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Burney's Legal Tech Reviews - Burney's Gadgets for Legal Pros - Two Wonderful WiFi Widgets: A Wireless LAN Adaptor and a WiFi De

By Brett Burney, Published on January 19, 2004

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com's Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal technology questions.

Two Wonderful Wi-Fi Widgets

If you haven’t become enamored with the wonderful world of Wi-Fi yet, then I’ve got a couple of “widgets” that might help spark your interest – the Wireless LAN adapter from Kanguru Solutions and the WiFi Detector from Smart ID Technology.

A Klassy Kanguru Product

Most laptops purchased in the last year or two have a built-in wireless network card. If you don’t have a built-in Wi-Fi card, then you’ll need to purchase and install one which usually come in the form of a PCMCIA card.

If you prefer to not mess around with a PC card, then several companies offer USB wireless network cards, which are usually about the size of a pack of gum. Kanguru Solutions, better know for a variety of data storage devices (you can see my review of their “MicroDrive+” at http://www.llrx.com/columns/legaltech14.htm, has produced such a wireless network adapter. But since they are better known for their storage capability, they went an extra mile and included a USB flash drive on the unit as well.

The Kanguru Wireless LAN is what I like to call a “combo” device. Not only do you get a great wireless network card, you also get extra storage (comes in 64MB or 128MB models). I am now in the habit of taking a USB flash drive with me wherever I go because they’re just so darn handy. And depending upon the laptop I take with me, I would also have to pack my wireless PC card. Now with the Kanguru Wireless LAN, I take just one small, simple device!

Installation is easy. For the USB flash drive, you simply need to plug it in. If you’re running Windows 2000 and above, the flash drive is automatically detected and registered as a “removable drive.” To store data on the device, you just simply drag-and-drop. (Windows 98 users will have to install drivers for the flash drive.)

For the wireless network card, you’ll have to install drivers regardless of the operating system you’re running. A mini-CD is included with the device and will auto-run when you put it into your computer. The software installed flawlessly (on a machine running Windows XP Home Edition) and I was connected to my wireless network in a matter of minutes.

The Kanguru Wireless LAN comes with a USB extender and a plastic clip so you can hang the unit on the top of your laptop screen to obtain the best possible wireless signal. Lastly, the unit has one of the most innovative “lids” for a USB flash drive that I’ve ever seen. The plastic cap slides down to reveal the USB plug and slides back up to hide it. Finally I don’t have to worry about losing my USB cap anymore.

The only downside is that the unit is based on the USB 1.1 standard rather than the faster USB 2.0 speed. On the other hand, if your laptop is new enough to have a USB 2.0 port on it, then it probably already has a wireless network card built-in.

Some might find the Kanguru Wireless LAN a bit pricey at $100 for the 64MB model and $120 for 128MB. But the price is reasonable when you consider what you would pay for a wireless card and USB flash drive separately.

Where’s WiFi?

The more I use WiFi hotspots, the more I feel the need to stay connected. I’m not obsessed with being connected, I just simply want to have access to the Internet in places where it makes sense – airports, hotels, coffee shops, and other public spaces where people congregate.

But unless the hotspot is labeled with a sign or some other indication, you have no way of knowing if you have the opportunity to connect until you boot up your laptop and see if it finds anything. Enter the handy and useful WiFi Detector from Smart ID Technology.

The WiFi Detector is a little smaller than a deck of cards (4” x 2.2” x 0.6”) and weighs just under 3 ounces. It takes 2 AAA batteries that come supplied. It has the single function of telling you if there is an active wireless network within range. You simply press the button on the front of the device. A green light pops on to tell you how strong the batteries are, and the four red LEDs at the top flash on and off to give you a fairly accurate read about how strong the wireless signal is in the area.

In the interest of fairness, I should mention a very similar product that also ships here in the United States. I am usually a very big fan of Kensington products, but their WiFi Finder appears to miss the mark miserably. Every review that I’ve read about the product mentions how bad of a job it does at finding active wireless hotspots, while the WiFi Detector from Smart ID scores very high marks.

The WiFi Detector can also distinguish between a microwave signal and WiFi. Microwave signals usually interfere with a wireless signal, but the lights on the WiFi Detector light up solid red when in the presence of a powered microwave so you can tell the difference between your WiFi network and the bacon you’re cooking.

I am thrilled to have the WiFi Detector. For lunch, I sometimes walk over to a local mall that offers free WiFi. I always use the WiFi Detector to help me find the best seat to eat and surf. If I didn’t have the WiFi Detector, I would have to walk around the mall holding my laptop watching the signal on the screen.

The WiFi Detector has also come in very handy in helping me to maximize the reach of my wireless network at home. I can walk around with the WiFi Detector to see where my signal is weak or strong and move my access point appropriately.

Smart ID Technology is located in Singapore. You can purchase the WiFi Detector from their website or closer to home from ThinkGeek.com for $24.99.