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WiFi Router Shopping Guide
You’re binge-watching your favorite tv show, enjoying the benefits that instant streaming offers, when the unthinkable happens: just when the plot has reached its most dramatic moment, your picture-perfect plotline begins to skip. Or glitch. Or pause altogether. It might be because someone accidentally hit the wrong button on the remote. Or, it might be your WiFi router.
WiFi routers are the digital backbones of most homes. A good one can provide a seamless wireless experience. From smart features to speed, we're breaking down the most important factors that go into buying a WiFi router.
WiFi Router Basics
WiFi routers are a conduit. An internet signal travels from the modem to the router, and then to all of your various devices. A WiFi router can be thought of as your internet project manager. Not only does it allocate resources, but it translates signals into something every gadget in your digital arsenal can understand.
Generally speaking, this signal comes in two frequencies: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. To understand the way these frequencies work requires some of those physics principles you learned in high school, but you don’t need to understand the exact science about it to select a router. All you really need to know is that 2.4GHz is better at going long distances and through walls and obstructions, but at a cost: it provides a weaker signal. 5GHz is stronger but has a shorter reach.
Wifi Router Uses
From video games to streaming television, social media to video chat, WiFi routers have a lot of responsibilities in the average home. It goes without saying that you want a WiFi router that can do the heavy lifting for your internet use, but how you use your internet can also play a factor. Consider the following common WiFi uses and how routers can differ between them:
Gaming: For heavy gaming use, look for WiFi routers with gaming optimization features and network security. WiFi routers that emphasize processing speed can help prevent that dreaded internet latency.
TV/Movie Streaming: Binge-watching takes up a lot of data, and let's face it, your dinosaur WiFi router might not be up to the task. Older models tend to treat all tasks as equals--that means if someone's ESPN watching is competing with a gleeful toddler's “Baby Shark” loop, well, our favorite carnivorous fish might win. Use a router that allows you to customize how all that competing digital traffic is managed. Some routers allow you to assign traffic for more demanding tasks (such as movie streaming) to a 5GHz band, which is perfect for 4K TV watching. Your YouTubing child's "Baby Shark" obsession can be assigned the 2.4 GHz band.
Children’s Activities : For most parents, safety is a requirement when their kids are on the internet. Luckily, many WiFi routers offer parental controls. Parents can set time limits on WiFi usage, and even shut off the internet altogether if undesirable conditions are met. WiFi routers that pair with apps can provide even easier parental control options.
Sometimes WiFi goes wonky for no reason at all. Who hasn't found themselves, almost by force of habit, migrating around a large space in search of the best WiFi signal? Mesh WiFi routers are changing all of that.
These systems consist of a main router that connects with a network of satellite devices placed all around your home, making for a more saturated WiFi experience. No longer is there a better Wi-Fi spot in your house because every room has equal coverage. Additionally, they are all ultimately part of the same wireless network, so they share the same login and security information. Plus, Mesh WiFi is scalable so as your needs change you can add modules to your network.
WiFi Router Features
Alexa: Do you have Alexa or another virtual assistant technology in your home? Some routers pair with these devices. You'll be telling your device to turn off an annoying smartphone faster than you can say "Baby Shark."
Phone support: One benefit that comes from renting a WiFi router (usually offered from your internet service provider) is that you get technical support when things go awry. But with many devices on the market now, you can get the same kind of support. For example, many Google-oriented WiFi systems offer 24/7 phone support straight from Google.
Easy setup: Most modern WiFi routers come with some sort of app that can not only help you with a faster setup, but can also allow you to quickly change channels and settings, as well as keep tabs on security.
Tri-blend channels: Many devices offer channels for the varying frequencies, with some devices even offering a tri-band feature. This allows even more devices to connect to the router at once without experiencing congestion.
Style: With some WiFi routers being placed near the television or gaming setup, visual appeal can be important. Luckily, there are models out there that look like they came straight out of a luxury sports car magazine. They match seamlessly with the most futuristic-looking of home entertainment systems.
Trusting Our Top Pick
Navigating the many choices for every consumer purchase can be challenging. Our team spends hours doing research, combing through forums, and reading consumer reviews on even the most basic of household items, and we summarize that information in clear, precise comparisons.
Join the millions that have trusted BuyersGuide.org to help them make smarter buying decisions. We help our readers spend their money wisely and find the right product to suit their specific needs. Our independent expert reviews and data-driven shopping recommendations empower you find the WiFi router that's right for you.
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We leverage user data to understand decision-making and put the best products in front of each user. We tailor our comparisons to what matters to our user's needs, specific or broad. We keep our content up to date, we are constantly looking for new merchants and products to compare, and we are quick to remove any that are outdated or no longer meeting our standards. Our rankings change day-to-day based on our proprietary algorithms, that crunch data to identify top-performing products and tailor recommendations to exactly what our readers are looking for.
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