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Apple AirPort Express review

Alan Lu
9 Jul 2009
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
73
inc VAT

Apple's new AirPort Express is a neatly designed portable router, but there's little here to tempt owners of the original version.

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Specifications

draft 802.11n, 1x 10/100Mbit/s Ethernet ports

Apple's AirPort Express is a portable wireless router, which is handy if you want wireless internet access in places that lack it, such as hotel rooms.

It plugs directly into a power socket, although you can detach the plug and attach an extension lead if necessary. We previously reviewed the original 802.11g version, but this latest model supports faster Draft-N wireless.

The Express is very popular as an audio streaming device, thanks to its hassle-free compatibility with iTunes. Apart from the Apple TV, it's also the only device that can stream protected audio content from Apple's software. Its 3.5mm line out port doubles as an optical S/PDIF socket, so you can plug it into your hi-fi or AV amplifier. No remote is included, so you'll need to spend £35 on Keyspan's Express Remote or use a computer to control playback. It will only stream audio from iTunes, unless you pay an extra US$25 (around £15) for Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil program, which lets you use any program as the audio source.

A cable or ADSL modem can be plugged into its WAN Ethernet port, but there are no LAN ports for connecting computers that lack WiFi. A USB port allows you to share a printer across your network but not USB storage devices.

The Express is a dual-band Draft-N router and supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz modes. We copied a 500MB folder of MP3 files from one Draft-N-equipped laptop to another.

The router's performance in our wireless transfer speed tests was poorer than from most dual-band routers, largely because it has two aerials rather than three. However, 2.4GHz speeds of 22.6Mbit/s at 10m, and 5GHz speeds of 25.4Mbit/s at the same distance, are sufficient for most tasks. Longer distances are more of a problem. The router failed our 25m test in 2.4GHz mode and achieved 7.23Mbit/s in the 5GHz mode - the latter is good enough for web browsing or streaming MP3 files but frustratingly slow for transferring large files. We carried out further tests at home, where we compared its real-world performance against that of the original 802.11g AirPort Express. Unsurprisingly, the Draft-N version is around twice as fast at 15m, although again we had problems with its performance at 25m in 2.4GHz mode.

To set up the Express, you install a utility on your computer rather than using a web configuration interface. This is logically organised, with a useful troubleshooting wizard that can quickly identify why your wireless network isn't working properly. However, if you switch computers, you'll need to install the management software again - a problem that routers with a web interface don't suffer from.

Unfortunately, the router lacks common features such as UPnP support (to let applications automatically control the firewall) and Quality of Service (QoS) controls.

If you need a portable wireless router, or a streaming audio receiver for iTunes, the AirPort Express is a good buy, whether you own a Mac or not. If you own the original 802.11g model, this one is worth buying only if you regularly transfer large files over your wireless network or you have a broadband connection faster than 8Mbit/s. Even then, make sure your wireless adaptor supports 5GHz Draft-N connections if you want to connect at ranges over 15m.

Basic Specifications

Rating***
Modem typenone
802.11b supportyes
802.11g supportyes
Draft 802.11n supportyes
MIMOyes
Turbo modechannel-bonding
Stated speed300Mbit/s

Security

128-bit WEPyes
WPAyes
WPA2yes
Firewallyes
MAC address filteringyes
DMZno

Physical

Size107x28x83mm
Antennas2
Internal/external antennasinternal
Upgradeable antennano
Number of WAN ports1
Ethernet ports1
Ethernet connection speed10/100Mbit/s
Other portsUSB, line out
Wall mountableno
Power consumption on13W

Other Features

Dynamic DNSyes
Universal Plug and Play supportno
DHCP serveryes
MAC spoofingno
Port forwardingyes
WDS Supportyes
USB device supportyes
QoSno

Buying Information

Price£73
Warrantyone year customer carry-in or collect and return
Supplierhttp://www.amazon.co.uk
Detailswww.apple.com/uk