Many Windows Mobile devices still come to the market lacking wireless LAN (Wi-Fi) capabilities. The reasons are many, and vary from power consumption through simple bill of materials cost.
Like myself, many users probably found perfect wireless LAN coverage at home, office or even hotels and cafes, but still have to go through their cellular data plans to connect to the Internet. While this is not a big deal as in it works, it can be costly while roaming or simply not as fast as Wi-Fi.
Spectec has released a series of miniSD Wi-Fi cards that will work on a range of Windows Mobile devices - and even on some devices not in the list as I found out.
The miniSD Wireless LAN card, with an adapter
The SDW-822 mini SD WLAN-11b is only only of the many models available. You can plug this device to Windows Mobile devices running Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC and Windows Mobile 5.0 Smartphone.
It supports the IEEE 802.11b standard providing 11 Mbps (megabits per second) maximum throughput.
For comparison, there is the SDW-825 model with support for IEEE 802.11b/g with up to 54 Mbps - probably an overkill on mobile devices.
The miniSD card requires a small driver to be loaded on your Pocket PC before its use. The driver also adds a Wireless Manager program that helps you control the miniSD WiFi card, including option to turn the radio on or off.
Spectec lists a range of devices compatible with the SDW-822 mini SD WLAN-11b and I just happen to have the Palm Treo 750v here. So we arranged for a review unit to be sent.
My first test was on the Palm Treo 750v, but I was curious about using the miniSD card with other devices and for this I tried it on the Palm Treo 700wx. The difference is that the Treo 700wx uses SD cards, while this is a miniSD card. Using a miniSD-to-SD adapter like the ones you get when buying miniSD cards, I tried the card on the Treo 700wx and it was actually recognised and worked well. I actually liked it better on the Palm Treo 700wx because the SD card slot is on the top of the unit, while on the Palm Treo 750v the slot is on the side, making it a bit hard to hold the device.
The card on a Palm Treo 750v miniSD slot
The card on a Palm Treo 700wx SD slot (with adapter)
When using with the Palm Treo 750v on a native miniSD slot you will see just a couple of milimeters pointing outside the device's body. On the Palm Treo 700wx this is a bit more noticeable, but just because I used the SD-to-miniSD adapter.
I had no problems connecting those devices to my wireless LAN Access Point, which requires WPA encryption. The SDW-822 mini SD WLAN-11b supports WEP, WPA and WPA_TKIP. I also used it with some commercial hotspots around town including those found in cafes and malls.
In terms of coverage it does well, and even inside my house, it worked through multiple walls. The driver software sometimes fails to load though, requiring a soft reset, after which the card functions ok. This happened even after I made sure there was plenty of memory available.But a couple of seconds for the soft reset didn't spoil the whole experience.
In terms of speed you will really see a difference between using Wi-Fi or cellular data, even if comparing to UMTS or CDMA. Websites load promptly and e-mail synchronisation is much faster.
I did not notice any reduction in battery life, certainly nothing different from the normal battery life on these devices I have around here - they don't usually last a full day, with all that push e-mail and checking RSS feeds around. Just in case, the driver provides a Power Saving feature that you can enable or disable.
Certainly an interesting little accessory to add to your gadget bag and to have handy when out and about with your Windows Mobile device.
Easy to use
Integrates with the Windows Mobile LAN manager well
Sometimes the driver fails to load (but a soft reset solves it)