Technically speaking, it's a kind of wall wart. That, trivia fans, is the correct name for anything that plugs into a mains socket and houses a body of electronics more complex than the usual three wires and a fuse you'd expect to see inside.
So, like it or not, Apple's second generation AirPort Express is a wall wart. It's an ugly name, though, for a device that remains so very elegant in design and purpose.
Just like its predecessor, it's an all-in-one wireless hub that adapts to fulfil the most suitable role in your home. If you have a broadband modem with Ethernet out, simply connect it to the AirPort Express to create a Wi-Fi network.
If you already have Wi-Fi, you can use the AirPort Express to extend its reach or act as an access point for any PC that doesn't have a built in transceiver. That means if your router is upstairs, you can plug this in on the ground floor to access the net from any PC.
For the most part, the latest AirPort Express is exactly the same as the original. The biggest change is that it now supports the faster Wi-Fi protocol, 802.11n – so it has a larger wireless range and can stream HD movies over the air seamlessly.
The two strongest selling points of the Express also remain. First up, there's a USB port that can be used to turn any standard desktop printer into a networked one, accessible from anywhere in the house.
Secondly, there's an audio-out jack that can be controlled by iTunes to stream any music from your library to anything at all that accepts a 3.5mm input jack – whether that's speakers, a stereo or even your TV.
Old school interface
The Airport Express is naturally compatible with everything Apple that has Wi-Fi built-in, right down to the iPod Touch, and works with Windows hardware, too.
The only real criticism is that to install it you need separate software installed on your Mac or PC: most routers these days have web-based set-up screens that mean you just navigate to an IP address for all the set-up options. Having to use a disc to get the AirPort Express feels rather quaint.
Otherwise its only other flaw is that in the UK, most people are on BT-style broadband connections, and there's no built-in ADSL modem included in the Express. Which means it may be superfluous to requirements in most cases.
Given how useful it can be in the right circumstances, though, it's amazing more manufacturers haven't picked up on its portable streaming and printing features. It may be a wall wart, but it's one callous you'll want to keep handy.
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