling I assumed would be required.
A disclaimer: Unless someone does methodical testing of Wi-Fi in a maniacally controlled environment, any data about performance is anecdotal in the extreme. And instead of being methodical, my wife and I continued using the Internet the way we usually do. We streamed video to a variety of devices, uploaded and downloaded files, and spent time on the web performing an assortment of tasks.
With that proviso out of the way, we immediately noticed that the network was snappier and less prone to obvious hiccups. SpeedTest.net reported speeds of 80-Mbps to 90-Mbps—substantially better than I've gotten with other routers in the past. Basically, I felt like I was getting more of the bandwidth that we already pay for—no troubleshooting required. And I began to wonder if some of the flakiness that I'd instinctively blamed on Comcast might really have stemmed from Wi-Fi coverage issues.
Eero strips out all the complexity of configuring garden-variety routers, but in a way that, again, feels Apple-like—in that it does so in part by not doing all that much. The smartphone app has a nifty feature that lets you share a password with guests so they can use your network. But there are no parental controls; no options for tweaking security; no settings for folks who like to optimize their network for particular applications.
Eero boxes are capable of auto-updating themselves via the cloud-based service, and Nick Weaver, the company's CEO, told me that the plan is for them to "keep getting better and better almost on a daily basis." For now, though, this system is for people who are okay with a "set it and forget it" approach to networking.
Some folks may also find Eero boxes skimpy when it comes to ethernet ports for add-on devices. (If you really need more ports, you can plug a network switch into the Eero box.) And I think the fact that the system is dependent on a cloud-based service managed by a startup will give some prospective customers pause, although I was less concerned about privacy and security implications than by visions of the Eero hardware becoming a doorstop in the event that the company ever runs into trouble and isn't around to provide its service.
Still, what Eero sets out to do, it accomplishes with plenty of panache. If the price doesn't send you into sticker shock and your current Wi-Fi is anything less than rock solid, it's well worth considering. No, it doesn't cater to the needs of Wi-Fi nerds. But the best thing about the system is that it offers better Wi-Fi for people who have no desire to engage in Wi-Fi nerdery in the first place.