The long name says it all! The Netgear Orbi Voice Smart Speaker and Wi-Fi Mesh Satellite with Built-In Amazon Alexa is the first Wi-Fi mesh point that works as a smart Alexa-enabled speaker.
And it worked exactly like that in my trial, delivering excellent Wi-Fi coverage, Amazon Echo-like Alexa functionality, and pleasant sound. It also has a beautiful design that easily blends in the setting of any room in a home.
But the Voice is far from perfect. My biggest complaint is the fact it won’t work outside of Netgear’s Orbi ecosystem. For now, you can’t use it with just any Wi-Fi router.
That said, consider the Orbi Voice — model RBS40V and cost $299 — only when you already have an Orbi router at home. If not, you’ll need to get a voice kit (model RBK50V) that includes a high-end Orbi router for $430. Either way, this can be an expensive investment.
Dong’s note: I first published this piece on Aug 30, 2018, as a preview and upgraded it to a full review on October 17.
Netgear Orbi Voice: A familiar Wi-Fi satellite
First and foremost, the Netgear Orbi Voice is a Wi-Fi satellite. As such, it shares the same specs as the mid-tier Orbi satellite, similar to the one used in the Orbi RBK40. The only difference is the fact it has just two LAN ports instead of four.
On the inside, this is a tri-band extender with one 2×2 2.4GHz band (up to 400Mbps) and two 2×2 5GHz bands (up to 867Mbps). At any given time, one of the 5GHz bands works solely as the backhaul connection, allowing the device to deliver fast Wi-Fi speed even when connecting to the main router wirelessly.
Note: With firmware version 2.1 and later, all Orbi satellite units — including the Orbi Voice — support wired backhaul. In this case, all of their Wi-Fi bands will serve Wi-Fi clients.
The Netgear Orbi Voice works with all existing Orbi systems on the market, including the Orbi CBK40 for Cable users. But as mentioned above, it doesn’t work with any other standalone router, including those from Netgear.
Rumor has that, comes next year, Netgear might make it work with third-party routers, too. After all, the company has released a few Orbi-like generic extenders, such as the EX8000.
Netgear Orbi Voice: A high-end smart speaker
The Orbi Voice is the result of a collaboration between Netgear and the known audio maker Harman Kardon.
It has two speakers on the inside, one 1-inch tweeter and another 3.5-inch woofer. In terms of loudness, the Orbi Voice has a 35-watt amplifier to deliver up to 85 decibels. That’s some ten times louder than an average person speaking in a daily conversation.
I find the sound quality of the Orbi Voice quite lovely though not as crystal clear as that of the Apple HomePod but for sure better than many speakers of the same physical size and wattage. Also, Apple’s counterpart is a lot more expensive and can’t work as a Wi-Fi extender. Full disclosure: I’m not an audiophile.
Compact design, full Alexa functionality
The Netgear Orbi Voice is relatively small, just about the same physical size as a regular Orbit satellite, though slightly thicker. There’s no doubt Netgear manages to pack a lot inside the relatively small box.
On top, the Voice has a curved and illuminated white bar that you can tap or swipe on to change the volume. There are also illuminated buttons to mute the speaker and the Voice’s built-in four-mic array.
There’s also a third button to invoke Alexa, though you can always say “Alexa!” instead. What’s more, around the top, there’s a ring of light that glows blue or red to show the speaker’s response to your commands. In all, the thing is cool!
In my trial, I could quickly call up Alexa from across the room. Sometimes the Voice even picked up commands from our daily conversation, but this is more of an issue with Alexa than the Voice itself.
In terms of Alexa functionality, you can use the Voice, just like an Amazon Echo. You can learn about the weather, news, set a timer or control other Alexa-enabled smart home devices, and so on. However, I did notice that the Voice had a slightly longer delay in Alexa’s response than an Amazon Echo. Not a huge deal.
But I got a bit ahead of myself. It took me some time before I could interact with the Orbi Voice like that.
Buggy setup process
I tested the Orbi Voice as part of an RBK50V set, which includes the Voice and an Orbi RBK50 router, currently the highest-end router in the Orbi ecosystem.
As a Wi-Fi system, the setup is exactly like that of any other Orbi system, such as the CBK40. You can do that via the web interface or the Orbi app. It was a straightforward process, and I could get the system up and running within a few minutes.
(By the way, the RBK50V shares the same feature set as that of other Orbi systems. You pretty much have all the network settings you’d need and many valuable features. Examples of these include a VPN server and the Circle with Disney parental controls feature.)
Setting the Voice up as a smart speaker was a different story, however. This part cannot be done using the web interface; it requires the latest versions of the Orbi mobile app.
As designed, once you’re setting the Wi-Fi system, there’s supposed to be an automatic pop-up that gets you to log in with Amazon. But this never happened in my case.
Initially, the app didn’t even recognize the Voice as anything other than a regular mesh point. In the end, after a few restarts, the Voice finally registered within the app as a smart speaker.
And I could activate Alexa by going to Network Map -> Orbi Voice -> Details -> Amazon login within the app’s interface. Yes, you need an account with Amazon to use this feature, but that’s a given.
In all, the setup process seemed buggy. I have faith, though, that all will be worked out after an app or firmware update. The good news is you only need to do this once.
And from then on, in my case, the Voice now worked as intended.
Relatively easy placement
Initially, I thought it’d be hard to find a suitable location to place the Orbi Voice. The reason is it’s generally tricky to identify the sweet spot to put your Wi-Fi extender unit. The Voice has that plus the fact you need to place it somewhere you can enjoy its sound and Alexa function, too.
However, in testing, thanks to the extremely long range of the main router and the thoughtful design of the Voice, it turned out to be relatively easy to find the right spot for the Voice.
You have the option of placing the Voice between 40 to 75 feet (12 to 23m) from the main router to have excellent Wi-Fi coverage. And that’s a lot of wiggle room.
Also, since this is a smart speaker, you have more freedom to place — there’s no need to hide it. And you can even move it around, say, from the living room to the kitchen if you want to carry Alexa with you.
By the way, if you choose to do so, keep in mind that the Voice takes quite a long time — some two minutes — to boot up fully.
Netgear Orbi Voice’s detail photos
Netgear Orbi Voice: Excellent performance
Working in tandem with the RBK50 Orbi router, the Netgear Orbi Voice delivered excellent Wi-Fi coverage and speed in my testing. It covered some 4000 ft² (372 m²) of a residential setting with strong Wi-Fi signals. Strong enough to deliver a fast residential Internet connection in full.
Specifically, I tested the Orbi Voice by placing it some 40 feet (13m) away from the primary router, and it delivered excellent sustained Wi-Fi speeds, as shown in the chart below.
Wi-Fi speed and coverage always vary a great deal. However, depending on your home and the placement of the two units, generally, you can expect them to deliver somewhere between 3500 ft² (325 m²) and 5000 ft² (465 m²) of Wi-Fi coverage with ease. The smaller your property is, the more options you have for placing and moving the Voice — as a smart-speaker — around.
Netgear Orbi Voice's Rating
Mesh Wi-Fi satellite and Alexa smart-speaker all in one
Excellent Wi-Fi coverage and speed, good sound quality
Nice, compact design
Only works with a Netgear Orbi router
Expensive, slightly buggy mobile app
Short delay in Alexa's response
The Netgear Orbi Voice is an excellent Wi-Fi satellite unit and an excellent smart speaker. There’s a lot to love about it. But as exciting as it is, it’s not for everyone.
The reason is it only works with an Orbi router. Think about it. If you already have an Orbi system at home, chances are you don’t need another satellite. And for those without one, at $430, the Orbi Voice system is a hefty investment. That’s not to mention you will need to throw away your existing router, too.
That said, it’d be much easier for me to recommend the Netgear Orbi Voice if it were compatible with all existing Wi-Fi routers. Netgear told me it had plans to make that happen sometime next year. For now, this niche device will drill a big hole in your wallet before you can enjoy it.