(Pocket-lint) - Netgear Orbi Voice is a satellite device for Netgear's Mesh Wi-Fi system that provides coverage throughout your home. This is an additional purchase to add to your Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi setup or to be purchased as a full starter kit to delivers a complete experience.
The satellite features Amazon Alexa integration and Harman Kardon speaker internals, as well as a pretty snazzy material finish. It does, however, require the Orbi router to work and will not connect to any other router, so it's only really an upgrade or full-system purchase. That means it comes with quite a hefty price tag. Is it worth it?
An easy-on-the-eye design
- Built-in Amazon Alexa for voice control
- Compatible with Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn
- Two Ethernet ports for wired connections
As a complete Mesh Wi-Fi system, the Netgear Orbi voice package consists of two main devices - the router that needs to be connected to your broadband modem and the Orbi Voice satellite that goes elsewhere in the house. Both of these little boxes of tricks are similarly sized, but the Orbi Voice is definitely the better looker of the two.
To sum up the Voice: imagine if an Amazon Echo device had an enhanced speaker and the capabilities to improve the Wi-Fi in your home. That's what you get from the multiple Wi-Fi antennae, four far-field microphones and Harman Kardon speaker internals.
It feels robust, too, with a stylish design comprising cool fabric finish and illuminated top touch-panel. The design is as functional as it is beautiful: the venting on the base, for example, is there to not only to help keep the internals cool, but also improve the audio capabilities by funnelling the sounds out of the bottom and resonating on the nearby surfaces. We were pleased with how it sounded.
Whole home Wi-Fi joy?
- Four high-performance Wi-Fi antennas
- 3GB/s mesh Wi-Fi coverage
- 2.4GHz and 5GHz capable
- Up to 4500 square feet of coverage
- Includes access to Circle with Disney Smart Parental Controls
The setup of Netgear's Orbi system is fairly straightforward. You just need to connect the router to your home broadband modem, pop the Orbi Voice satellite in another area of the home, turn them both on then set them up via the Orbi app. The devices themselves have the network information and passwords printed on them and the Orbi app is surprisingly good at detecting and setting them up.
Once a connection is established then pairing devices to the system over Wi-Fi is a breeze. You can even edit the network SSID and password within the app - so if you're moving over from another router, you can replicate the SSID and password of that system and all the devices in your home will transfer over easily. This certainly makes life easier when moving over more than 25 smart devices to the new network.
The satellite not only boosts your Wi-Fi signal, but also intelligently assesses whether your device should be connected to the router or the satellite depending on where you are in the home for the best possible Wi-Fi signal.
In an average three-bedroom semi-detached house we found a marked signal improvement in every room. Where previously we'd found smartphones would disconnect from Wi-Fi and switch to mobile data in the far corners of the home, we are now delighted to find full Wi-Fi signal that doesn't disappoint.
There do appear to be occasional disconnects, but then no system is perfect. Considering we were moving from a multi-antenna, high-end router to the Mesh Wi-Fi system, we've been impressed with the results.
User-friendly Wi-Fi solution
- Main and guest Wi-Fi systems with easily sharable passwords and QR codes
- MU-MIMO capable of multiple device streaming
As a package, the Netgear Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi system delivers a user-friendly experience because almost everything is controllable and monitorable from the app.
It's possible to view a list of devices connected to the network - you can even see where they are, their signal strength and also re-name them - and whether they're using the main Wi-Fi or guest network, and turn off/on their access to the Wi-Fi with the click of a virtual button.
A traffic meter shows you how much data has been used and the app also gives you access to a speed test system. This means you can regularly test the router's download and upload speeds if you're worried you aren't getting the results you should expect.
The usability and control of this network improves with the inclusion of access to Circle with Disney Smart Parental Controls - a paid service that allows you to monitor and control family members' use of the internet on a device-by-device basis. You get a taster of this offering to decide if it's worth you signing up.
