While companies like Comcast, Cox, Verizon, AT&T, and CenturyLink try to lease you a modem and router combo for your internet service, you are not required to take it. Instead, you can buy your own modem and router to own your own device and avoid that monthly fee.
This post concentrates on routers; we have more advice in a related post on buying your own modem.
Modem, router or combo?
I have used a variety of modems, routers, and modem/router combinations with both Comcast and CenturyLink service, and I found owning my own devices rewarding. I had complete control over my device, rather than leaving it in the hands of poor customer service agents, and I always knew my break-even point for owning my device compared to leasing for $10 to $20 per month.
In many hours of tinkering and testing, I typically find that having a separate modem and router provides the best internet speeds at home. Still, the options and settings on the most powerful routers are complicated for a technical expert, let alone average users. Until recently, that is.
Companies like Google and Apple take an entirely new view on home routers. Rather than giving users dozens of menus and options, new “smart routers” look at your internet use, your neighbors’ wireless settings, and your connected devices to automatically optimize and simplify your router experience.
I’ve used several smart routers over the last few years, and my internet speeds have never been better. Here’s a look at three top smart routers available today and an idea of which might be best for your needs.
Google Nest Wifi Mesh Router
Google Nest Wifi is a system of powerful routers where one or more Nest Wifi devices provide a blanket of network coverage for even the largest homes.
You can buy a standalone speaker or a pair. The newer versions of Nest Wifi also function as a smart speaker, replacing a Google Home or other talking speaker in addition to providing wifi coverage.
Nest Wifi also works with the older Google Wifi routers, which are lower-tech but provide similar benefits. Google Wifi starts at $99 when buying directly from Google, and Nest Wifi starts at $169. You can also buy from Amazon and other major retailers.
Amazon’s version of the mesh Wifi router is eero, starting at $89. The eero router system is designed to be fast and easy to set up. It uses adaptive network connections to provide specialized coverage for every area and device.
Find all the latest options and compare Eero prices and features here on Amazon.
One feature that’s both a positive and a negative is eero Secure. This service includes firewalls, parental content filtering, ad blocking, and other tech goodies. However, it costs $29.99 per year for the basic version or $99 per year for a bundle that includes a password manager, VPN, antivirus, and malware scanner, plus remote access.
Asus ZenWiFi ET 8
This high-end mesh wifi system comes from Asus, a major brand for routers and other electronics. ZenWiFi ET8 is very highly rated for featuring multiple ports and included network security and parental control options. No additional subscription is required.
It’s easy to install and offers exceptional performance and a good signal range. For multistory homes and large properties where you want coverage outdoors, Asus could be a good choice.
Asus is pricey, but it gives you the very best mesh wifi experience right out of the box.
What’s right for your home?
Each home and family’s needs are different, and in many cases, you can get by with a less expensive router, particularly if you live in a modest-sized single-family home. Like other routers, concrete construction may interfere with the signal, and very large homes may require a signal booster. But if you’ve been having internet trouble at home, these routers are worth trying to solve your issues.
If you live in a crowded urban area or apartment building, or if your family is technology savvy and uses a lot of internet bandwidth, any of these smart routers may offer you better performance with fewer hassles than an older router.
If you like to tinker with settings, you will be disappointed that you don’t have many tweaks to make with a smart router. However, you can rest easy that it will just work in most situations, no tinkering required.
I have been happier with my smart routers than any I’ve ever owned and heartily recommend them for nearly any home.
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