When we first looked at PalmOne's long awaited Wi-Fi adapter, we found it was easy to install and worked well for applications such as Web browsing and email. But having lived with it for a while, how good is it for mobile Internet access, and how far could it go to restoring PalmOne's fortunes in the enterprise?

The answer to the first question is that it's great - as long as you can get a connection. It also makes a handy Wi-Fi detector, showing the SSID (or name) and the signal strength of every WLAN within range, although its aerial is not as large or effective as those built into some PCs.

Once it finds a network, it attempts to connect and get an IP address. If the network is using encryption you can enter the WEP key - WPA is not supported yet; you can also manually enter the SSID for networks that don't beacon their presence.

However, while it connects just fine to an open network, it has problems with many subscription-based public hotspots. Palm's software works OK with BTopenzone, but cannot cope with the authentication schemes used by many other hotspot providers, including T-Mobile (in the US as well as in Europe), ReadytoSurf and SurfandSip.

And this isn't something those companies are going to be in a hurry to fix - PalmOne may have the biggest installed base of PDAs, but thanks to its tardiness in following the market the proportion of those with Wi-Fi is tiny, so T-Mobile and co aren't exactly missing out on a gold mine here.

In addition, where HP and Microsoft got it right with devices like the iPAQ hx4700, and Nokia embedded it into its latest Communicator 9500, here Wi-Fi is still an add-on. That means it is not as smoothly integrated with the handheld's other software as Bluetooth is, for example, and if you use both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, for connection via GSM when no hotspot's available, say, you must manually change between them.

Plus, the Wi-Fi card protrudes from the handheld so you probably won't want to leave it in place all the time - and there's only one slot so that means removing and replacing the memory card every time

If you have a compatible handheld and want more range than can be had using Bluetooth as a LAN, or need to roam around the corporate WLAN, this is a good solution.

But for mobile Internet access on your Palm while travelling, Bluetooth and a mobile phone is still your best bet. And if you want integrated enterprise-class handheld connectivity, it's sad to say that even with the Tungsten T5, Palm does not have an answer.

OUR VERDICT

Great for office or home use, but for roaming Internet access stick to Bluetooth and a mobile phone - or buy a Symbian or PocketPC device.