For $99 consumers can buy one of Apple’s newly designed Airport Express routers. The perfect router to pack in your bag for a trip, the new Airport Express expands considerably on the older models and offers great flexibility for users.
When I pack my bag for trips, there are a few gadgets that are must-haves. I always pack my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air, my Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX, my ioSafe Rugged Portable hard drive, a small digital camera and my Apple Airport Express. I usually pack other gear as well, but these are the basics that go on pretty well every major trip.
Anyone who has ever used an Airport Express will always want to have one around.
New with this version is the ability to set it up as a primary router for your home network. Previous versions were only able to extend Wi-Fi networks. It can be set up to be the primary router, or you can set it up to extend a wireless network in a few simple steps – the main thing you need is the password for the wireless network you want to extend.
If you choose to set the Airport Express up as your primary router, you’ll be able to take advantage of the dual band 802.11n technology that allows connectivity to the 2.4GHz and 5 GHz bands. That’s a great feature if you have devices that can use either band – it makes the entire network work better. As a primary router, you’ll be able to connect up to ten users. It will also support Virtual PrivateNetwork (VPN) access, something previous versions were unable to do. Anyone who needs to access their network at work from their home has the technology to accomplish this – I used a VPN constantly when I worked in the newspaper business and found it invaluable. As a primary router you’ll be able to set up the security encryption, and the Airport Express lets you use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2) or Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), two of the most secure types of encryption.
The older versions of the Airport Express had a typical two-prong 110-volt electrical plug that let you plug the device directly into a socket. Sometimes they fell out if the socket was a bit worn, but for the most part it made the Airport Express almost invisible in a room because you could hide it in a corner plug, for example. Of course hiding it behind a couch limited the amount you could extend a signal because sometimes furniture blocks signals.
Apple has done away with the plug idea and instead the new Airport Express has the same form factor as their new Apple TV, only it’s white and weighs a whisker less. It looks like a mini version of the Airport Extreme router, and instead of being able to plug the device directly into the wall, you now have a cord to plug in like most other routers.
The back of the Airport Express has a power port, a single Ethernet Wide Area Network (WAN) port, a single Ethernet Local Area Network (LAN) port, a USB port and an Analog/Optical Toshiba Link (Toslink) audio jack. There’s also the tiny reset button in case you need to blow out the programming and reset the device.
AirPlay is onboard the Airport Express, so you can wirelessly stream the content from iTunes on your computer or any iOS device you might have to any AirPlay enabled or connected speakers in your house. You’ll need an audio cable, which doesn’t come with the Airport Express, to play music on non-airplay enabled speakers.
You can plug your printer into the USB port and make it available to all the computers and iOS devices in your house wirelessly, whether the printer is W-Fi equipped or not. This will work with a mixed network of Macs, PCs and iOS devices and it’s a great way to get a longer life out of an older printer. I took an old printer to my cabin, and now I use my Airport Express to stream music to some non-AirPlay enabled speakers and allow me to use my printer with any computers or iOS devices I bring out – I love it. The caveat here is that you can only connect to one printer and it’s through Bonjour. Bonjour is Apple’s trade name for technology that locates devices like printers and the services they offer on a local network. It makes it dead simple to connect a printer or any other device it locates to your network.
Unfortunately the USB port only works with printers, so if you have a USB hard drive you thought you could hook up to an Airport Express to make it availab;e to your entire network you’re out of luck.
The Airport Express is fully backward compatible with all the various incarnations of Wi-Fi, so it’ll work regardless of the Wi-Fi device you have. There’s also a built-in firewall that’s automatically turned on.
New to the 2012 version of the Airport Express is the ability to very quickly and easily set up a guest wireless network, which you can configure to keep them away from your primary network and the devices attached to it, but still allow them Internet access. And if you travel to the same places all the time, you can create up to five different configurations and store them onboard the device. Practically speaking, what this means is that you can have a typical set-up you’d use in a hotel stored, and the set-up you use at the cabin, and a set-up you se at home. It just is one more thing that makes this a really amazing little device.
It’s absolutely always in my backpack and I’m constantly finding more things I can do with this little router and I like that.
PROS: It can be set up as a primary router, or to extend an existing network; is reasonably priced; can set up guest network; very easy to set up even for a beginner.
CONS: Can’t connect a hard drive; limited range; no gigabit port