Last week Apple launched the updated version of the Airport Express, updating the original model launched about 3-4 years ago. I've been waiting for this for a while now, and ordered one as soon as I could. Available immediately from Sydney, it shipped quickly but also was damaged in transit by TNT Couriers - which I only discovered because I hit the 'Track Shipment' button in the email I received confirming the order. One quick call to Apple - and a 5 minute wait - and the lovely girl in the contact centre not only dispatched another toot suite, but she also called me back 3 times to let me the replacement was coming, when it would arrive (which is important - I am not always the same place every day, so need to know when packages are arriving) and was I happy when it had arrived. Pretty cool - may not sound like much, or that every consumer company should do that. but the reality is they don't.
I use TelstraClear Cable Internet at home, and for a while have been using an Apple Airport Extreme, with a couple of Airport Express v1 range extenders, to try and provide some semblance of coverage in the house, to all the widgets that need it. This meant that there were more wires, more power bricks and more awkwardly placed devices in the house, all connected together using wireless bridging - which came at the cost of overall performance, and made wireless VOIP a bit more clunkier than it needed to be (the best experience for anything wireless is your device to the wireless router, then out to internet modem. Going device to wireless to wireless to internet modem means performance is affected - things run that much slower.
The new Airport Express is class - it looks like the older Airport Extreme model, except it's shrunk by about 40%, and has amazing range and performance compared to it's bigger brother. Admittedly the Extreme is an older model and has a poorer performing wireless chip, but even so the wider surface area of the older unit led me to reasonably expect it would have better performance. The aerial is bigger I thought - shows what I know. The new unit gives me the same range and performance that required the use of extenders on the older model.
Picture one: Airport Express v2 just above the black Apple TV. The older Airport Express model is to the right of the Apple TV.
The Airport Extreme is the big unit to the left of everything, along with it's power brick
The new Express has a simple power cable, separate 10/100 WAN and LAN ports, simultaneous dual-band Wifi (up to 802.11n), a USB port for attaching a printer and a 3.5mm headphone jack for connection to a sound system, for streaming audio over AirPlay. I have no idea how much power it draws - but the Extreme draws 20w when running, whereas I suspect this new device draws about 6w, the same as Apple TV, about a quarter of an energy efficient lightbulb. It may not sound like much, but every little helps.
This unit perfectly suits the Cable Internet world and the forthcoming Ultra Fast Broadband network - both of those technologies supply an Ethernet connection into the home, so will plug straight into this great router. Those on DSL connections will need to bridge the router into their modems and do some jiggering around with DHCP settings - the Airport software is pretty good at leading you through what you need to do, but you do need to be familiar with the terminology it uses. This new device reportedly supports up to 50 connected devices - performance seems pretty good, although this sort of test is a bit misleading:
And that's as much as I've experienced so far. The lack of a Gigabit WAN port is interesting but not really that limiting for the next 3 years, and I do wish the Apple software would allow you to configure QOS and other Application level settings, but on the whole it looks good.
I'm still an ardent believer that wireless is the way to providing the better inhome and inpremises experience, and avoiding the need to haul wiring through the building, and as the turnover of WIFI chipsets continued to increase - the next round is 802.11ac, which eventually will be able to hit gigabit speeds - combined with improving aerial design mean that wireless really is a great way to go.
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Comment by Eric, on 17-Jun-2012 23:37
Hi, Enjoyed your short review :) How hot does the new Airport Express run? I remember having previous version heating up quite badly. Cheers.
Comment by michaeln, on 18-Jun-2012 14:19
Thanks for that review. I added an Express to extend the network a while ago and it STILL doesn't reach all of the house---and I'm using the A band to avoid the many neighbour networks, so the iPhone doesn't get as much love as it wants. Sigh, I obviously should have waited...
Your comments on much greater range are most encouraging, and dual-band is good.
Pity about the lack of GE ports, but probably not a killer.
Comment by Oldhat, on 20-Jun-2012 01:07
Many thanks for the review!
Just wondered if you had perhaps checked the connect rate of an extended 5Ghz with your Extreme. Although it did sound like this wouldn't be necessary with the new Express.
Comment by Dr Razor, on 21-Nov-2013 12:08
I have the original Airport Express and I have been considering the upgrade mainly on the faster download capabilities of 300Mbps and the dual band. However, I have checked out my broadband connection on speedtest.net and found that it is 11-12Mbps. This is still well under the original Express specs of 30Mbps so I now can't see any reason to upgrade. Do you feel that I have made the right decision or is there something here that I have overlooked?