Apple Airport Express: A WiFi Hotel Room Network.

As I mentioned in my review of the Airport Express, I bought it solely for the purpose of using Airtunes to stream my upstairs computer with my downstairs living room stereo. It does so flawlessly.

However, since I knew I as going on vacation I mentioned that I would bring the AE along and see about using it as a wireless network in my hotel room. I did just that, and here are my thoughts on it.

First, since there’s only one Ethernet jack at the hotel, there’s a sort of “chicken and egg” dilemma. I can’t plug the AE into the jack first because the network is not yet established (have to pay the fee and login). But if I plug the MacBook in then how do I get the AE involved?

The answer is that you’ll plug the MacBook into the AE and configure it as you need to (even though there’s no Internet to share at that point), and then plug the AE into the established Internet connection.

While I did not take extensive notes or screenshots (sue me, I was on vacation!), the process went something like this:

  1. Plug the MacBook into the Ethernet jack and establish the hotel’s connection. In the case of the Disney hotel this involved agreeing to their fee, and then calling the front desk to get the login code required. At this point I have high-speed Internet access, but it’s strictly terrestrial.
  2. Plug the MacBook into the AE and use Airport Utility to find it (via Ethernet) and configure it as a Bridge. You’re establishing a wireless network to the AE whose sole purpose is to “bridge” wirelessly whatever terrestrial network you’ll plug into it. You name the wireless network (I called it “Disney”) and establish a password, but as a Bridge it doesn’t really need any other information than that.
  3. Plug the AE into the Ethernet jack and use Airport Utility to find it again (this time via airport and the “Disney” network). In my case it was flashing yellow and prompted me to either create a new network or use it as a Bridge. I chose the latter and the light went green. I was in business!

This worked flawlessly for the entire week at the hotel with the MacBook, two iPhones and an iPod touch.

While this is a happy story for Apple, it’s not one for Disney. Their “high-speed” Internet was a joke. I had a great EDGE connection on the iPhones and sometimes it seemed to work as well as the WiFi did on the MacBook and iPod touch. This was not related to WiFi, since even when plugged directly into the Ethernet port the speed was the same. And Disney wanted $10 a day for this!

Back at home, I plugged the AE back into my stereo, then had to switch the MacBook to the “Disney” network (it couldn’t find it on my home network), and reconfigure it as I had done in my original review — putting it back on my home network in the process.

There was a time I lived on the road, spending more time in hotels than I did my own place. I don’t do so any more, but taking the AE on any road trip seems a no-brainer to me. I really liked the way it worked.

Music In the Air: My New Apple Airport Express.

Picked up an Airport Express today. This thing has intrigued me ever since it was introduced. Not because it’s a super small and convenient device for creating a high-speed WiFi network — complete with Internet and print sharing. And not because it can also serve as an inexpensive bridge for extending an existing wireless network.

No, what appealed to me about it was AirTunes: The ability to stream music. In other words, to plug into a powered stereo and make those speakers appear “remote” to a copy of iTunes on any Mac or PC on the same network.

Today I finally made good on my desire to get one. My iMac is in a second-floor corner of the house, and the living room stereo is in the opposite corner on the first floor. I wanted to stream my tunes to the living room.

Pretty simple setup:

  1. Plug in the cables you’ll use. (In my case a 3.5 mm jack audio cable terminating in standard RCA plugs.)
  2. Plug the device into the outlet.
  3. Use Airport Utility to set it up.

At step two, the unit ended up flashing yellow, which means something is “wrong”. You’re supposed to use the Airport Utility to find out what, but it would not find my device.

Well, duh! The iMac connects to my Time Capsule via Ethernet, and I had shut off its Airport. Of course, without Airport it can’t see the Airport Express. Anyway, I turned it on, it found the device, and the two “yellow” errors were A) I had nothing in the Ethernet plug (this was intentional, so I ignored the error), and B) letting me know it had nothing but defaults — didn’t I want to set it up?

I did indeed. Unlike the Time Capsule, which I setup manually, for the Express I used the automated approach. First, name the device and give it a password. Then specify that I’ll connect to an existing network — select the network and login. That’s all there is to it; the light is green.

I launched iTunes, and on the Advanced panel in Preferences turned on the option to have it look for remote speakers:


A new drop down appears at the bottom of the iTunes window that list ‘Computer’ and any Airport Express’ names:


I select the Express, then turn my stereo system source to ‘CD’ and the music plays smoothly, beautifully. I can even control the volume via iTunes from upstairs (you can disable this feature).

The ‘Multiple Speakers’ option lets you select from among all the devices in the menu. In my case it means I can play the same music on the iMac and downstairs stereo simultaneously. You could have a house full of these things and play the same music throughout the house. Pretty cool.

To take my setup a step further, I’d like to control this from the MacBook as well. However, the MacBook has only a tenth of the music the iMac has. No problem. I use the Sharing panel in iTunes Preferences on the iMac to share my entire library:


On the MacBook I use the same panel to have it look for shared libraries. Now I just select whatever tunes I want from the shared library, select the Express, and I’m in business.

This is really sweet. The MacBook is serving as the “middle man” to receive music from the iMac and then stream it to the Express. All over WiFi. Perfect!

I’m going on vacation in a couple weeks and plan on taking the Express to use as my own WiFi hot spot at the hotel. I’ll report back on how it serves that purpose, but right now it’s doing exactly what I bought it for.