Google Wi-Fi now in Canada – My review

google wifiOne of the biggest complaints about making our homes smarter is Wi-Fi. After all, if you’re streaming TV, running lights, connected appliances, tablets, smartphones, computers and a host of other accessories, your Wi-Fi is bound to get bogged down. Not to mention getting decent coverage across the whole house can be a challenge. Making Wi-Fi better has often involved getting a new router, buying signal boosters, or chasing a signal by moving around the house. Now a new technology called mesh Wi-Fi has come onto the market to help improve speed and coverage. The new Google Wi-Fi, launching today in Canada, utilizes mesh Wi-Fi to improve your coverage at home.

Google Wi-Fi launches today in Canada, but I got my hands on an advance test kit for a review.

What is Google WiFi?

google wifi router single router problem
A single router or modem-router unit is a problem

Google Wi-Fi is a ‘mesh’ Wi-Fi system. It connects to your home’s modem or modem-router unit (also called a ‘gateway’) and spreads your Wi-Fi signal across the home (or business). Mesh Wi-Fi creates multiple connection points so you don’t get dead spots.

Google writes, “a mesh network is a group of routers that communicate wirelessly to each other to create a single Wi-Fi network that provides a blanket of connectivity. This allows you to have multiple sources of powerful Wi-Fi throughout your home, instead of just a single router.”

How does Google Wi-Fi work?

google wifi blanket mesh
How mesh Wi-Fi works.

Google Wi-Fi is not just a signal booster; it’s a whole new Wi-Fi system that takes the signal from your home’s modem, and spreads it all over the house. It creates multiple connection points in the house so under-serviced areas like the basement, top floor or distant rooms can get as strong a Wi-Fi signal as you can being near the router/modem.

Google Wi-Fi plugs directly into your modem. (The modem is of course the device that brings the internet signal into the home; it’s often hard-wired in to a cable in the wall.)

Google Wifi plugs into modem
Google Wi-Fi connects to your modem (gateway)

Usually your modem is connected to a router, and the router is what allows your internet to become wireless. The trouble with a single router is that it can only cover so much and extend so far; traditionally user complaints have been that some rooms are dead zones, or that top floors and basements can’t get a strong enough signal.

Google Wi-Fi addresses that by creating a series of connection points all over the house, wherever you need them. You can have as many Google Wi-Fi points in the home as you need (up to 32 Google tells me!) and adding Google Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a router.

“The system is flexible and scalable, so if you have a larger home, connect as many points as needed to get better Wi-Fi in every room (a 3-pack covers up to 4,500 sq. ft), says Google on its website, “Wifi points connect wirelessly, so you don’t need to run Ethernet cables throughout your house.”

So what does it do?

Since Wi-Fi is broadcast from each Google Wi-Fi point (and not just that lonely router in the basement laundry room), and each point connects seamlessly to each other, Google Wifi provides more coverage over a wider space.

What do you need to use Google Wi-Fi?

For starters, you’ll need internet service from a provider. (For many of us, you’ll get your modem that will bring internet into the home from the outside, and your bill is paid to companies like Rogers, Shaw, Bell or Telus.) Google says its Wi-Fi is compatible with all service providers and virtually all modems. You’ll also need a smartphone, or tablet (Android or iOS) and the free Google Wi-Fi app.

Setting up Google Wi-Fi

google wifi kit canadaI was not looking forward to setting up the Wi-Fi. My experience getting things like routers set up in the past has been that it’s tedious, difficult, and often requires tech support.

I opened the box and right away marvelled at the small card with set up instructions; just plug one of the Wi-Fi points into your modem with the ethernet cable, then download the Google Wi-Fi app.

The app will ask you to identify which of the pods is tethered to the modem. (There are numbers on the back of each of the pods and that’s how you will identify them.) Once you tell it which one is plugged in you’ll scan a QR code on the back of the device (Google says this is for security and encryption to make sure the devices are yours and with you).

