If you own a Zire 72 or Tungsten T3 and have been longing for better wireless connectivity than their built-in Bluetooth, help is on the way: PalmOne Inc. has announced a Wi-Fi SD card for those handhelds.

The US$129 PalmOne Wi-Fi adapter is scheduled to become available in early September in retail and from PalmOne's online store, the company says.

The card requires at least 4MB of free memory on the handheld. Before using it, you must install software from a PC or Mac and you must turn off the Bluetooth adapter built into the PDA.

Hands on
I tried a shipping model of the card with a Zire 72. Setup was a breeze: After hot synching the software from my desktop onto the Zire, I slipped the card into the SD slot atop the PDA, then tapped on the Wi-Fi Setup icon that appears on the Palm home screen. This utility immediately displayed a list of Wi-Fi networks in range; a little lock icon identified networks secured by a WEP encryption key.

I then entered the name of a Wi-Fi network and its WEP key (the software doesn't support WPA encryption). This produced a message saying I was connected, followed by a screen showing the strength of the connection (red for weak, yellow for so-so and green for good).

I was now ready to surf the Web using the Zire 72's bundled WebPro browser. It took about 20 seconds to load pcworld.com's home page, perhaps because Webpro by default uses a proxy server that formats Web sites to look decent on the small screen. The proxy server may not work with all networks; if it doesn't, you can opt not to use it, but the pages don't look as good and seemed to take even longer to render.

Email too
I was able to use the bundled VersaMail software to send and receive messages from a POP3 account (the reader only supports POP3 and IMAP). VersaMail comes with preconfigured settings for POP3 e-mail at several major ISPs and services.

For the moment, PalmOne says, its SD card adapter is the only one that will work with these handhelds. SanDisk Corp.'s Wi-Fi card, which costs about the same as PalmOne's, only works with the Zire 71 and with Pocket PCs.

OUR VERDICT

PalmOne's Wi-Fi card seems like a good investment for Zire 72 or Tungsten T3 users who want a faster Internet hookup than they can get using a Bluetooth phone.