At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: Mesh WiFi

Four Ways Technology Changed My Life this Year

I’m happy to report that my use of these tech devices has indeed improved my day-to-day life. Here’s why…

Technology is usually meant to make your life better. While it can often be more frustrating than anything else, I find that it does occasionally have a clearly positive impact.

Here are the four tech innovations that made a meaningful difference for me this year…

Apple Pay on My Apple Watch Replaced My Credit Card

I didn’t really feel the impact of Apple Pay when I had access to it on my iPhone. I still had to pull my iPhone out of my pocket… so the physical exercise was mostly the same as sliding a credit card out of my wallet.

Plus, I was still locked into the mindset of having to use my credit card and chipping/swapping it. The concept of contactless payments still felt foreign, and I just couldn’t get comfortable with it.

Then I tried Apple Pay with my new Apple Watch, and I finally experienced my ‘breakthrough.’

By simply double clicking the side of my Apple Watch to activate Apple Pay and then holding my wrist near the payment terminal to complete my payment… that simplicity and convenience really opened my eyes to the obvious benefit of Apple Pay.

It’s so fast. Plus, I don’t have to play roulette with the payment terminal to see if my credit card’s chip (or the payment terminal) is going to malfunction again.

GoPro Became My New Family Vacation Camera

My GoPro allowed me to finally go on vacation with my family and not stress over the possibility of destroying my camera if I tried to snap a photo.

I used to treat the beach like the landscape of a hostile foreign planet. The corrosive nature of salt water was clear and if nothing else , the salty, moist air would quickly cloud the lens. A tiny molecule of sand could fly by and wedge itself into the lens mechanism, immediately immobilizing it.

In short, the beach was a clear danger zone for my vacation photography.

But my new GoPro was essentially impervious to these threats.

  • Sand? HA!
  • Underwater? Now we’re talking!!
  • How about some slow motion video? Yes, please!

I should mention it’s a good idea to wash your GoPro with fresh water after a day of action at the beach.
(Dried salt moisture can seal the little watertight doors in place, making it difficult to pop the battery or memory card out.)

This year, I was finally able to capture some fun family shots at the beach and also have fun while doing it…

Thanks, GoPro!

I Generated Whole-House Wireless Internet Using Mesh WiFi

I lived for years with spotty WiFi in our house. The weakest WiFi signal was actually in our bedroom. That’s such a bummer, right?

I thought about extending the signal of my Apple Airport Extreme many times, but I was concerned about degrading my WiFi. So, I did nothing…

Until I read that Apple had exited the WiFi router business. And I finally decided to make a change…

I retired my Apple Airport Extreme.

And upgraded to a new WiFi mesh system:

My Orbi consists of a base unit, which essentially replaced my Apple Airport Extreme and a satellite device, which I placed in the center of my house. Together, the two devices successfully created a large enough WiFi bubble to reach all corners of our little house.

Suddenly, whole-house WiFi became the standard throughout the Lester universe.

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to check your email before your head hits the pillow and see strong WiFi bars.

YouTube TV Made Me Cut the Cord

I cut the cord this year.
…Can I say that again?

Yep, I cut the cord this year.
(Thank you.)

I replaced my cable service with YouTube TV, which is an app that streams all of the cable networks I want for just $40/month.

Yes, I’m still paying Cablevision for my internet… so technically the cord is still technically tethered.

But I returned my cable box, and my decades long relationship with an industry that helped to define my existence finally entered a more enlightened reality.

I’m saving money, only paying for what I want, gaining a sense of control and successfully trying something new.

I highly recommend it.

Don’t Forget the Human Factor
I know these ‘headaches’ that technology has helped to alleviate are First World problems.
(I do understand that.)

And I’m thankful I get to complain about these particular issues.

That said, if you’re fortunate enough to have the resources to play with technology, then technology should simply play nicely with you.

And sometimes, you’ve got rely on the human equation to figure out how to really make technology work… for you.

Which Mesh WiFi System Should You Choose?

Mesh WiFi usually needs a satellite unit positioned towards the center of your house, like on the corner of your kitchen counter. The big question is which manufacturer should you go with? This is my journey to upgrade my home WiFi…

It was time to replace my old Apple AirPort Extreme WiFi router. Not that it hadn’t been serving me well over these years. In fact, it was still functioning just fine. Plus, I had really enjoyed the ease of an Apple WiFi solution with my Macs. There was just one problem…

It was never able to provide strong WiFi coverage upstairs in my house. Even on the first floor, my family would sometimes experience annoying buffering while streaming video.