The next step is to name your network and assign it a password. To keep everything straight, give it a new name and password. There’s also a school of thought that says you should name the network the same as you previous network and give it the same password so that you can fool your smart home devices, for example, into not knowing you’ve switched networks on them. In theory this would save you from having to charge all those smart devices to a new network (which in some cases means resetting them and starting from scratch.) Does this work? I’ve only had the system a few days, so I’m not sure yet.  I’ll try it and update this blog shortly — if you’re dying to know, post a comment here or message me on Twitter @ErinLYYC.

google wifi appOk, back to set up… after connecting the first Wi-Fi point or pod, you will then connect the other two Wi-Fi pods using the same process: identify them by their number on the back then name them according to where you’ll be placing them.

After that, launch the app and do a connection test. While you’re at it you can check things like the speed and test how fast the connection to your phone, tablet or computer is.

It’s easy… so easy

I can’t say enough how simple this set-up process was. The app made it absolutely foolproof, and the whole set-up went smoothly with absolutely no snags.  I test a lot of gadgets and seamless easy set-up is one of the features I give high marks to. In this case, I have no doubt even a child could get this hooked up in minutes. There’s no IP addresses to worry about, no calls to the internet service provider and no confusing instructions. I had the whole network up and running in under 10 minutes; it took longer to go up and down stairs and plug them in than it did to set up.

How fast is Google Wi-Fi?

google wifi speedI tested our home’s Wi-Fi with the existing dual band modem-router unit. On the 2.4 ghz band we were getting 27 mbps. On the 5g network we get 60 mbps. After we installed the Google Wi-Fi units, the speed went up to 68 mbps overall. That’s fast enough to stream data-heavy 4K video without buffering.

Where to place your Google Wi-Fi pods

Only you will know where best to place your pods. They should probably go to high traffic areas where people are often using their devices, or to known dead spots in the home. If you live in a multi story house and have typically have trouble getting a signal on a floor far from the router, that’s a good place to start. Similarly if you have a room that has notoriously poor coverage, place one of the pods there. While the starter kit I received came with three Google Wi-Fi pods you can add as many as you like, up to a total of 32.

What can Google Wi-Fi do for me?

Smooth connectivity, at all times, no matter where you are
Google Wi-Fi has something built in called Network Assist. This invisible genius is always working to put your device on the closest Wi-Fi point and fastest connection, so you can move around at will and not drop the signal.

The assistant also is constantly working in the background to keep you on the least connected channel.  What does that mean? Wi-Fi travels in our neighbourhoods on shared channels, which can get crowded (for proof, just open your phone or device’s Wi-Fi settings and look at all your neighbours’ networks that are out there).  All those networks are sharing ‘channels’ or bands. Network Assist works to ensure your  Wi-Fi points are using the clearest channels to connect to one another, and to your devices. Whether you’re using the 2.4GHz band or the 5 GHz, Google Wifi automatically connects your device to the band that will be fastest based on your location.

Priority Device
The Priority Device setting allows you to prioritize Wi-Fi traffic to a specific phone, tablet, computer or device. This works great in a house with several family members where everyone is often online at once. By prioritizing mom or dad’s phone or laptop, the kids can keep using the Wi-Fi, but the majority of data will go to the person that really needs it. That way everyone’s devices aren’t slowing down or stalling.google wifi schedule kids stop internet turn off bedtime

Family Wi-Fi – schedule pauses for dinner, homework, sleep
Family Wi-Fi setting allows administrators of the account, most likely parents, to control exactly who gets Wi-Fi time and when. Using this setting, you can schedule pauses in Internet use during homework time, dinner hours, or at bedtime. There’s no fighting over devices, or negotiating “just 10 more minutes”. You schedule the Wi-Fi to shut down, and it shuts down.

This setting also allows you to select specific devices and alter the times of use for those devices; your younger child’s tablet can shut down at seven, while the older children can keep on surfing until nine.

All of the settings and features are very easily controlled and adjusted in the Google Wi-Fi app.

Multiple account managers
Another cool feature of Google Wi-Fi is the ability to have multiple managers of your network. While the original account needs to be set up by one person with a Gmail account, it’s easy to add another person as an administrator simply by typing their Gmail address into the app.

