Viewed purely as a router, the AirPort Express would be hard to justify. Its price is higher than our current bargain buy, the D-Link DIR-645, and it cannot match its wireless range, performance or vast array of advanced networking features. In addition it lacks Gigabit Ethernet and support for the newer and much faster 802.11ac standard that is already beginning to hit the market.
That said, in a secondary role as a wireless signal extender the AirPort Express is a great success. Its design is both practical and discrete, it adds a welcome boost to areas of the home with weak signal or dead spots and the ability to bring AirPlay and AirPrint to any bog standard audio system or printer respectively is hugely appealing.
It is also significant that both integrated AirPlay and AirPrint add significant premiums to their respective devices (in the case of the former often more than the AirPort Express's £79 RRP) and this is lost when you come to upgrade. With an AirPort Express you buy the device you want and simply plug it in.
The 2012 AirPort Express is a hard device to score. On the surface it is an incremental upgrade to a four year old product which doesn't include support for either 802.11ac or Gigabit Ethernet and both wireless performance and range are average at best. On the flip side it works brilliantly as a wireless extender and adds AirPrint to any printer and AirPlay to any stereo/dock – both of which work superbly. As such there is little reason to upgrade from a 2008 unit, but for those looking to buy their first AirPort Express we find it impossible not to recommend.