An improvement, but not a must-have.
How do you transform an already great Wi-Fi travel router into the perfect travelling companion? Apple either has no idea or no inclination because it's settled for making the new AirPort Express only better by degrees.
That's not to say this compact device is without merits. A second Ethernet port now lets you connect the AirPort Express directly to laptop -- the previous model was a Wi-Fi-only affair. But we'd smile more if this jack supported a high-speed 1Gbps connection instead of redlining at a dusty 100Mbps.
This new model at least lets you create two separate password-protected wireless networks, thanks to dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. Park your laptops and tablets on one of the faster 5GHz channels while leaving the more crowded 2.4GHz channels for smartphones and the like. Performance is up to snuff for short- to medium-range scenarios: a hotel room, office suite or single-storey apartment. On 5GHz we clocked just shy of 12MB/s sitting 5m away, with speed halved to 6MB/s at 30m. On 2.4GHz the same tests yielded around 6MB/s and 3MB/s.
Apple's simple setup software dumps the web interface (running from an AirPort Utility app for Mac, iOS or Windows) and lets you easily add guest access to either network. However, as before, the USB port remains locked to just adding a shared printer: you still can't hook up a hard drive, which would be a boon both at home and on the road.
As always, when you're not on the road the AirPort Express can be hooked up to a home theatre to provide internet access for your TV or to beam music from your Mac's iTunes library through your stereo.
While the improvements in the new AirPort Express are worthwhile, we wish Apple had gone the extra mile to make this a must-have bit of kit.
Critical specs :
- 2.4GHz and 5GHz (802.11a/b/g/n)
- WPA/WPA2 security
- 2 x 10/100 Ethernet ports
- USB 2.0
- 3.5mm audio jack
Pros : Brings the AirPort Express mostly up to spec with other Wi-Fi routers.
Cons : Still no Gigabit Ethernet or USB storage sharing.
Verdict : 8 out of 10. Highly recommended.
Available from Apple, retailing for $119.