October 31, 2004

Fourth Generation Wi-Fi Locator Device

You know Wi-Fi has already arrived when a fourth Wi-Fi finder/detector/seeker/locator is set for release in the coming week. Just when I was about to order the Wi-Fi Seeker, along comes news of the Hawking Technology HWL1 802.11b/g WiFi Locator.

Before I go into the details, here's a brief recap of the Wi-Fi detector devices to date:

1) First there was the Kensington WiFi Finder, which generally received mediocre reviews and feedback from users. (Hint to Kensington: Update your product web page -- it's definitely not the "only WiFi detector on the market today", and hasn't been for nearly a year.) Approx. Price: $30.

2) Next on the scene was Smart ID Technology's WiFi Detector, which received favorable reviews. However, like the Kensington device, its large size (about that of a deck of playing cards) was a drawback. Approx. Price: $25.

3) The third generation arrived in the Wi-Fi Seeker (aka WiFi Spy and PCTEL WiFi Seeker), which garnered much applause for its ability to filter out extraneous 2.4GHz signals from cordless phones, microwaves, and other non-WiFi devices. A Tom's Networking review also gave it high marks. It also picks out the Wireless Access Point and ignores other wireless network client devices, such as other wireless cards in "Ad Hoc" mode. It's the smallest of the bunch, is extremely quick at signal detection, and can be attached to your key ring for easy access. As I mentioned, I was just about to get this one (and I still might). Approx. Price: $30.

4) Now, the fourth generation looms: Hawking Technology is set to release the HWL1 802.11b/g WiFi Locator. It too has signal filters to discern Wi-Fi from unwanted 2.4GHz signals, such as Bluetooth, cordless phones and microwaves. Styled and sized like a flip cell phone, its gimmick is a flip-up high-gain directional antenna which is supposed to help you home in on the source to obtain a better Wi-Fi signal. Even with the flip-phone styling, it's 3.6 inches long and fairly thick -- so it's back to the larger designs of the first two entrants. Details are found in its PDF Datasheet. Approx. Price: $35.

I thought most, if not all, of these devices were directional, but I'd need to confirm that. The continuing shortcoming of these devices is that they do not indicate the Wi-Fi network's SSID name, encryption status, or channel usage -- with the first two being the most important. So if you're in an area with overlapping wireless networks, you'll still need to do some sleuthing with a program like NetStumbler or asking for network information. But looking at the last two entrants, it's definitely getting much better. Like others, I prefer the small size of the Wi-Fi Seeker, so the Hawking device will really need to perform well to steal any thunder.

[Thanks to Gizmodo for the Hawking link.]

[Update 1.16.05: Since this post, I've reviewed and compared the WiFi Seeker (#3 above) and the HWL1 802.11b/g WiFi Locator (#4 above). Overall, I prefer using the WiFi Seeker (which is marketed under several different brand names). My review details my experiences with both, and the reasons why I prefer the WiFi Seeker device.]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard