palmOne Wi-Fi Card

By Joseph Moran

August 10, 2005

This SDIO card permits owners of several of Palm's handhelds to link up with public and private 802.11b-compatible wireless networks.

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Anyone who's tried to add Wi-Fi capability to a PDA that lacks it will tell you that finding a compatible card isn't always a simple task.

Users of Windows-based handhelds that wish to augment their devices with this wireless capability can use the Connect Wi-Fi Secure Digital (SD) card from SanDisk, but that peripheral's support for Palm-based devices is severely limited—it only works with the Palm, Inc. Zire 72.

Owners of Palm-based devices other than the Zire 72 will need to consider Palm's own Wi-Fi card.

The $99 Wi-Fi Card (model P10952U) supports several different handheld models: the Zire 72, as well as the Tungsten T3, T5, and E2. (Reference to the E2 may not be on all retail product packaging—it wasn't on ours—but you can download an appropriate driver from Palm's support Web site.)

Installing the Wi-Fi card software through the HotSync utility is quite easy. Not surprisingly, the card protrudes significantly from the top of the PDA after it's inserted, so it's best to remove it before storing the PDA in a bag or purse. The Palm Wi-Fi card is an 802.11b device, which - according to the company - is capable of receiving a signal at distances of up to 120 feet indoors or 400 feet outdoors. Based on our time with the product, those figures are realistic. We had no difficulty establishing or maintaining connections to several wireless networks, both public and private.

To gauge the performance of the Palm Wi-Fi card, we used a throughput speed test from DSL Reports that was designed for handhelds and similar mobile devices. The test reported consistent download speeds in excess of 600 Kbps for a Tungsten E2 equipped with the Wi-Fi card.

That may not seem like an impressive number compared to the 4+ Mbps you might get from an 802.11b-equipped notebook PC, but it's reasonable considering the inherent bandwidth and power limitations imposed by a handheld. In any event, using the E2 and Wi-Fi card to browse the Net was a satisfying experience, with no inordinately lengthy load times or other performance issues. If the card has a weakness, it's in its encryption capability. Although you can encrypt wireless traffic through the Palm Wi-Fi card, WEP is the only way to do it.

When you access public and open wireless networks on the road, this shouldn't be a limitation, but users with WPA-encrypted networks at home will find themselves unable to connect the Palm card to them. The card does support PPTP-based VPNs for connecting to corporate networks via public ones, however.

Power Saving
To mitigate the Wi-Fi card's effect on a PDA's battery life, you can configure it to conserve power by not constantly seeking out closer or stronger wireless signals. You can also set the card to time out after a specified period of no wireless activity. The imperative to conserve power is sometimes inconvenient, however. If the card is dormant when you attempt to access a wireless network, you're prompted to confirm that you want to turn Wi-Fi back on before the connection is established. This seems like a superfluous step, and accessing a network application should be enough to re-establish the connection without further input from the user. (A small green LED on the card glows steadily when the Wi-Fi card is active.)

Overall, we recommend the Palm Wi-Fi card for those looking for an easy and inexpensive way to access public Wi-Fi networks with a Palm-based handheld. It is one of few options available to most users of these mobile devices. Our only qualms are the peripheral's lack of WPA compatibility, and the extra step required to bring the device out of hibernation.

Reprinted from PDA Street .

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