Out of home connection
You can access your Wi-Fi settings, make changes, and otherwise adjust configurations even if you are not inside the home. The Google Wi-Fi app works no matter where you are.As you’re connected to the internet, you can manage things at home, and see who’s online.

Help out without hopping in the car
Having an out of home connection also means that if you’re the one in the family who manages mom and dad’s internet network, granny’s connection, or you’re always on call to help the neighbour or your sister, you can manage and access all your settings and even troubleshoot those networks, all from your phone if you get those folks a Google Wi-Fi kit.

Guest Wi-Figoogle wifi 3 home internet wifi faster
Another way to keep your home secure, is to enable the guest Wi-Fi feature. This allows you to create a separate network for guests, with its own password. This means that when kids have friends come over, or if you’re throwing a party, you can grant people Wi-Fi access without revealing the password to your private home network.

Is Google spying on me? – Security & Privacy

Been much written about Google and how much data the company has on each of us. Not surprisingly it raises the question for many potential customers about whether giving Google full access to your Wi-Fi, not just the Google search site, is opening the door for even more info to end up in the hands of a large corporation.

Google says it’s not getting any additional info from you by running your Wi-Fi.

“The information your Wifi points and the Google Wifi app collect helps us deliver the best Wi-Fi experience possible. Importantly, the Google Wifi app and your Wifi points do not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network. However, your Wifi points does collect data such as Wi-Fi channel, signal strength, and device types that are relevant to optimize your Wi-Fi performance.”

Read more on Google’s privacy policy here.

Overall Review – Google Wi-Fi

Overall I had a great experience with Google Wi-Fi. It improved my connection speeds, it was very easy to set up and manage and changing settings or adjusting the network for kids or guests was ultra easy. I’m still working with the kit and still learning more about it. If I find out more facts that should be shared, I’ll update the blog. Please post questions if you have them.

Google Wi-Fi sells for $439 for a 3-pack and additional pods are $179.

What is IFTTT and what can it do for you?

iftttMost of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation.  While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it.  Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead.  Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want the coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts.

What is IFTTT?

The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”.  Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.  Still not sure what it can do?  Let’s look at some examples of things it can do. One of IFTTT’s life fixes is, “IF it calls for rain, Then send me an email to let me know.”

Apps and services that work with IFTTT technology are called Channels in the IFTTT website. They range from social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, to your online email accounts like gmail, weather services, even YouTube, calendars and productivity helpers like Evernote. Not to mention WordPress (for blogging), Etsy (handmade marketplace), Fitbit and Jawbone fitness activity monitors, and Nest home automation thermostat all also support IFTTT.

IFTTT explained

How Does it Work?

Creating IF This Then That programs are called making “recipes”, and some other examples include, “If the temperature drops below zero, Then turn my Nest thermostat up 3 degrees,” “If there’s a flight deal (to a certain city), Then notify me on email,” and even, “If the pollen count is high, Then remind me to take allergy medicine,” and “If the current weather condition changes to rain, then change my Philips Hue light bulbs pastel blue.”  The possibilities are literally endless, and while you can create your own custom recipes, you can browse and use the recipes others have made on the IFTTT website too.  For a look at the full list of apps and services, or Channels that work with IFTTT, click here.

Recipes & Do Button

“Recipes” work automatically, but IFTTT also has another helper option called the “Do Button.”  Downloading and using this app allows you one-touch access to tasks you perform every day, and those actions are only performed when you hit “do”.

A cheeky way to use “Do” it is to set up a quick button that will make your phone ring when you press it.  Great for getting you out of boring meetings and awkward dates. You can also make and use a Do button to turn your Nest Learning Thermostat up or down instantly, or to turn all the connected lights in your house on at once.  But you may be asking, ‘why bother, when I can already control my devices via the app on my phone or tablet’?

As Tech Crunch describes use of the “Do” functions, “the idea here is that, yes, you can already do all of this — but in individual apps. Now you can do it in one place, and even simplify that further by adding a Do Button widget into an Android home screen or into an iPhone Notification Center.”

