Apple's Time Capsule saw a refresh in the recent bunch of updates from Apple, adding a clutch of new features to a device we already like. The Time Capsule name is perhaps a little misleading, as it leads you think is merely a backup device, but it has a much wider appeal.
The Time Capsule conveniently wraps up a number of networking features into one device, potentially saving you a great deal of hassle. First up, it features a hard drive, either 500GB or 1TB, giving you a fair amount of storage to backup your Mac or PC.
It also takes the AirPort Extreme Base Station networking functions and bundles them into the same box. In this case you now have simultaneous dual band options, so your newer devices can connect at the faster 5GHz band used by 802.11n, while also allowing your other devices featuring 2.4GHz 802.11b/g to connect at the same time on that band.
You also get three Ethernet connections, so you can connect up a collection of other devices and use the Time Capsule as a network hub.
Users in the UK will immediately notice that there is no DSL modem included here, so you'll need to connect to an existing modem, be it DSL or cable. This might lead to a duplication of networking functions for some if you have your own router already, but if you had a bundled cable or DSL modem router as part of your broadband deal, at least you know that everything beyond there is consistent should you opt for a Time Capsule, because it will be yours.
Setting up the Time Capsule out of the box is very straightforward. You get various options depending on what you want to achieve, be it integrating into an existing wired or wireless network or setting up a new network with or without wireless networking as well as providing an internet connection.
Configuration was complete in a few minutes and subsequent changes are relatively simple, so you can easily adapt things as your situation changes, or you decide to try different things, although it will often ask for a restart after changing settings which is a bit of a bore.
We were satisfied that we could integrate the Time Capsule into an existing network and still get access through it to other network drives, although that did get a little slow. Once setup, it is worth locking down the settings so no one is tempted to tinker and confuse the system.
Designed to work seamlessly with Time Machine, establishing a backup routine takes pretty much no effort at all. Backup then takes place in the background hourly, ensuring you are pretty much always protected. The first backup will probably take you a long time, so is worth doing overnight on a wired connection. Subsequent backups are incremental and hourly, so work wirelessly without too much of a problem.
Time Machine doesn't have very many options however. It's convenient as a catch all, but doesn’t give you the range of options that are common on third-party PC backup solutions (anything, anywhere, anytime). You do have the option to disable Time Machine when on battery, an option we like, because if you just open your Mac for a quick browse the backup doesn’t suddenly kick in.
The actual Time Machine restore option is rather elegant, perhaps a touch over-done, dropping the content off your screen to reveal a timeline stretching into space, where you can select a time point to restore. It can be a little slow to navigate, but it is great to open a folder in Finder and then step back in time to find whatever it was that you recently obliterated.
The Time Capsule also features a USB connection which will allow you to connect a USB printer so you can print without having to physically connect yourself – great in a sharing environment. Alternatively you can connect another hard drive to this USB connection, expanding your options for storage, perhaps for your portable image or movie gallery.
The on the Wi-Fi front we found that the signal strength was great too: the old Windows PC that we tested with the Time Capsule had no problem accessing the g band where it was previously out of range of our existing (albeit old) Belkin wireless router.
One of the new features included with this version of the Time Capsule is the ability to set up a guest network. This means that you can have password protected internet access available for visitors without opening up your entire network to them. It's probably a niche function, but might appeal to small business users.
Users of the MobileMe service also get the option to access the disc remotely after a quick entry of username and password.
Like all Apple products, the Time Capsule has been designed with a simple minimalist look: a white shiny box, with a chromed logo on the top. The front features a single colours LED that will display that the Time Capsule is connected. Measuring 197 x 197 x 36.3mm it is certainly one of the most elegant backup drives on the market. The base is rubbery, so when put on a desk it will stay put and the spinning of the drive won't cause any vibrations, although it is designed to lie flat and some may wish to mount it vertically to reduce the footprint – as you can with pretty much every other router or hard drive.
It is relatively quiet too, although you will be able hear it purring away when there is disc activity and when it stops, you'll hear a distinct wind-down as the disc slows to a halt – sounds that you sometimes don't hear in other external drives because it is obscured by the cooling fan. No such problem here and perhaps as a result the Time Capsule does run hot.
Out of the box, like most Apple products, the Time Capsule is a breeze to use, providing a convenient backup and networking hub in one package. However, this does start to look a little expensive if you already have many of these functions in an existing router, with the 1TB option being well overpriced.
Time Machine provides a simple safe guard which most will appreciate, although we'd like to see more in the way of options here, and it is a shame that the same goodness isn't extended to Windows users.