Review: The 2012 AirPort Express – I love it, I hate it!

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!

The new AirPort Express on top now comes with a freakin’ cord! Noooooooooo!

 

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!

The new one is slightly wider, but also slightly thinner.

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.

Setup

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.

AirPort Utility - Apple

The Bottom Line

New AirPort Express on the Left, Old AirPort Express on the right.

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.

You can get it here for $99Β or here for about $99.

 

UPDATE

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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™

  • I really appreciate not having the fundamentally unsafe US style prongs, but regret that they didn’t replace them with the neat clip on plug such as one finds on the iPad charger. Having an external psu does save a lot of effort on compliance testing though, so it’s easy to understand why they went that way

    • Curious as to how the old AirPort “US styled” prongs were any more unsafe than the iPad charger you mention? They both used the same interchangeable connectors for various countries. That’s the beauty of that design. You could use the same connectors on the AirPort Express, iPad charger or MacBook power adapters.

  • Scott

    This is probably a silly question and shows that I don’t currently have either… Can the Airport Express lock onto a Wifi signal and act as a booster? Or is it useless without ethernet in the hotel room? In its new form, why not just travel with Apple TV?

    • Scott

      sorry, I thought AppleTV acted as a base station.

    • Eric

      Yes, the Airport Express can act as a “booster”, extending your wireless network to a larger area.

      Great thing about this is that you can set up multiple Airport Expresses all over your home and connect them to speakers so that you can have wireless music in any room you desire.

  • Rex

    Pop off the interchangeable plug from your old Express. It looks like it might fit into the AC port on the new Express. If so, the plugs are not polarized, so you can plug it into an outlet upside-down, keeping the weight of the unit pressing onto the old interchangeable plug from above.

    It will look sideways, it will look jerry-rigged, and if the new Express is too wide, it may not work at all, but if it does work, there goes the need for a cable. Let us know if you try it!

  • Rod

    Thx for the review. Always helpful. I actually like the cord. I have areas in my home where I have difficulty plugging in (i.e. back of a stereo cabinet – low to the ground). I bought a Griffin airport express stand in the past and they no longer make it. Having the AP Express higher also improves my wi-fi signal to remote rooms in the house.

  • John Southin

    I use my older model of the AP Express to extend my home wireless network. I assume the new model would also have that capability. I hope so, anyway, as I’ve ordered one.

  • Michael

    Switching to this design, it does lose some of its versatility… It is nice to be able to plug it directly into a wall, and likewise, it’s sometimes nice to be able to position it in a more optimal location for a better signal. The latter was easily accomplished with an extension cordβ€”a $2 cost.

    However I do like the addition of an extra ethernet port… I’d probably plug an older Express into it for supporting b/g devices and lock this new Express in “n only (5GHz)” mode as it is less commonly used in my area and provides a more robust signal.

    This is pretty much how my current setup is, except I have a Linksys router that supports older devices and a 5th generation Express contacted to it that support any newer devices.

  • JD

    Terry,
    Unfortunately you just can’t have a dual band wireless device with good coverage without the antenna pointing in the right directions. The old Airport Express was developed when 802.11n did not even exist. Also you would not believe how many customer I have seen plugging the old Airport Express in a outlet under a wood or glass table.
    A) the wireless router should typically be around 4 to 6 ft from the ground to create a good wireless envelop.
    B) having the express under any wood table will kill your range.
    So I am glad Apple moved away from the old Airport Express. There is nothing to hate. It’s physics.

  • Spudly

    You complain about there not being a “gigabit” ethernet port. But, seriously there is really no need for one! No Internet connection you’re likely to find at a home or in a hotel is going to fill even a Standard Ethernet (10Base-T) connection, let alone Fast (100Base-T) and Gigabit (1000Base-T). On the wireless side, 802.11n has a theoretical max of 100 Mbps; dual band might get you 200Mbps – again far lower than even Standard Ethernet. So because this is not a hub (only one LAN ethernet port) we’d be well served with a Standard port…the Fast port Apple has included is, itself, overkill!

    So thank you Apple, this looks like a great product (though will miss the cordless design of yore)!

    • point taken.

    • Renza

      I live in Australia – a country not known for it’s high speed residential internet. My adsl connection is around 18 mbit though, almost double that of 10mbit ethernet connections. so explain again why a fast ethernet port is overkill?

    • Miki

      That’s a load of horsesh1t.
      1. We have internet connections exceeding the real-world throughput of 10Mbit ethernet (about 1MB/sec). Yes, the AE is 100M.

      BUT that’s not the important bit.

      An AE is an access point. And while your little world may be made up of a device and an internet, some of us have local networks. With content.

      Suppose I have a 3GB ISO file on my file server at home, that I want to copy to my macbook air.

      Streaming it through an airport express access point, under good wifi conditions, it gets 300Mbit to the mac, but has a mere 100Mbit pipe going to the wired network, bottlenecking the transfer and slowing it down by up to 3. If it’s a 30 minute transfer, that’s significant!

      (and yes, I realize that wifi usually won’t give over 50% of its advertised theoretical figures. Even at 50%, your 100Mbit uplink is a stupid bottleneck).

      It would have been fine if they said “Pay more for GbE. Buy an extreme”. But the extreme doesn’t have an audio server!

    • Rasmus

      I can’t believe someone writes this in 2012. I live in Finland, where 100 Mbps home connections are very common. In fact, mine is 110 Mbps. Not having Gigabit Ethernet means I can fully saturate a Fast Ethernet connection, which can in turn severely degrade streaming performance over the same cable, for example AirPlay audio. This is a real problem: my AirPlay audio simply starts to stutter if I download an HD video, for example.