How Can IFTTT Technology Work for You?31D7838E-CEE5-4502-A82A-E21E5B7788C1

What if one single post to Facebook or Twitter could automate all across your various social media platforms?  What if, instead of worrying about whether you left the curling iron, or space heater on, you could automatically kill that switch as soon as you drive out of the area? What if you had a better and more specific heads-up on the weather so you could remember to pack raincoats and umbrellas? What if, as you pull onto your street on a dark night, the lights in the house could come on?  Well, in short, all of those things are possible using IFTTT, with the products and partners that support the software.

What Will IFTTT Do for Me?

  1. IFTTT saves time & effort – you now no longer need to spend extra time duplicating social media content, for example.  This is a huge time-saver for small businesses, who may want to access all their customers’ favourite platforms, without having to spend all day copy and pasting. You can also use it to automate yearly holiday posts and greetings across social media, meaning you don’t need to panic the day before Valentine’s Day, for example, if you haven’t already given clients notice of a special.  Set up all the different holiday-related posts at once, across all platforms and never worry about it again. It can also save you time and effort, by saving you a return trip back home to check that curling iron.
  2. It saves energy & money on bills – Leaving lights on all day, or appliances running, is an energy waster that does cost you cash each year.  With IFTTT, you can automate light bulbs, switches, or power bars, and from there, the appliances that you plug into them (using a set up like the WeMo home automation system).  Running appliances and lights only when you need them costs you less, and of course the longer your smart automation via IFTTT runs, the more you save. You can also use IFTTT to automate them to turn on or off when you enter or leave a geographic area, or even at sunrise or sunset in your local area (updated daily of course!)
  3. It makes you more productive – IFTTT will allow you to do things like back up your contacts automatically, so that if you ever do lose your phone, tablet, laptop or device, you can easily have a secondary backup.  (Especially handy if someone breaks in and steals both your phone and your computer!)  The Android app for IFTTT also has some unique talents. Activate this channel and your Android phone will text anyone who leaves you a voicemail—and you can have the text tell them you don’t like checking your voicemail, and they should email or text you instead. No more wasted time slogging through those lengthy voicemail messages, “Ummm, hi. It’s, ummm, me.  Ahhhhh, oh jeez, I forgot now why I was calling…”
  4. It can save you money in other ways too – with recipes like “Alert for Free iTunes Tunes” or New Free MP3s on Amazon, or emails when flights are on sale.  When things (nearly anything you may be interested in) get cheaper, you can have that news delivered directly to your inbox, Facebook messages, or via text.

What Products Work with IFTTT?

wemo kit.pngI’ve touched on some of the home products above, and how they work, but to reiterate, things like the Belkin WeMo system of light bulbs, and connected switches, including the energy-monitoring Insight switch all work with IFTTT. Just install them, get your IFTTT app and then download or make your recipes for automation. Using the WeMo motion detector, you can also set up a recipe that will text your neighbour to check on the house if the detectors are set off when you’re away.

Similarly Philips Hue colour-changing light bulbs can also be automated though IFTTT.  With Philips, you can have your bulbs change colour, depending on a situation.  Is it Valentines’ Day in your calendar?  Have you Hue bulbs turn pink and red for your sweetie.

The Nest Learning Thermostat also supports IFTTT and the “Do” button, allowing you to further automate an already great system.

Want updates on whether you’re hitting your fitness goals?  Use IFTTT with your Fitbit or Jawbone activity monitors to send you a reminder to take a walk if you haven’t hit your step goal near the end of your day. You can even automate printing of photos or documents using HP Envy printers.

The 411

Figuring out IFTTT is as easy as downloading the free app, and then surfing the site to see what apps, appliances, and services it works with that you may already have.  Check it out, and if you’re already using IFTTT to run your life, let me know what recipes are working for you!

This blog was originally published on the Future Shop Tech Blog, which has since merged with Best Buy. Click here to read all the latest tech news on Best Buy’s Plug In blog.