It was inevitable that given enough “smart” product releases that one day we would start to see beautiful hybrid devices that seamlessly claim to integrate AI technology with your everyday household items. Netgear, are at the forefront of this movement with the new Orbi Voice system, the world’s first mesh Wi-Fi System with Orbi™ Voice Smart Speaker with Built-In Amazon Alexa™. However, there is a certain sense of irony with this product, while Netgear may be known for its networking technology, to put it bluntly, this isn’t a great mesh system but is a phenomenal smart speaker.
So why all the hate you ask? We had high hopes for the Orbi system, Netgear’s mesh router systems have been very well received in the tech. community with some reviewers claiming it is the best system money can buy, so we were naturally curious. We proceeded with set up like the plethora of systems we have tested before it and before we could even get up and running, we ran into problems. Firstly, we had a faulty charging port on the speaker, which meant that the power input had to be seated in the port just the right way to power on; then during setup it failed to recognize the satellite speaker, even after many resets and then when we did finally get it up and running – an hour and half later mind you – we were disappointed with its mesh capability: speeds were average at best and we even found black spots in our office space, something that even the cheapest mesh systems managed to avoid. Finally, to make matters worse, we even had trouble getting the Voice system to connect to our Amazon account – it’s whole friggin’ point!
Now, on paper, this just didn’t make any sense. This “award winning” tri band system promised, and I quote “3Gbps* high-performance Wi-Fi coverage for homes up to 4,500 square feet (418 square meters) for a nearly zero buffering and no dead zones Wi-Fi experience”. However, we just weren’t having anywhere near this experience. Now, before you start commenting, we are aware of the many factors that influence performance of mesh systems and Wi-Fi in general, and yes, we did eliminate all possibilities. We even reached out to our ISP and everything was perfect on their end. We tried Netgear support, who gave us classic script led trouble shooting to no avail and when we even turned to the internet for help, we had a good laugh when we read on Netgear’s own product page which stated – the “Orbi System is ready right out of the box…and setup for an Orbi System is easy”.
It is worth noting at this point, that this may have just been a bad unit and a singular experience, and we cannot make any wild claims about the Orbi Voice not being worth the investment. There are some real highlights with the mesh system, including superb build quality that includes two welcome Gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting wired devices for fast file transfers and reliable connections. There is also the ability to add or/expand your existing system with the satellite speaker and additional mesh satellites and best of all, Neatgear’s own Circle® Smart Parental Controls are some of the best in this mesh space, allowing you to manage content and time spent online on a per-child or per-device basis.
So, what about that Speaker you say? We have reviewed many smart speaker systems from the likes of Google and Amazon and Netgear’s partnership with Harman Kardon has produced the best sounding smart speaker we have ever heard. The sound is not only punchy but has exceptional clarity and is a very balanced listening experience with rich highs and deep lows perfect for most music types. You can even use Netgear’s own app to adjust the treble and bass emanating from the 3.5-inch front-facing woofer and 1-inch tweeter.
In addition to its use as a satellite for the Orbi mesh system, the integration of Amazon’s own Alexa smart assistant takes this to a whole other level. Combining a voice service, high-end audio and high-performance Wi-Fi in one device, we do love that this essentially eliminates the clutter of three individual products to deliver the same features. The Alexa assistant works very well, and users can enjoy music from the most popular music streaming providers, such as Spotify®, Amazon® Music, Pandora®, iHeartRadio®, TuneIn, Deezer and other services. You can also turn to Orbi Voice and ask Alexa to play audiobooks from Audible, podcasts, radio stations, news briefs, and more – all you must do is ask.
Well, where does that leave the Orbi Voice system? This was a frustrating lesson in patience and tolerance for us as reviewers. We love this idea of integrating connectivity with an AI powered smart speaker but unfortunately the execution is flawed, well at least, in our case it was. Putting our experience aside, there is a lot to like here but as always, you must try it yourself to see if it works for you…just make sure you keep your receipt!