New ThingsWednesday, July 30, 2003
I’d had my sights set on the WiFi Finder from the first time I read about it. When they finally became available, I picked one up from Circuit City. I immediately attached it to my keychain, and I’ve been trying it out everywhere I go.
It’s not bad, but not great, either. It’s not too big to be a keychain, but it’s close. The device is very simple: press the button, and watch the LEDs. It starts scanning for 802.11b (or 802.11g) networks, flashing a red light every two seconds to let you know it’s still looking. If it finds one, it lights up green, with the number of LEDs lit indicating the strength of the signal.
I first tried it at home. It scanned for two minutes and found nothing. Well, that was disappointing. On a hunch, I turned on my laptop and started the WiFi Finder scanning again. As soon as my laptop connected to the wireless network, the Finder picked it up.
For security purposes, we have SSID broadcasting turned off. Since the wireless AP was not broadcasting, and no one was connected to it, I think there was nothing to pick up. That night, we took a walk around the neighborhood, and I was able to identify a couple of houses with wireless networks.
It’s not instantaneous — even when you try it in a place you know has wireless, it may take several seconds for it to pick up the signal. I think it is scanning all possible channels. It is almost useless in direct sunlight because you cannot tell if the LEDs are lit. Also, you have to be watching it constantly, or you will miss the brief flash when it finds a network. It would also be nice if it had some kind of cover — with the button exposed, I’m sure I’m scanning my pants for a WiFi signal several times a day.
That said, it’s a fun toy, and I don’t regret buying it. It’s made for the amateur wardriver who’s just looking for someplace to get their e-mail fix. Hopefully, future products like this will be smaller and faster, have sound and/or vibrator alert, and a cover.
Also, Firebird 0.6.1 was released this week. While not a major release, it does fix the bookmarklet bug I complained about. If you’re a die-hard IE fan, you really should give Firebird a try. It has the IE look and feel, but with more features and better security.