One of my favorite road warrior gadgets is the AirPort Express. I have several of them for AirPlay streaming around the house and studio as well as at least one with me at all times when I travel (it lives in my bag). See “What’s In My Laptop Bag.” I never had an issue with the design of it. I actually appreciated the simplicity of it being a compact self-contained router with flip out prongs to plug it into a wall outlet for power. It was fast, easy to setup and it just worked. Now that I not only have to demo cloud services for living, but also mobile Apps, I really appreciate being able to setup my own WiFi network on stage as well as my hotel rooms. The previous generation AirPort Express had 802.11n support as well as AirPlay and supported up to 10 devices simultaneously connected. It even supports connecting a USB printer for easy wireless printing. Yep, it was just about perfect what it was.
Apple changed it!
Apple quietly introduced a brand new AirPort Express model on Monday at the WWDC (along with new MacBooks and iOS 6 – yeah there was a speed bump to the Mac Pro too – sad that it’s virtually the same chassis as the Power Mac G5 and got no Thunderbolt or USB 3 love…). Although I was most excited about the new MacBook line up, I was quick to take a look at the New AirPort Express too. While the specs looked great, I cringed when I saw the back of it. Apple has gone away from the all-in-one design to one that is almost identical of the Apple TV. By that I mean that it now requires a power cord. This may not seem like a big deal and maybe it isn’t (I’ll be on the road with it next week), but I certainly will miss just flipping out the prongs and plugging it in!
On the plus side Apple added a second Ethernet jack so that you can connect not only the ethernet cable to your internet connection, but also plug in a device via ethernet for speed. Sadly though these still aren’t gigabit ethernet ports. Not sure how much I’ll need that second port on the road, but it’s nice to have. The new AirPort Express is also dual band (like the AirPort Extreme) simultaneously supporting 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz WiFi connected devices. It still has AirPlay and a USB port for printers as well as support now for up to 50 devices. It’s that last one that pushed me over the edge. While I personally don’t need more than 10 connections on the road, there are times when I’m using the AirPort Express on stage and sharing it with other presenters and perhaps a colleague or two in the audience. With laptops, tablets and phones connecting to it, it’s much easier to go past 10 devices than it was back in the day.
The setup is a piece of cake as usual with the AirPort Utility. You can even do the setup from your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with the iOS version of the AirPort Utility. Now you can even setup a guest network like you can on the AirPort Extreme granting those users just internet access instead of access to your entire network.
The Bottom Line
The 2012 AirPort Express is overall a nice upgrade at the same price as the old one. It’s about the same size as the old one being a little thinner, but a little bigger overall. I wished they had kept an all-in-one design as I don’t want to have to have one more cord to carry, but I’m sure I’ll be able to adjust. If you have a recent 802.11n model then there probably isn’t much of a reason to upgrade. However, if you’re on an older 802.11b/g model or you use one at home as your primary router, then you’ll want the new stuff in this one.
Leave it to my buddy Scott Diussa from Nikon to give me an option. Apparently the plug adapter for the Nikon D7000 battery charger will fit the New AirPort Express and work in a pinch. It’s not elegant. It’s not pretty, but it does work. Now if it were only white. 🙂
Update #2 While the Nikon plug does fit (so does the original Apple one), it slightly blocks the WAN port making it a non-starter. 🙁