Apple AirPort Express (2012) Lightning Review: Probably the Best Router EverS

It's hard to have significant feelings about a router—it's supposed to just work and shut up, or not. But no router has ever just worked and shut up like Apple's newest AirPort—a white inch closer to networking perfection.

What Is It?

A fast, $100, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n wireless router with built-in AirPlay support.

Who's it For?

Anyone who wants a good and inexpensive router that works very well and doesn't require occult chants and mechanical diagrams to configure. Which should be everyone.

Design

You might miss the old design, which swankily plugged straight into your wall outlet. Apple's discarded it for near-flawless minimalism. It's a tiny snow white box with a single soft light.

Using It

Unlike most gadgets, you don't ever want to have to use your router. It should just sit there, beaming internets around your house. This is that router. Any changes you need to make are easy with the AirPort Utility app.

The Best Part

Wanna futz around with NAT settings or IPv6 DNS server configuration? Go ahead—behind the minimalism, there's a ton of customization, should you need it. This is a powerful router—and hey, it can turn any sound system in your house into an AirPlay music system.

Tragic Flaw

The range and speed afforded by the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands are terrific, but if you live in a large house, you might need an extender.

This Is Weird...

The new Express' range is about the same as the old model—not much improvement, if any at all.

Test Notes

Internet downstream speed with both a MacBook Air and iPhone 4S were better on the new Express: 26.8 Mb/sec vs. 19.74 Mb/sec and 23.34 vs. 15.67, respectively. Speedtest.net was used and the results averaged, with the MBA running on the 5 GHz band and the iPhone via 2.4 GHz.

Network transfer speeds were significantly speedier on the new Express—almost by a factor of four. A 1.65 GB file, transferred between two MacBook Airs, took about 20 minutes using the old Express, but only six with the 2012 model. Being able to ride the 5 GHz spectrum, which provides a huge speed boost at closer distances, is fantastic—and you can let the rest of your devices drive along the 2.4 GHz lane without having to muddle everything together with slow compatibility modes, as was the problem with previous models.

Should You Buy It?

Absolutely—this thing is pretty, fast, wonderfully simple, and appropriately capable. Unless you're a mega-power networker with a need for intricate customization, or are put off by the less sophisticated Windows version of AirPort Utility, the 2012 Express is the ultimate buy it and never think about it again object—and for a router, that's the ultimate praise.

Apple AirPort Express

• Output: One ethernet port, 802.11a/b/g/n, Optical/Analog audio-out for AirPlay speaker connectivity
• Simultaneous users: 50
• Printer sharing: Yes, via USB
Networking features NAT, DHCP, PPPoE, VPN Passthrough (IPSec, PPTP, and L2TP), DNS Proxy, SNMP, IPv6 (6to4 and manual tunnels)
• Weight: 8.5 ounces
• Size: 3.9 inches by 3.9 inches by 0.9 inch
• Price: $100
• Gizrank: 4.5 stars