Orbi Voice from Netgear is a splendid mesh network extender, an Alexa voice assistant and a high-quality speaker / harman / kardon speaker, all in one.
Over the past two years, Netgear has consolidated its leading position in the home Wi-Fi market. Realizing a wide range of support devices and accessories, after the launch of the original Orbi and Orbi Pro system for small businesses, the networking specialist has added a range of internal devices that can adapt to environments of various sizes and to the points of external access.
But the company’s latest addition represents an even bigger leap. The Netgear Orbi Voice system combines a special design with the AC3000 Wi-Fi router technology, combined with an Alexa- enabled Harmon Kardon speaker. The tendency to build functional hybrids is on the increase and Orbi’s product is the greatest proof.
Orbi Voice retains a design similar to the previous Orbi models (in fact, the router is the same RBR50 that debuted in 2016) but, although larger than many competitors, it boasts better features than the mass. Voice is powered by a Qualcomm IPQ4019 710 MHz processor, supported by a generous 512 MB RAM and, on the connection side, supports AC2200 tri-band Wi-Fi, three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and a USB 2.0 for printer sharing. This makes it much more powerful and versatile than many Wi-Fi mesh iterations on the market.
The collaboration with the Harmon Kardon line from Samsung has led to an intelligent speaker with a similar appearance to a classic speaker, although its gray fabric casing is reminiscent of Google Home. Rounder and more squat than the Orbi router, Voice is elegantly finished with a metallic silver stripe on top of a sculpted base, designed to maximize audio. It’s nice enough to feel good anywhere.
Netgear Orbi Voice has two standard rear Ethernet ports, while the audio interiors include a single woofer from a tweeter and a beefy 3.5″, with 35 watts of power and 63-230 KHz response. A port wraps both drivers to optimize low-end output while Alexa’s voice control is provided via a long-range 4-channel microphone. It is, at least on paper, of lower specifications than people like the Apple HomePod or Google Home Max but the addition of WiFi access makes this speaker extremely versatile.
Once up and running, as an Orbi Voice router you can take advantage of an enviable range of network controls. The mobile app offers a simplified selection of the main options, including host network setup, parental controls and speed tests. But unlike most of the competitors in this range, Netgear also opens to a complete editing of the navigation settings, therefore, those who like to play around, will find it very convenient to be able to configure the VLAN, the integrated VPN, dynamic DNS services and much more. Netgear Orbi Voice is simple but not limited.
If you consider that Orbi Voice includes high-speed WiFi access and a smart premium speaker, its audio performance is remarkable. Surely you will not feel the clarity and refinement made possible by other dedicated products but Netgear certainly beats basic models like the Amazon Echo. The Harmon Kardon certification makes its commendable work, albeit in the absence of a 360-degree sound and unidirectional audio.
Prices and considerations
While its audio fails to reach the maximum offered by the most expensive connected speakers, Netgear Orbi Voice is the most versatile home Wi-Fi system on the market today. The solid performance is combined with an intelligent and reactive Alexa assistance, aimed at creating a concrete utility for users, with a plethora of many options for managing the navigation, including the safe one for minors.
At $ 329 , Netgear Orbi remains a first-rate choice in the home wireless sector and the introduction of Orbi Voice adds completeness and differentiation features while maintaining the high performance we are used to. There are better speakers, but few are so smart.
The race for voice assistants and intelligent speakers does not seem to stop in 2019. There is no need for a different voice assistant to be pre-installed in the speaker. In fact, Google Assistant and Alexa are pre-installed in virtually every device produced since 2018 (as seen at IFA and, even more recently, at the CES at the beginning of January).
Alexa is the star of Orbi Voice, Orbi’s smart speaker (Netgear’s rib that now has its own life), which integrates the features of a wi-fi extender, a voice assistant and a quality speaker.
The analysis (and also the purchase) of this product presupposes the use of an Orbi router for the mesh network (Orbi RBR20, RBK20, RBK30, RBK23). Orbi voice is not a router, only an extender, and works only if it is synchronized with one of the above mentioned routers. It synchronizes to the primary router via the 5GHz band, and in turn provides a local connection at 5GHz, therefore with high reliability, but with less coverage range.
During the test period, the router was connected via Ethernet cable to a TIM router with FTTC fiber optic connection with about 20 Mbps in uplink and 80 Mpbs in downlink. 10 devices were connected to the TIM router via Wi-Fi (smartphones, PCs, home automation accessories), while another smart speaker, a Nintendo Switch and a laptop were connected to the Orbi mesh network.
During the day, and in general for a use without particularly demanding downloads, the mesh network proved to be able to easily manage connections. A single note to report, although it is not certain that this is a problem with the Orbi system, is the possibility that the reproduction of music by voice request is not successful: Alexa will respond to the request, but no music will be played. Probably this is just a bug from Alexa, which has been available in Italian for a few weeks, but it is important to report the issue.
With an Orbi RBR20 and an Orbi Voice it is possible to cover a house with a surface area of around 150 square meters without problems, maintaining about 80% of the uplink and dowlink connection speed offered by the WAN port: Orbi declares coverage up to 300 meters.
As for Alexa, you can set up the voice assistant by simply configuring the satellite / extender from the Orbi app on iOS and Android and access the Amazon login screen via the ascent settings. A very simple procedure. If you also install the Alexa app, you can also access quick controls for music playback. It is possible to access the reproduction of the contents also through a provider’s app that supports Alexa, such as Spotify.
On the upper surface of Orbi Voice there are 3 touch buttons, which, in order from left to right, allow you to activate / deactivate the sound, activate Alexa, activate / deactivate the microphone.
Through Alexa it is therefore possible to use the speaker, the third component of Orbi Voice (after the satellite functions of voice assistant).
The speaker is supplied in collaboration with harman / kardon and reproduces a very high volume, much higher and clearer than Google Home Mini, for example. Setting the volume to 100% you can hear clearly and envelopingly in a large house up to at least 200 square meters.
The high and medium frequencies are correctly reproduced during the reproduction of most musical genres, while the low frequencies are reproduced correctly when they compose the background of a speech, but they are not reproduced equally well when they are part of a solo, of an instrumental segment or of a single beat: the sound is not sufficiently full, but in general the feeling is of having a powerful speaker.
In conclusion, the price of Orbi Voice is not high, but in the end it is anyway: in order to fully enjoy the mesh network features, it is not enough to buy only Orbi Voice, which has a list price of $ 329. At least you need to buy the kit with a router, which costs around $ 500. Obviously, if you already have an Orbi router for the mesh network, the situation changes significantly.
Orbi Voice is not only a voice assistant and a high quality harman / kardon speaker, but also a satellite / extender of a mesh network, so the cost is slightly higher than the sum of the 3 products: around $ 60 for Amazon Echo Dot, about $ 180 for a harman / kardon bluetooth speaker and around $ 30 for an extender.
If the price were to fall to around $ 250, it would be an excellent quality / price ratio.