Wifi Walker

Wifi Walker Don't you hate it, to walk across town with your laptop open during your holidays, just to find a Fonspot or other free Wifi signal in order to check your mail or phone home cheap. You feel like a freak, eyed by many people you pass. And once you've finally found a suitable signal, somewhere in the shade so you can actually read what's on your screen, your battery is flat. After all, you don't take your latest notebook on holiday, it's always that old one with the bad battery, isn't it?

Therefore I've treated myself with a little toy from the Fonshop a long time ago. It's a Wifi scanner in disguise. It looks like an ordinary Wifi USB stick, in fact it is a Wifi USB stick, with a little extra. The FA-1200G from Vunex can also be used as a stand alone Wifi finder.
With it you can now roam the streets inconspicuously with the stick hidden in the palm of your hand, looking for a suitable signal to connect to. And only once you've found one it is time to fire up your laptop to exchange mail, download some news pages, phone home, update your blog, send your relatives some pictures, or whatever it is you want to do on the internet.

Nowadays you would do that with your mobile phone of course, but back in 2008 the phones weren't that great in finding open Wifi signals yet. At least mine wasn't.

What It Does

The Wifi Walker has an on/off switch, a prev and a next key and a Detect key. Control of the Wifi Walker is only a matter of switching it on and wait a few seconds for it to scan for Wifi networks. Once it has found all available networks it shows the first one on the LCD. Now you can browse through the found networks using the prev and next keys.

Scanning for Wifi networks Scanning for networks can be done by switching on the device or by pressing the Detect key at the bottom of the stick.
However if you press and hold the Detect key for three seconds an L is displayed in the upper left corner of the display which locks the Wifi finder on the displayed target so you can zero in on a location with the strongest signal.

Scanning results Once scanning is compete the display shows the following information: The first line here shows the locked symbol L , the type of network (Infrastructure), the network class (g), and the signal strength (only one bar in this example).
The second line shows the current network and the total number of found networks (both 1 here), the channel number of the AP and the encryption mode of the network (None in this example).
Finally the third line shows the name of the access point (scrolls if it is too long) and the current battery capacity.

So far this is what the Wifi Walker part of the device does. However it is also a normal Wifi USB adapter, which can be used as a Wifi client network adapter on just about any computer. The Wifi Walker is immediately recognized as a Wifi network adapter by Ubuntu 8.04, so it can also be used to Wifi enable your Linux machine.
With the Windows driver from the CD-Rom you can even turn it into an Access Point, so you can relay another Wifi network with your laptop so others can also connect to this nearby and therefore stronger signal.

The internal rechargeable battery can be charged when the device is connected to a computer.

B.T.W. It appears that this Wifi Walker is sold under different brand and product names. Most of them appear to have at least the same hardware in them.

My Experiences

Let's start with the display. It's small, of course it is, the entire device is small. However combined with the low contrast ratio of the text and the very low intensity of the blue back light, the display is difficult to read. It's OK during the day, but in the evening you'll soon need some external lighting in order to actually read the display.
But despite of the poor display quality, the device is still quite useful. I only recommend you to take a flash light with you when it's dark.

It takes a bit of getting used to to control the device with just one hand. The display is placed perfectly for right handed control. However all three buttons are placed too far to the right to be operated conveniently with your right hand. It would have been better if the buttons had swapped places with the on/off switch.
But after some getting used to you can control the device with your right hand only.

The built-in battery can be charged by connecting the USB stick to a computer. In order to charge the battery you'll have to put the power switch of the Wifi Walker in the ON position. The battery capacity is enough to last a couple of hours of regular scanning. This should be more than sufficient to find at least one suitable Wifi network to check your mail.

Finally I should mention that the device often confuses WPA networks with WEP networks. For instance I know for sure that the private network of my La Fonera is WPA encrypted. However the Wifi Walker insists that it is WEP encrypted.
This means that the displayed encryption method is unreliable. But that doesn't spoil the fun, because the thing is intended primarily to find open networks. So I don't mind whether a network is encrypted with WEP or WPA, it's inaccessible to me either way.

Conclusion

Despite the somewhat poor display quality I find the Wifi Walker a very useful little gadget. Now I can zero in on a network without looking like a nerd walking down the streets with my laptop open. I only take out my laptop or PDA when I'm 99% certain of success.