Possibly rating as the coolest Wi-Fi gadget of the year so far, the Wi-Fi Seeker from Chrysalis Developments does what it says: it finds Wi-Fi signals. It is not a full-blown probe, or rogue detector (though you might use it as a quick way to spot dead spots in your Wi-fi coverage) but a very basic device to say whether there is a usable Wi-Fi signal where you are.
Its intended as an aid to travellers, who need to know if there is a usable Wi-Fi signal where they are. While it is possible to turn on your laptop (or PDA) to see if there is a signal, this device lets you know right away, with one button-press.
The user interface is simple to the point of minimalist. Press one button, and four LEDs flash. The lights stop flashing if there is a Wi-Fi signal, with the signal strength indicated by the number that stay alight. The device is designed to be somewhat direction-sensitive, so you get an idea of the direction the signal is coming from.
This may seem simple, but there are already two other gadgets, in the market that do this job: Kensingtons Wi-Fi Finder and Smart IDs Wi-Fi Detector. According to our thesaurus, this leaves only room for a Wi-Fi Locator. Wi-Fi Seeker appears to be the best of the bunch.
Wi-Fi Seekers distinction is in its ability to determine whether what it sees is actually Wi-Fi. It ignores other signals on the 2.4GHz band, such as Bluetooth, and does not respond to cordless phones or microwaves. It even filters out signals from clients or cards running in ad-hoc mode. It also does not respond to access points which have been set as a bridge to other access points, and do not allow client access.
For something so unlike a PDA or laptop, Wi-Fi Seeker does a pretty good job of understanding the needs of those devices. It appears to have a similar range and sensitivity to a wireless laptop (wherever it said it had a strong signal, the laptop agreed).
So the signal strength you see really is a Wi-Fi signal available from an actual 802.11b/g access point. After trying in a few locations, you rapidly grow to trust the indicator lights: when the Seeker says you have a signal, your laptop finds one.
So far so good. Of course, just because there is a Wi-Fi signal, doesnt mean you can connect. The device does not find SSIDs (and would have no way to display them if it did). So, even if it lights up to four bars, there is still the possibility of disappointment.
If you want a cool toy, the device performs by allowing you to quickly check for Wi-Fi in random locations. Of course, the blue plastic is not exactly chic, so it doesnt deliver street cred. you wont play with it for.
The device uses standard batteries, which you replace by screwing the package apart. However, battery life is probably considerable, as the oerformance is no worse at the end of a month of concerted playing.
If Chrysalis plans work out, you may get a branded Wi-Fi Seeker from your service provider as a promotional extra, as they intend to sell it that way, as well as through PCTel.
If you regularly need to connect in new places, this lets you find a signal before you unpack your laptop of PDA. If the time that saves is worth $29.95 plus postage to you, you'll want one of these with you at all times.