Let’s start small(er). The AirPort Express is a square, white device approximately the length and width of a grown-up’s palm and the thickness of an ice-cream sandwich. On one smooth side is a cable modem jack, a USB port and an audio jack (for the optional AirPort Express Stereo Connection Kit); insert the appropriate cords into the appropriate slots, plug the AirPort Express (which contains a universal AC adapter) into an outlet, and behold the wonders: Sit down to your laptop within 50 feet of the AirPort Express, and with a DSL or cable connection, you’ll enjoy 802.11g at 54 Mbps. For those with the luxury of a larger space, sit up to 150 feet away and you’ll still enjoy a speedy connection at a rate of 11 Mbps. Plug your printer into the USB port and you can print from your seat on the couch. (Even though you’ve been doing this for years at work, the first time you print from down the hall at home is outrageously liberating; believe me). In a SoHo environment, up to 10 users can enjoy these capabilities at once.
With the addition of a 1/8-inch headphone jack-to-RCA splitter (Apple offers its Stereo Connection Kit with Monster Cables for $39), the pièce de résistance of the AirPort’s offerings is its ability to play your entire iTunes library through your sound system’s speakers—just connect your system to the audio port on the AirPort Express with the audio cable in the kit. So long, Muzac. (I’ve also noticed several restaurants in my Brooklyn neighborhood already putting this to good use from the hostess podium.)
With the AirPort Extreme Base Station—which is saucer-sized and looks like a smooshed, white, Hershey’s kiss—you get all of the above, only more. Designed for a slightly larger group, it can simultaneously accommodate up to 50 Mac and Windows PC users accessing 802.11g at 54 Mbps—nearly five times faster, says Apple, than the 802.11b standard. And with the Base Station’s range-extending connector, you can extend coverage beyond the standard 150-foot range. Additionally, both models of the AirPort Extreme have an RJ-45 connector for a built-in 10/100BASE-T Ethernet connection, which lets you connect to broadband. One model also has an RJ-11 connector for 56K modem for dial-up connections.
The AirPort Express with AirTunes is priced at $129, and the AirPort Extreme Base Station (with modem and antenna port) at $199—neither of which likely exceeds the monthly water cooler cost alone at one of those now closed corporate offices.