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Netgear Orbi Voice Smart Speaker review: Mesh Wi-Fi meets smart speaker

Price when reviewed 
279
inc VAT

Netgear’s new mesh product combines fast Wi-Fi with smart speaker technology

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Smart speakers are ten a penny these days so it takes something rather special to stand out. Netgear has managed it at IFA 2018, however, by combining its excellent Orbi mesh Wi-Fi system with smart speaker technology.

Sold as a kit primarily, in combination with the Orbi RBK50 hub, the Smart Speaker acts as a satellite in an Orbi mesh system, extending the reach of your Wi-Fi across your house. It’s a tri-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi device with one band dedicated to the backhaul data link and the other two for connecting your various devices to.

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Netgear Orbi Voice Smart Speaker review: Specifications, price and release date

  • AC3000 tri-band 802.11ac mesh Wi-Fi system
  • 4,500 square feet of coverage (for kit)
  • Amazon Alexa smart speaker support
  • Price: £399 for kit with Orbi RBK50 hub; £279 for just the voice satellite
  • Availability: Mid October, 2018

Netgear Orbi Voice Smart Speaker review: Key features and first impressions

With the Voice Smart Speaker kit you get 4,500 square feet of wireless coverage, a total bandwidth of 3Gbits/sec and a fully featured router to act as the system’s hub. As with the recent Orbi RBK20 system, the kit comes with the firm’s Circle parental controls, too.

The difference, of course, is that Netgear has managed to build a speaker into one of the units of the kit, with the audio parts developed in partnership with sound experts at Harman Kardon. In addition to all the Wi-Fi hardware required from a mesh network node, there’s a 1in tweeter, a 3.5in woofer and a question-mark-shaped bass reflex duct that vents air from the bottom of the speaker.

In terms of design, the Voice is a substantial thing. It has the same vase-like shape as the original non-speaker Orbi unit but is slightly bigger and it’s much, much beefier than either the Google Home or any of Amazon’s Echo speakers. As is the way with smart speakers these days, it’s partly wrapped with grey fabric, and it has a status LED ringing an oval control panel on the top.

Netgear has gone with backlit touch controls here, with a volume slider that snakes around one edge, plus microphone mute, speaker mute and power buttons in the centre. The top panel is also where the unit’s four far-field microphones are located. I can vouch for the sensitivity of these microphones. Even in a very noisy convention hall with all sorts of background noise, the speaker picked up the Alexa key word every single time it was uttered in the near vicinity.

At the bottom and the rear of the unit, cut at an angle into the base, you’ll find a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports alongside a physical power switch, a button for syncing the unit with the rest of the system, a power input socket, and a reset button.

It’s tough to assess sound quality accurately in the environs of a noisy and cavernous conference hall. A speaker like this simply isn’t designed to be used in such a space. However, when the Netgear representative asked the speaker to play Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean it did appear to be kicking out a decent amount of bass with reasonably good mid-range body.

I’ll go into sound quality in more depth when I receive a unit for testing in October but, for now, what I hear is encouraging.

Netgear Orbi Voice Smart Speaker review: Early verdict

What might put you off, however, is the price. Orbi Wi-Fi systems are usually expensive and this voice-enabled kit is no different. The kit is £399 and, if you already own an Orbi system, you can add the speaker node for £279. Both are pricey options compared with most other Alexa-enabled speakers.

However, nothing else out there does the twin jobs of boosting your Wi-Fi and adding a decent-sounding smart speaker to your home. Remember, you’re getting not only a smart speaker but also a pair of fully-fledged tri-band routers into the bargain, with the potential to cover a huge area in super-fast Wi-Fi.

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