Goodbye AirPort Extreme
That’s because my AirPort Extreme was far away in a corner on the first floor tethered to my cable modem. I explored the idea of extending the signal with an additional AirPort, but it was complicated, and all of my research pointed to a degraded signal as a byproduct.

Then, I read that Apple was getting out of the WiFi router business! It’s a brave new world that we can’t live in the comfy bubble of a total Apple ecosystem anymore. Apple provided these few helpful shopping tips, and that was it!

We’re on our own.

So, I decided to roll up my sleeves and find a new WiFi solution that provided whole-house coverage…
(I didn’t want to be the IT Guy in the doghouse… yet again!)

The answer was to go with a Mesh WiFi system that natively deploys multiple nodes to create WiFi coverage you really want.

Google WiFi
My friend recently installed Google WiFi in his house. It’s an easy, bulletproof solution many folks have turned to.

All of the reviews pretty much agree that while Google WiFi may not lead all of the speed specs, it can’t be beat for stability.

So, that choice would be a no-brainer for me except for one variable…
Google WiFi is designed to work in a totally wireless environment.

How to Handle USB Printers
I was still using a Canon Pixma USB printer, which was hardwired to my AirPort Extreme. You might think I shouldn’t choose my new WiFi system based on the needs of an old printer. And you’re right. But because of the space configuration in my home office, I really didn’t want to upgrade to a new printer, because most of them are so large. My old Canon is relatively compact.

If there was another WiFi option out there that could handle my Canon printer and could also compete with Google WiFi, I would happily bring it home.

And in fact, there is…

Netgear Orbi
Netgear makes a whole family of WiFi routers under the ‘Orbi’ brand, and they also get great reviews. The Orbi is a tri-band system as opposed to Google WiFi’s dual-band design. That’s supposed to make the Orbi a little more flexible to generate the fastest WiFi network.

While the Orbi might be faster, some reviews I found suggested it isn’t quite as easy to set up and use as Google WiFi.
(More on this in a moment.)

The other big difference is the Orbi deploys only two units in its standard configuration, while Google WiFi uses three. I’d say that’s another plus for the Orbi.

And yes, you can connect a USB printer to the back of the Orbi.

Which Orbi Model?
There are seemingly dozens of Netgear Orbi models to choose between. While I exaggerate, I think there are way too many options. That said, my research pointed me to the Orbi RBK50 as the best choice. This particular model also includes a USB port for my Canon printer.

The Orbi RBK50 is $298.97 on Amazon.

I was ready to make my move.

Orbi Installation
To set up my new Orbi, I used the Orbi app which I download to my iPhone. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say it was exactly a ‘seamless’ experience.
(Cough, cough… Google WiFi)

But after two attempts, I got my Orbi network up and running.

The main router connected directly to my cable modem. I positioned the ‘satellite’ unit on the corner of our kitchen counter by the refrigerator next to an existing Sonos Play:1 speaker.

Both Orbi units are larger than I’d prefer, but positioning them so the thinner side faced forward cut down on the footprint.
(My wife still noticed the satellite immediately. The fact that that a small but growing technology hub is creeping into the kitchen and taking over valuable counter space is a topic for another day.)

The good news is the resulting WiFi signal… is amazing… everywhere in the house! (Problem… solved!)

The Unwritten Last Installation Step
One huge step that nobody talks about when replacing your WiFi system is getting all of your electronics successfully back onto your new network. Sure, that’s an obvious process for some of your tech, like your iMac and Apple TV.

But there’s a whole secondary tier of gear that operates in the background of your smart home, and you may not even remember how to update the WiFi settings.

Case in point, I realized I wasn’t so smart when it came to updating…

I had to relearn how to access all of the WiFi settings. So leave yourself some extra time to handle this inevitable residual WiFi clean up.

The Tail Wags the Dog
One final point on my stick-in-the-mud Canon USB printer… Yes, it’s functioning with my new Orbi system, but I had to first download the Netgear ReadyShare Printer Utility to my iMac. That’s the conduit to bridge a USB printer to the Orbi network.
(Just connecting the printer with the USB cable isn’t enough.)

And moving forward, I still need to ‘reconnect’ my Canon printer using the Netgear app on my iMac every time I want to print. This adds an annoying extra step to my printing workflow.

It’s not at all elegant, but it works.

Happy with My Orbi
So, my new Netgear Orbi is in place, and my WiFi network is now in peak condition throughout my house.

But who knows what future tech ‘enhancements’ will challenge my Orbi’s orbit. If there’s one fundamental truth to living happily with your tech, like anything… it’s never a ‘set it and forget it’ relationship.

For now, this home IT guy is delighted with his Orbi.

%d bloggers like this: