I’ve had Google WiFi for a while now. When my last router died, I got the Google WiFi 3 pack and placed three of them in different locations. The hardware is excellent and my WiFi coverage is great with good signal everywhere.
But the software leaves a lot to be desired, especially as far as parental controls go. The interface is confusing, non-intuitive and not really designed well at all. It works well if you just want to take away your kids’ Internet for a while aka what I would call “punishment mode” but otherwise is mostly a pain to use. The schedules are difficult unless your family runs like clockwork and the naming conventions and locations of things are generally tedious.
There are two different sections in the software. One is for general device and connection information and settings:
When you click on devices, it shows you a list of devices:
Notice that you can’t turn on or off the WiFi for any devices from here, nor can you see if they are on or off. If you click on one of the devices, it will take you a device settings page that looks like this:
You can’t turn the WiFi off for them here either. The second section of the app is for “Family Wi-Fi”. The first time you land on this page, it only shows you a bunch of useless things at the top. This is a screenshot of my page after setting things up:
When you first click “Family -Wi-Fi”, you can get to a list of devices. This is my screen after setting up some “labels”. Labels are basically how you group a bunch of devices together and you need to click that little green circle to create them. You can also setup Schedules from here. So far so good. After this is where things start to fall apart quickly:
Here is the list of devices. The paused devices show up first. However you have no idea which label these devices belong to, what schedules paused them or anything other than if they are paused or not. I’m not sure why this convenient pause button needs us to come to Family WiFi either. Why is this not an option in the list of that we saw before in the non-family section?
Now let’s try and pause another device. I clicked pause on the DESKTOP device:
In a few seconds that device gets paused and added to the list of paused devices:
Now can you tell why any of the devices are paused? Is it because I paused a label? Or is it because of a schedule? The worst part is that you can unpause any device here even if it is part of a label. That device gets unpaused. When you go back to Family W-Fi the label shows up as paused even though all devices in the label are not paused. So you can never know for sure if all devices in a label are paused or not, or if that paused state in a label even means anything.
Next, lets click on one of those labels. Here is what you get. What do you think “end time” means by looking at the screenshots below? Is this the time that the pause ends? Is this the time that the device’s Internet access ends? Or is this the time that the current state ends? After some experimentation, I figured that “end time” means when the device or label turns back on – which is so confusing. This is one big downfall of the software. As I said before, Google has designed this software to be an implementation of “punishment mode”. The devices are all supposed to be always on and you can pause then for some time as a punishment. What I would really like is to be able to put labels in “reward mode” – i.e. they are always off and when chores, work and other stuff is done, I’ll turn them on for some period of time as a reward. Here’s my blog post on how screen time works at our house. There is no easy way that I can find to turn a label on only for some time. So I have to turn it on, put a reminder for myself and then turn it off when the reminder beeps. A simple redesign of this interface to have start and stop times instead of an ambiguous end time would make it do nearly everything I need.
Next let’s move on to schedules, which are practically useless unless:
- You are basically using this to shut things off for bedtime
- Your family runs like clockwork
To use schedules, you are forced to use labels. You can’t directly use devices – which is stupid. That is why I have labels that have single devices in them. Overriding schedules is also a pain in the ass. You need to go to schedules and turn them off. In fact, schedules are so cumbersome to use that I just keep them off and manually turn devices on and off. How hard would it be for a company like Google to implement schedules in Google calendar instead of this rubbish interface.
Also, looking at the screenshot above, do you think the device is on during the schedule or off during the schedule? Also notice the huge blank space on the screen. The screenshot below took some photoshopping to get all the settings on on one page:
To setup a schedule, you select one time on a specific set of days. So if you want to setup different times in the day, you need to setup separate schedules. That is just plain ridiculous. Eventually you end up with a lot of schedules making managing them a nightmare. And to override you basically have to turn the schedule off.
All in all, Family Wi-Fi software is impractical to use and the only thing I finally end up using is just keeping devices off and then turning them on as needed. A few simple changes – like having kids devices in “always off” mode, replacing “end time” with “turn on after” and “turn off after”, using calendar-like scheduling instead of the current abomination would make the experience far superior than it is now.
As far as parental controls go, the main thing I want to do is limit screen time to a certain amount and only enable it after other activities have been completed and I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to do that. And there is no simple way to achieve that with the Google WiFi software.
If you know someone at Google, please pass this on. Maybe Google just needs to release an API for it and let third parties make the software. The poor software just doesn’t do justice to the fantastic hardware.