Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Wireless stocking-stuffers


By Tim Hillebrand

Whether you're a wireless enthusiast or a wireless wannabe, there are a lot of toys available for stocking-stuffers. I offer here are some suggestions for gifts to give, or for hints to discreetly drop to friends and loved ones.

If you haven't already set up your own wireless network, what are you waiting for? Ask Santa Claus for a wireless router and you'll be in business. There are so many of them out there to choose from, and they all do the job for around $70 or so. I personally use Belkin, like the one in Figure A, and am pleased with their products.


A wireless router let's you disconnect from the desk, but stay connected. (click for larger image)

Perhaps you need to extend or intensify the wireless signal in your environment; all you need is an additional access point for around $50. If you're not in a position to free yourself from dial-up yet, consider buying a WiFlyer wireless access point, shown in Figure B, that will give you a wireless environment.


WiFlyer let's you take your own wireless access point with you. (click for larger image)

Take it with you when you travel and use it to set up a wireless network (broadband or dial-up) in your hotel or meeting room, and all for about $150. You can look for coverage of WiFlyer in an upcoming issue of Computing Unplugged Magazine.

Before you can take advantage of a wireless access point, you have to find one. There are two great products that will do this for you without having to boot up a computer. Kensington makes a nice little unit that can also function as a keychain for $30.

For the same price, with a slightly larger girth, is the Wi-Fi Locator by Hawking. It has the added advantage of a directional antenna to pinpoint the Hotspot more accurately. Coverage of the Hawking Wi-Fi Locator will be featured in a future issue of Computing Unplugged Magazine. You can find both devices in Figure C.


A Wi-Fi sniffer will help you locate a signal while you're mobile. (click for larger image)

Turn a laptop or desktop into a wireless entity with inexpensive USB Wi-Fi or Bluetooth adapters, like the one in Figure D that just plugs in, and you're set to go for around $30.


A wireless USB adapter can give your laptop or desktop a wireless connection. (click for larger image)

These little radios enable you to network with peripheral devices such as printers, routers, scanners, GPS, or PDAs.

It's really neat to be able to forget about docking with a cumbersome cradle when you want to sync your PDA. Why not do it from anywhere in the house or office wirelessly with a Bluetooth connection? I'll be covering one of these little devices in a future issue of Computing Unplugged Magazine.