Monday, April 21, 2008

My first (clumsy) Apple Store purchase: Airport Extreme (N)

While most readers will know that I am far from being a MacOS convert (though I do appreciate the fact that MacOS X is now Unix-like, as opposed to proprietary previous versions), I do actually own Apple products:

An older (B/G) Airport Express, which I originally bought (not at an Apple Store, but [I think] at Fry's) because I'd read it could extend my Linksys-powered home wireless network, but then saw extensive use with AirTunes first by the developers at Voce, then by me at home;

An iPod shuffle, given to all Voce employees at Christmas 2006, which saw heavy use as my PMP until succeeded by my BlackJack II (see my previous post).

However mildly unenthused I may otherwise be about Apple, kudos to them for one of the least expensive and most user-friendly implementations of 802.11n, namely the latest generation of Airport.

As my first step into the 802.11n world, I went on April 5 to my local Apple Store and got an Airport Extreme (N) and another (newer) Airport Express (N).

First, for your amusement, a description of this first-ever visit to an Apple Store (I'd walked by, of course, making various gestures): I'd read the reviews and made my mind up, so I just had to pick up one of each and pay. Due to the well-laid-out store, the former was easy. The latter is where I came out as a clumsy Apple newbie. I looked this way and that for the cashiers. After two full rotations, a salesperson came over and asked if I needed help. 'Yes, where is the checkout, please?' 'Here on my belt!' and produced a small hand-held touch-screen POS. I didn't examine it too closely, but it was clearly neither an iPhone nor an iPod touch. It would be sweet irony if it were a Windows-Mobile-powered Pocket PC. 'Would you like your receipt printed, or emailed, or both?' 'Both please, apple(at)' At first, the same blank stare as when Borders cashiers look up my Borders Rewards account by its email address borders[at] Catch-all email isn't quite catching on, pun intended. Finally, I couldn't figure out how to carry the bag. Once I did, I thought it was a really cool bag.

Now the reviews:

Airport Extreme: Setting this up was simplicity itself. It was never going to be my main router (nor indeed even route); I was going to just use it as an ethernet switch and 802.11n(-only) access point. The configuration wizard had a 'path' for precisely this need. I soon added a USB hard drive, which it also then quickly and easily (but securely) shared out. Fortunately, it exposes any drive[s] as Samba shares, so you don't even have to have the Airport software installed to use them (but if you do have it installed, it thoughtfully automatically maps them for you).

Airport Express: Since I didn't have anything else supporting 802.11n (though I'll soon upgrade the internal cards in my laptops), and I didn't want the Extreme to be like the first person who had a telephone, I also got an Express. This is where the wheels came off (a little). I configured it to join the Extreme's new N-only network, and after it updated and rebooted, it had the happy green light, but could be seen by neither the configuration utility nor AirTunes on computers on the separate (but all-bridged-together) G network unless the Extreme was in N(G-compatible) mode. But I wanted the Extreme on 5Ghz (N5 or N[A-compatible]) mode (to take advantage of the less-crowded new airspace), so I gave up and joined it to my existing Linksys-powered G network. Otherwise, it works great, just like my Express 'G' I know and love. It even accounts for latency, it seems: I tried sending audio from iTunes (via 'Multiple Speakers') to the new Express, connected to my stereo, the old Express, connected to a pair of computer speakers, and my laptop's internal speakers, and the audio at all three was in lock-step. Whole-house audio, anyone? I admit a little disappointment at the N-vanishing issue, but still, it's a killer product, with a new feature I might eventually use, for no more than the original cost.

I recommend them both.


Jake of All Trades said...

Love this:

"(I'd walked by, of course, making various gestures)"

Whole house audio is great. For doing the same with any system audio (not just iTunes), check out Airfoil (in both Mac and Windows flavors). I use it for whole house baseball games via

BoRyan said...

Cool! We now have a good product reviewer on our site.

I look forward to the review when you finally decide to make the plunge and actually buy an Apple computer.

I think this blog has slowly been converting from Windows to Apple.

Neil Anderson said...

Apple's implementation and cost for 802.11n is amazing. If it were a Cisco it'd be $1000 and have less features.