  • Roger

    I bought 3 Airport Express a few months back, and they all have a second Ethernet jack and I use them. The one your showing isn’t the latest one before this update.

    • There is no AirPort “Express” prior to this model that has a second Ethernet port. If so I’d love to see a picture.

  • Scott Diussa

    Terry… I totally agree! The cord was my first thought when I saw it. Have you tried the plug adapter from your D7000 battery charger to see if it fits? That may be a quick solution. Just curious…

    • Scott! You’re a genius! Yes it does fit and work. Now can I get that in white? Just kidding πŸ™‚

    • Actually there is a problem. While the adapter does fit, it slightly blocks the WAN port making it a no go!

  • Hooray for Apple! All of us living in countries with asymmetric plugs will be grateful. The US style parallel plug means you can place the AX upside down for a power point very low to the floor. Australian plugs with their angled prongs were a non starter. You had to bring a powerboard on your travels in case hotels had their points low to the ground.

  • Steve Chavez

    It’s a little strange that they went with a larger design. I think it’s about cost unless the Apple Remote suddenly works with it… As for cost… Either you make an AppleTV more like an Old Style Airport Express… or you make the Airport Express more like the Apple TV. Less parts… more profit… more pricing flexibility in competing in price or reaping the benefits of raw demand. Cook is no fool…

  • Robert

    Terry,

    Thanks for your review.

    We all do know that we are able to stream music from iTunes on a Mac to multiple Airport Express at the same time. As well one could use the Remote App on an iOS device connected to an iTunes Mac to do so.

    Do you have any idea, if one could stream music simultaneously with the musicplayer from an iOS device such as iPhone or iPad to multiple new Airport Express?

    Thank you,
    Robert

    • iOS is still one AirPlay speaker at a time.

      • Robert

        Mmhh…seems to be the “I hate it” part of your headline to me πŸ™

  • Misha

    Can you tell me if the new AE can charge e.g. an iphone via the USB port? It was possible with the old B/G model, but it was limited on newer models.

    Thanks!

  • CN Sanford

    Can you use it as a WiFi extender (ie the WiFi is the WAN port) and use both the Ethernet ports for client devices? I would love to have a local hardwire Ethernet connection between my computer and my NAS server.

  • David

    Could someone confirm if I can use the same wireless network for my express with speakers and for my iPad? I have my express on a separate wifi network and not physically connected to my modem/router. So am having to change back and forth between networks when I want to use my iPad on wifi and then my airport/speakers…this is the way I was advised to set up….had some initial problems…thanks!????????

    • Yes, you can set up the AirPort Express (any model) to join an existing network OR Extend and existing network so that you get AirPlay AND internet access.

      • David

        Thanks..do u think I should reset the express first?

        (The ?s are emoticons gone wrong)

        • David

          Ok I solved it…really cool that I have extended my network at same time…thought express had to be connected to the router via Ethernet to do this…so it wasn’t my top priority, but turns out I have got it as well anyway!

  • Robin

    Hi. I bought an Airport Express for my trip to Japan and found it worked perfect in some hotels and not in others. It is probably just my lack of IT knowledge. The two hotels where it didn’t work were the most expensive and they had their WiFi password protected. One hotel in Kumamoto loaned routers and gave out passwords and the other hotel in Tokyo seemed clueless but did give me number for their Internet provider who said she added the IP address of my Airport Express to the hotel’s server and it started working. So I was able to have WiFi in all 5 hotels and none of them had WiFi in their hotel rooms only wired internet connections. To me it was well worth the $106.92 I paid for the Airport Express.

  • Greg

    Will this new airport express work with the older one that is N capable?
    I assume it will but probably will not play nice with the older airport express that is G only.

  • Tuan

    Hi,

    Currently I have an Airport Extreme Base station which I use as a main unit, I have an old router (Linksys WRT54G) which I have set it up as a ‘Repeater Bridge’ mode.

    The AEBS (Airport Extreme Base Station) is currently act as a main AP and the linksys is the client. One thing I have notice is that if I were to be far away from the primary AP and be within range of the Linksys AP I still get weak signal. (The primary AP is two rooms away from the client AP)

    My question is, shouldn’t the client AP boost up the signal and increase the signal range and extend my network from where I have placed the client AP?

    • Yes, if you have it setup that way. Airport Base Stations can simply join a network or “extend” them.

  • Doug

    Methinks there’s a market for 3″ power cables

  • Jake Saunders

    Can is extend a wifi signal coming from a non apple router such as a netgear router

    Thanks

  • stephen

    Hey Terry,

    Tell me about your experiences using Airport Express with a non Apple wireless router. I have Verizon Fios, installed about 5 months ago. The AE wouldn’t connect to the Wifi OR a hard wire. So I disabled the wireless on the fios router and am using my Cisco E2000. Airport express connects but not for long. It disconnects all the time and to the point where I want to just drop it in the garbage. Any suggestions?

    Running the Latest Mountain Lion, Airport Utility and I Tunes.

    Warm Regards,
    Stephen

    • I’ve used the AirPort Express units connected to variety of routers with Ethernet and without any issues.

  • adam

    I am abroad for 2 months and cannot get internet without signing a contract, which they don’t offer for two months. I live above two restaurants and can pick up their wifi, but it is spotty at best. There is one small part of my apartment that gets a full signal all the time, but it is in the corner of my hallway. MY QUESTION, can I put a Airport express in this corner to pick up the signal and “boost” the signal to work down the hall in my living room?

    Thanks!

    • AirPort base stations extend other AirPort base stations. Not 3rd party routers or hot spots.