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What You Get

The Airport Express itself. An installation guide and an installation CD.

Price: $129

System Requirements

A Macintosh computer with an AirPort Extreme Card or AirPort Card. Minimum MacOS required is 10.2.7 but 10.3 is highly preferred.

Airport Express

By Bryan Schultz

It finally came! After ordering in mid-June and realizing about a week later that shipment would not occur until July, my excitement level has been on hold until I saw the little brown box appear on my desk at work. Surprisingly, The "APEx" was shipped directly from "TW" (Taiwan I think) on July 15th – And was sitting on my desk on the 16th. Ahhh, technology and transport advancement!

So, here I sit. At my desk anxiously waiting for work to finish to see how this little baby is going to help my home network.

First Glance:
Tightly wrapped corrugated cardboard surrounds the box. I carefully cut away the shipping box to reveal a flat white and baby blue box that is no bigger than the standard Apple mouse box that came with the wireless mouse I purchased this spring. I tip the box and let the instructions and APEx slip into my hand. (Of course I gleefully smell the "woosh" of "new-gear-stink" as the APEx slips out. Not quite as overwhelming as the "new-gear-stink" you get from a new laptop coming out of the box – But enough that it will hold me until my "next big purchase!")

The unit itself is slightly larger than a standard white adapter "brick" that's been shipping with new Macs recently by perhaps a half inch or so. The APEx is easily transported in a briefcase or backpack for trips to the office and beyond. At this point, I'm ready to throw caution to the wind and in standard "geek" fashion I toss the instructions aside. Not being able to plug it in here at work is frustrating! So, I pick the manual back up. I leaf carefully through the instructions looking for one thing that's been on my mind. Sure I want to print and play music through the APEx. I know it will do that. But, the one question I want answered from the quick glance through the instructions yields no answer for me. "Will the APEx work with a wireless router that is not an AirPort Extreme base station? We'll find out. If not, for me – just being able to run around the house and print and listen to my music without being tethered is reward enough for the purchase.

What I want:
I bought this little wonder because I want to do three things:

  1. Print Wirelessly
    I have a studio where I print invoices on my Epson C80 for customers. But my printer is at my desk and I'd rather print without having to drag my laptop from my studio setup over to my desk just for one page.
  2. iTunes
    Thanks to technology and my best friend's wife Katie (Weller), I have become "enamored" with playing my music from my laptop. (This is a "gimme" that I know will be rewarded, too)
  3. Range Extension
    Putting "holes" in a wall is so "passé" for networking now. But, I need just a little more range on my existing 802.11g Belkin Base Station to get a good signal to my bedroom. Whether this will work, I do not know. But, we'll find out soon.

Finally! I'm home! Now for the good stuff. I immediately remove the AirPort from it's packaging. I then plug in my speakers and my Epson C80 Printer straight away (Boy, I hope the directions say to do this first!!). I pull the "install" CD hastily from the package and "place"(cram) the "CD" (Installation to Freedom!) In my 12" 1Ghz PB drive. The drive whirrs to life and the folder pops open and I've already clicked the install icon before my PB even slows down. Installation is 30 Megabytes. Mmmmm. Bigger than I thought but not unmanageable. Installation ends after about 2 minutes. I burrow to the utilities folder and double click on the "easy setup" icon for the Airport Express (I DID read this part whilst glancing through the installation instructions). After a few questions, the installer finds the Express and asks what I'd like to name it. I tap in my "typical" funny names (LittleBearNetwork) and click "continue". A few more routine questions and the installer disappears and I'm "left alone" with my new found "freedom".

So, I go for Safari. Hmmm… Doesn't seem to connect to the internet. (?) I go back to the utilities folder and click on the "Configure AirPort Router" icon. It finds "LittleBear" and I go to the configuration screen. (Wow, this thing is really a complete AirPort BaseStation in a tiny little package. There's settings for everything just like it's bigger siblings). In perusing the settings I find one VERY interesting thing that isn't found on the standard AirPort Base Stations. "Use this AirPort to:" And there's two questions: 1) "Create a Wireless Network" or 2) "Join an Existing Wireless Network". So, I select the latter. It asks the name of my 'already created' network. I type in the "typically funny name" (BearsDen) and save the configuration.

At this point the APEx appears to disappear from my configuration. That's strange. So, NOW it hits me. OH HO! I pull down the wireless settings on my laptop and rejoin the standard "BearsDen" network. I try Safari and it kicks in. Awesome! But, what about iTunes. I'd heard that you simply open iTunes 4.6 and you'll see a small icon selection in the lower right for what set of speakers you want to use. I do see it and I select "LittleBearSpeakers". Suddenly, Howard Jones "Hide & Seek" Springs to life from my speakers: "FROM ACROSS THE ROOM!!!!" NO WIRES! (This is really getting cool now!)

But, what about printing? I quickly open Word and type some ridiculous sentence just for something to print. I select 'Print…' from the file menu and…. Hmm… The C80 still has the little exclamation point by it so it's not recognized. Strange. So I select the printer list pull down menu and under the Rendezvous Setting – The C80 shows up. I select print. BAM – My document prints. Impressive! So, for 5 minutes worth of setup – I can now surf the net, print documents, and listen to my music all without leaving my easy chair. No wires. No fuss. No problem. I'm in Love!

One last test. Howard Jones is still playing through iTunes (And quite loudly I might add – Incidentally the volume control DOES work within iTunes); I need to print something. Something BIGGER. So, I open my 2003 tax return! (OK, I don't do the whole thing) I select the first 5 pages – full of text and start to print. And I lean to the speakers to listen for "artifact". Not a problem. Sound quality doesn't even burp. Well, the wait is over. I have my toy. Now what do I do?!

Excellent quality (in my impression). Solidly built. Impressive Features. Stellar packaging Easy setup. Must be an Apple!!!

Initial setup was very easy. Less than 10 minutes in fact. The unit has many selections for setting the Express up as a main router. But, in my configuration the Express integrates seamlessly into an existing (and partial PC) network. Essentially, the unit with a few selections turns itself into a print server/music speaker server box. An excellent investment even without range extension. There are password settings for access to the peripherals attached and encryption is also available.

I didn't notice any difference in sound quality while printing. I also looked very carefully at what I had printed. There was no change or artifact in the printed page as well. There is no difference in your results and your output acts as if your computer were attached to the peripherals themselves. Very nice.

One word of caution. This unit will not extend a network that does not use a REAL AirPort as it's primary router. (I edited some of my exploits because I DID try the APEx at work for a moment!) There is a setting if you want to extend your network where you may enter a "MAC address" (An absolute unique number integrated within every piece of electronic hardware ever made) and the AirPort Express will "tandem" with your Existing AirPort to make the range go further. When I decided to try this with my router at work, The APEx crashed and I had to "hard reset" it with the "pen-press" reset button.

Overall, I imagine if you really 'READ THE DIRECTIONS'(!) installation will occur without incident. But, if you're a 'geek' like me – You'll have this unit up and running in no time as well. I will really enjoy using this little wonder for a long time.

If you like the freedom of wireless technology, this unit will deliver the "final piece" to your puzzle to make your computing / printing / listening experience truly care-free and enjoyable.

Posted: Saturday, September 24th, 2005

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