Setting up the Apple AirPort Express is a breeze. In the four years that have passed since the 2008 unit, Apple has evolved iOS and Mac OS X dramatically and a simple setup wizard will see you go to wireless settings, select the AirPort Station, select 'create a new network' and be on your way. A Windows client is also available, but it is interesting that the slickest method is now iOS (a sign of where Apple's priority lies?) where the AirPort Utility app's touch UI is both simple and intuitive.
For more advanced users there is the option to access the DNS servers, manage IP addresses, DHCP reservations and port mappings, as well as configure base stations for IPv6 and set up guest networks with limited access, but for the majority of owners it is virtually a case of plug and play.
As a Wi-Fi router there is no beating about the bush: we've seen better. We hit peak transfer speeds of just 5.9 megabytes per second (47.2Mbit) at one metre and this dropped off dramatically to 1.1MB per second (8.8Mbit) at a distance of 10 metres with two walls in-between. Both figures are roughly half what we have seen compared to dedicated routers like the D-Link DIR-645 SmartBeam and Linksys EA4500.
The sizeable caveat is, we suspect, the vast majority will use the AirPort Express as a wireless signal extender, rather than a dedicated router, and in this regard it is ideal for stretching your wireless network to cover previous dead spots.
AirPlay and AirPrint
Furthermore, when it comes to the AirPort Express's party trick - AirPlay – it is exceptional. Connecting a 3.5mm cable between your stereo/dock and the AirPort Express turns it into an AirPlay speaker and one that streams both more quickly and more reliably than any audio device we have seen with integrated AirPlay.
Delays (the biggest curse of AirPlay) between starting music and hearing it is just two to three seconds compared with the five or more seconds commonly witnessed on premium docks like the Klipsch Gallery G-17 and Audyssey Dock Air. When combined with the seamless connection (it skipped just once in a day's playback) and the fact this functionality can be swapped from device to device, the Apple AirPort Express is very desirable indeed. (Note: AirPlay output can be added to Windows via Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil software).
It is a similar story with AirPrint. Printers with integrated AirPrint are rare and expensive so bringing the ability to wirelessly print to any printer from your Mac or iOS device is welcome. Of course wireless printing is an option many routers provide, but not from iOS.