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REVIEW: Apple AirPort Express
Posted by Arne Hess - on Wednesday, 04.08.04 - 23:17:39 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 26022x
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Today - after a long time of waiting - I received my previously ordered Apple AirPort Express Wi-Fi access point.

Apple's AirPort Express is interesting for several reasons:

  • If you are a traveler or you want/need to create wireless networks (supporting both IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g aka Wi-Fi b and Wi-Fi g) abroad, it might be one of the handiest Wi-Fi base station available out there.
  • For sure you can also create a wireless network in your home, then connect to the Internet and share the connection with up to ten computers simultaneously. An entire family can be connected to the Internet at the same time. since it supports several WAN access methods like PPP or PPPoE.
  • Extend the range of your network by adding AirPort Express to your existing AirPort Extreme or AirPort Express wireless network (this is called a Wireless Distribution System, or WDS and not sure if this is also working with non-Apple Wi-Fi equipment).
  • Additionally you can connect AirPort Express to your home stereo or powered speakers and use AirTunes to play your iTunes music on your home stereo from a PC or Macintosh wireless enabled computer.
  • And if you plan to use it at home as well as while traveling (for instance in hotel rooms which have a LAN connections) You create custom profiles so you can store settings for up to five different locations.
  • Last but not least connect a USB printer to your AirPort Express. All of the computers on the AirPort Express network can print to it.

What's in the Box?
Apple Airport Express comes with the access point, a CD-ROM with some configuration utilities and the multi-language manuals.

AirPort Express has three ports, located on the bottom side:

  • From left to right: Ethernet port for connecting a DSL/cable modem or for connecting to an existing Ethernet network.
  • Analog and optical digital audio stereo mini-jack for connecting AirPort Express to a home stereo or powered speakers.
  • USB port for connecting a compatible printer to AirPort Express

Next to the ports is a reset button, which is used for troubleshooting your AirPort Express. The status light on the side of AirPort Express shows the current status, the different status the light can indicate are as follows:

  • Light is Off = AirPort Express is unplugged
  • Light is Flashing green = AirPort Express is starting up
  • Light is Solid green = AirPort Express is on and working properly
  • Light is Flashing yellow = AirPort Express may be out of range, or there may be a problem with your Internet service provider

Configure AirPort Express
To setup AirPort Express you either need a wireless enabled Windows PC or Macintosh computer and Apple's AirPort Express Utility and Assistant which comes with the CD-ROM. This is the single utility to configure all your AirPort Express settings (e.G access method like DSL or exsisting LAN, security features like WEP or MAC address filtering, etc).

Connect with the LAN/Internet
If you have configured everything proper, the new settings are transfered wireless back to the AirExpress access point and you can start to use your wireless connection from your Windows XP PC (or any other wireless enabled computer):

And on Pocket PCs it looks like this:

The good news is - that the Apple AirPort Express is also 100 % compatible with the SanDisk SD card, widely used with  Pocket PCs like with the HTC Himalaya.

Using AirPort Express With AirTunes to play iTunes music on your Stereo
Probably the coolest aspect of the AirPort Express is the fact that it allows you to connect a stereo and use AirTunes to wirelessly play music from iTunes which would looks like this:

I haven't given the configuration above a try yet but will do it latest on weekend - together with my Windows XP Media Center Remote Control. But from the user manual it seems to be a piece of cake to configure it.

Using AirPort Express to share a USB Printer
If you have a USB enabled printer (which I don't have) and you want to share it with your W-LAN connected PCs or Notebooks you connect the printer to your AirPort Express and all the computers on the wireless network can print to it:

Final Conclusion

Apple's AirPort Express is a fantastic piece of hardware for several reasons: it's small enough to be easily carried in your luggage or office bag, it includes a lot of useful features from LAN access to DSL access on one side while it is distributing the WAN access wireless through 802.11b and g on the other side.
It can be used as a printer hub for USB enabled printers (which most of the modern printers are) and last but not least you can listen your music collection wireless in every room of your house (as long as it is covered through your W-LAN).
So what else do your need? Well, it doesn't allows you to connect PCs through a wire and therefore it can not be the first choice for professional home users who wants to connect several and Notebooks in a small LAN but it's good enough for users who want to connect one, two or even three wireless enabled Notebooks with the Internet and each other.

Since it also includes a DHCP server - which means you don't have to fiddle with IP addresses but everything works from itself - it's pretty easy to use if you have basic IP and wireless knowledge.
A downside is the way how to configure the access point. You need a dedicated software which have to run on the PC you want to use for configuration. Most other access points allows to use a web browser instead where you have to enter the standard IP address only. This is much more convenient since you don't have to install any additional software and you can basically use every available PC or even Pocket PC. Since there is no software available for the Pocket PC it means for you - if you take the AirPort with you while traveling - that you have to preconfigure it proper because there's no chance to change any settings if you have your Pocket PC with you only! This might limit the portability of AirPort Express and something you have to keep in mind if you decided to buy it to make your Pocket PC more connected!

Anyway - beside this (which might be a heavy downside for potential users) - AirPort Express is a perfect tool for road-warriors, home users or simply gadget geeks. ;-)
When I was in Seattle last time, I took my Microsoft access point with me to make the Wi-Fi connection in the room wireless to provide me more flexibility where to use my Notebook and Pocket (on the desk, in the bed or even in the neighbor room) and while the Microsoft AP was fine to use there - it is definitely too bulky. Next time, the AirPort Express will do the same job with less weight in my luggage and therefore I already like it!

AirPort Express can be ordered from the local Apple Online Shop website for around US$ 129.00 and is worth every Cent (even if I don't believe to see a Pocket PC client ever).

Cheers ~ Arne

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