Burney’s Legal Tech Reviews – Gadgets for Legal Pros: HP Compaq nc4200 Laptop; Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter

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 .

Ultraportable Bliss

If you’ve ever traveled with a laptop, then you know how sweet a word like ultraportable can sound.

When we travel, we want to take as much of our work and office along with us, which usually means a big, hefty laptop that can take the place of our trusty desktop back at the office. The tradeoff is a sore back and a displaced shoulder from carrying around an 8 or 9 pound laptop.

Ultraportable laptops, on the other hand, are small and lightweight, usually weighing in between 3 and 4 pounds. The downside is that you don’t always gets a big, bright screen, and the keyboard may be a little more of a tight fit than what you’re used to … but you’ll barely even know it’s in your briefcase.

HP to the Rescue

A recent, exciting entrant into the ultraportable world is the nc4200 from HP Compaq. This machine is sold under their Business Notebook PCs line and generally targeted for the business professional as opposed to the regular consumer.

The HP nc4200 measures 11.22″ x 9.25″ x 1.19″ and weighs just under 4 pounds. It features a 12.1″ screen, minimum 256MB RAM and minimum 40GB hard drive.

The nc4200 really shines in my opinion in the number of input/output ports it offers. You get not one, not two, but three USB 2.0 ports – one on each side and one in the back. This comes in very handy when you need to plug in a mouse, a memory key, and an external hard drive all at once.

You also get a PC card slot along with an integrated SD/MMC memory card slot. A network card and 56K modem are built in and the unit is even equipped to handle Bluetooth 1.2.

Lastly on the video side, the nc4200 offers both VGA and S-Video outputs. HP provided these ports presuming that most people that would be traveling and using the nc4200 would be doing some sort of presentation when they arrived at their destination. They also included a special “presentation button” that can be set to automatically launch a pre-determined PowerPoint show.

The only real disappointment with the HP nc4200 is the lack of a CD/DVD optical drive. In the name of less weight and extra portability, HP decided to forego a built-in optical drive electing instead to offer an external unit.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – many times when I travel I don’t need a CD drive – but I always like having the option.

On the power side, I was very impressed with battery consumption. On a 4-hour plane trip, I used the nc4200 non-stop and still had about 20% of the battery power left. One factor to the good battery life is the omission of an optical drive – something that will suck a battery dry very quickly.

Another factor is the inclusion of an “ambient light sensor” on the nc4200 that would dim or brighten the screen according the environment. This worked well and helped control power consumption.

Carry Me Home

I thoroughly enjoyed using the HP nc4200 and found it to be a solid, strong ultraportable laptop. I hardly ever powered it down completely, electing instead to simply close the lid, let it go into standby mode, and then just tuck it under my arm while I walked to my next meeting.

The nc4200 was a joy to use and I highly recommend it for aching backs and sore shoulders.

Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter

Wi-fi finders were all the rage a year or so ago, and they continue to grow in popularity. First off, they are handy for people that travel frequently and need a handy way to find free wireless hotspots so they can get some work done.

But Wi-Fi finders/detectors are also used to test the strength and reach of a home- or office-based wireless network. They are much easier to use than walking around balancing a laptop in your hand.

The basic idea behind a Wi-Fi finder is that it is small enough to carry anywhere and can be used to detect a nearby wireless network. In the past, products such as the WiFi Finder from Kensington and the WiFi Detector from SmartID simply told you of the presence of a wireless network, but nothing more.

Both devices had a string of LEDs that would light up to give you a general idea of the strength of the wireless signal. Since then, both companies have improved their product line and now offer the WiFi Finder Plus (Kensington) and the WiFi Trekker (SmartID).

While I thought these first- and second-generation Wi-Fi finders were a great addition to my travel bag (I preferred the SmartID WiFi Detector), I am happy to say that I have found the perfect all-around Wi-Fi detector in the Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter Model HS10.

The Digital Hotspotter only weighs 4.5 oz and measures 2.52″ x 2.17″ x 1.06″. It’s a tad bit bulky in the hand and not as slim as the other Wi-Fi detectors I’ve used, but that is quickly forgiven when I realize all that it can do.

To operate the Digital Hotspotter, you just press the single button on the front. It immediately searches for and finds the first available wireless hotspot and provides 1) the name of the wireless network (the SSID), 2) the strength of the signal, 3) whether the network is open or secured, and 4) what channel the network is operating on.

To continue scanning and see if there is another available Wi-Fi hotspot, simply press the button again and it will search for the next network.

All of this information is absolutely invaluable to someone that needs to get on to the Internet. I tested the Hotspotter in a couple of major airports when I traveled last month and I was thrilled to see how quickly it found the wireless networks and provided information about them. Before I even opened up my laptop, I knew exactly what wireless network I was going to connect to and how strong the signal was.

The Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter uses 2 AAA batteries (included) which will last a good couple of months. It also claims to have a range of up to 200 feet.

If you like to be “in the know” about what wireless networks might be floating around you, then the Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter is definitely the main game in town. I wouldn’t even bother with any other Wi-Fi Finder on the market today. I believe it is worth the premium price of $59.

And to top it all off, the founder of the Canary Wireless company is a practicing attorney! He saw the need for the Digital Hotspotter a while ago and was courageous enough to put the plan into action. His name is Benjamin Kern. You can find an interview with him on JDBliss.com and his firm profile at Gordon & Glickson.

Posted in: Burney's Legal Tech Reviews, Gadgets, Mobile Technology, WiFi