This extra app allows you to track features including how much time your wee nippers have spent online, filter content to prevent them from seeing things they shouldn't, and more. It's also possible to pause the internet, set bedtimes or even reward well-behaved kids with extra screen time. There are plenty of options to play around with here.
You'll also be alerted whenever a new device joins the network, so you can be sure you know what's going on with the internet in your home. This is great if you want peace of mind for the cyber-security of your children or just to keep an eye on how many devices are on the network and how much data you're using.
The app also allows you to remotely control your Wi-Fi when you're out of the home with the same controls over the entire network, only from afar. A fantastic feature for parents who need to keep a tight grasp on the reigns of broadband usage at all times.
Alexa smarts and audio capabilities
- Four far-field microphones with voice-recognition support
- Harman Kardon speaker internals with equaliser controls
- 3.5-inch front-facing woofer & 1-inch tweeter (35W)
- 63Hz-20kHz frequency response
If you're familiar with Alexa, then you'll know how to control this speaker with just your voice. It's capable of most of the same things as a standard Amazon Echo - you can control smart home appliances, check the weather and news or hear a daily briefing. But it doesn't operate in the same way as an Echo entirely. There's no way to "drop in" on the Orbi Voice, for example, even though it's recognised by the Amazon Alexa app.
An obvious appeal of this system is the ability to add more Alexa speakers to your home with the added bonus of boosted and enhanced Wi-Fi. The Netgear Orbi Voice, after all, is much more than your average smart speaker and a brilliant alternative to other Alexa-enabled speakers.
Despite four far-field microphones with voice-recognition support we found mixed results during testing. Sometimes hear us better when music was playing versus when the room was silent. On other occasions we found we could be a room or two away and quietly call out a command and have the speaker hear us with ease. Even whispering sometimes works, while other times we had to repeat ourselves several times.
On the audio from the Orbi Voice certainly doesn't disappoint thanks to its Harman Kardon speaker internals. It's certainly capable of filling a room with music and offers a rich audio experience while doing so. The sound quality is certainly superior to a standard Echo, though perhaps not as high-end as other smart speakers we've had our hands on.
You are also able to remotely tweak the equalisation (EQ) of the audio via the app, switching between Classic, Jazz, R&B, Rock and Custom modes (or just switching the EQ off for a flat profile), meaning you can customise the experience to your liking.
Orbi Voice is compatible with all the usual music streaming services including Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and more. You can use your voice to request a song or playlist or use Spotify Connect to cast music directly to the device.
As well as using your voice to play, pause, skip and adjust volume levels, you can also use the touch-sensitive interface on top of the Voice. This panel has several simple controls: a centre button which activates Alexa ready to respond to requests; a mic mute button; a speaker mute button; and a volume dial. These are all backlit so they're easy to see and you'll also notice a colourful hue around the top ring of the speaker to let you know what's happening.
The light ring around the top changes colour depending on the situation. If you've muted the microphone, the ring gives off a soothing red glow to show Alexa isn't listening, while giving Alexa a command will see the ring glow blue.
If you've already got Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi then the Voice is a logical purchase to bring enhanced connectivity to the home along with better-than-Echo sound quality along with the typical Alexa voice-control smarts.
That said, it's also pricey for what you're getting. As a full system, you're looking at around £430/$380, while as an add-on purchase the satellite will set you back a smidge under £300/$260 - which is an expensive Alexa alternative.
Whether that's worth your hard earned cash will depend on how invested you are in Alexa and how frustrated you are with your current Wi-Fi network.
If your main consideration is improving your home Wi-Fi network by reducing weak spots and extending reach then Google Wifi might be a good alternative. It looks good, it's easy-to-use and it's cheaper than the Netgear solution too. There is no Alexa integration or speaker capabilities here though.
The Amplifi HD is one of the best mesh network systems we've seen. It's steady, reliable and fast - but it does also come with a hefty price tag. Again there's no Alexa here, but if Wi-Fi signal is your main pain consideration for purchase then it's worth considering.