The five ideal customers for the new Apple AirPorts

Tempted to get one of the new AirPort products? Make sure you belong to one of these groups of consumers.

So pretty, the new AirPort devices make great gifts.
So pretty, the new AirPort devices make great gifts. Dong Ngo/CNET

Apple's new AirPort devices are major and excellent upgrades to their respective previous generations. Both devices are now much faster, much more compact, and prettier, too. You'll want to get one just for the nice design alone.

However, as mentioned in my previous post , they aren't perfect for everyone. To some extent, they are niche devices that work better for certain groups of users than for others.

With that in mind, if you find yourself belonging to one or more of these groups below, you'll more than likely be happy with the purchase of either the new AirPort Extreme Base Station or the new Time Capsule, or maybe even both.

1. The big spender
The biggest issue you'll likely find in the new AirPorts is their cost. The AirPort Extreme is slightly more expensive than other 802.11ac routers, and the Time Capsule costs significantly more than NAS drives of the same capacity. Moreover, you may also need to buy other devices to supplement the features that both of them lack.

For example, since none of the AirPorts supports media streaming, you can just get a dedicated NAS server for that purpose. Here's a current list of top NAS servers that are excellent for media streaming and offer a lot more. (The LaCie 5big NAS Pro's look goes very well with the AirPort's, by the way.) Note that most, if not all, new NAS servers support Time Machine backup natively. So if you go with a Time Machine-capable NAS, you'll want to pair it with the AirPort Extreme. The Time Capsule would just be redundant in that case.

Another example is if you want to add AirPlay to your home network, then also get yourself the second-generation AirPort Express, which is, for now, the only networking device that supports this music playback feature from Apple. (Get an Apple TV if you want video streaming as well.) And, of course, you can always buy a Gigabit switch to add more LAN ports to your AirPort's existing trio.

Not too happy about the AirPort having only three LAN ports? A Gigabit switch will take care of that nicely.
Not too happy about the AirPort having only three LAN ports? A Gigabit switch will take care of that nicely. Dong Ngo/CNET

2. The upgrader
If you've been using an older-generation AirPort and have been happy with it, then you'll have nothing but love for the new ones. They are now not only faster, but also more compact and attractive. And by faster, I don't mean just when you use 802.11ac-enabled clients, such as the new MacBook Air. Even existing 802.11n devices will likely see improvement, thanks to the new AirPorts' support for beamforming and better antenna design.

So what to do with the old AirPort? Other than giving it away or selling it on eBay, there are a few good reasons to hold onto it, too, especially if you live in a large house.

If it's an old AirPort Extreme, you can use it to extend your Wi-Fi network and add more network ports to your home network. In this case, it's best to place it far from the new AirPort and connect them via a network cable or a pair of power line adapters. Make sure you use the old device in the bridge mode to avoid the Double NAT error.

For an old Time Capsule, you can do all the above and still use it for Time Machine backup, too, should you get a new AirPort Extreme. And if you get a new Time Capsule, then you can use one for Time Machine backup and the other exclusively for data sharing. Note that you can set your Mac to back up to only one Time Capsule at a time.

And finally, if you're using an AirPort Express, keeping it is a must. This is the only way you can still enjoy AirPlay, since the new AirPorts don't support this feature. Better yet, now you can move it around more freely along with the speakers.

3. The fashion buff
If you value the style as much as functionality (or even more), then the new AirPorts are for you. In this case, they are the only options on the market for networking. They are like pieces of artwork with routing functionality and Wi-Fi (and storage, in the case of the Time Capsule) built in.

That said, either of the new AirPorts will blend in well in a boutique, high-end fashion or jewelry store, or a flower shop. You can put in the open without having your sense of style questioned. The truth is, you should put it out in the open, as a statement. (Owners of small stores with tight budgets, however, not to worry: it's totally fine to hide your Wi-Fi router under a desk.)

In other words, if you believe using a nice, expensive decanter makes the spirits inside taste better (I do, by the way), then the new AirPorts are the rare whiskey of home networking.

The new AirPort products have a lot more to offer Macs than they do Windows. Sharing data via the Internet is one example.
The new AirPort products have a lot more to offer Macs than they do Windows. Sharing data via the Internet is one example. Dong Ngo/CNET

4. The Mac enthusiast
This is the group that benefits the most from the new AirPorts. For one, all Macs come with AirPort Utility built in, so chances are you don't need to do anything to start using or managing your new router right away.

On top of that, both devices' functions are seamlessly integrated with Macs. For example, Time Machine will automatically and immediately find the Time Capsule's backup drive, and wireless backup routines will likely be much faster now. In the same network, the AirPort's shared storage space also automatically appears on Finder. And if you connected a supported printer to its USB port, that printer will also be available to all the Macs on the network, in most cases without your having to do anything. The best thing is that file and printer sharing are also available over the Internet when you enable the Back to My Mac on the AirPort.

On the other hand, things are a little more complicated if you use a Windows computer where you have to fiddle around to access the shared folder, and sharing over the Internet is not available at all.

All things considered, calling the new AirPorts Mac-centric is an understatement. Nonetheless, they are not strictly Mac-only devices. All Wi-Fi and wired clients can be part of a AirPort-powered network, regardless of their platforms. On the other hand, the new AirPorts are not the only router options for Macs users, either. Non-Apple devices will also work with Macs, too.

5. The gift shopper
Looking for a gift and not sure what to buy? Either of the new AirPorts will make an excellent present.

This is because generally folks don't need much when it comes to networking. I would say for most homes, the use of a Wi-Fi router involves mostly Internet sharing and wireless printing. And for these two purposes, the AirPort devices definitely deliver. And the ease-of-use makes them suitable for almost anybody.

That said, they are the only easy gift choice among all networking devices, and you almost can't go wrong with either. And they are appropriate for most special occasions, be it a birthday, Christmas, housewarming, Mother's or Father's Day, or for right now, to send your kid back to school. And the nice packaging and the great design also make them the most gift-ready among all network devices I've seen.

Now if you're still worried that your special someone doesn't know how to use the device or might already have another router, then he or she will have a pleasant experience returning it at an Apple Store, where it can be exchanged for other equally pretty things. Just make sure you include a gift receipt.

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About the author

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

 

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