Using a wireless network has obvious benefits: you can browse the Web and send e-mail without worrying about cables. Now PDA users can enjoy such advantages, thanks to new adapters for Palm, Handspring and Pocket PC PDAs that use the 802.11b wireless Ethernet protocol.
I tested shipping versions of the Xircom Wireless LAN Module for the Palm M500 and the Xircom SpringPort Wireless Ethernet Module for Handspring Visor PDAs, both $600, as well as a pre-production unit of Symbol Technologies' $US179 Wireless Networker on a Compaq iPaq with the optional CompactFlash sleeve.
The two Xircom devices are bulky: the SpringPort adds a large hump to the "Visor, and the Wireless LAN Module is of the same size and weight as the Palm M500 itself. By comparison, Symbol's Wireless Networker adapter is only slightly bigger than a CompactFlash memory card.
Testing in a typical office environment, I found that the devices could connect up to about 27m from the access point - the same range of other 802.11b devices - and worked well on various access points (which provide a bridge between the wireless network and the wired one).
In addition to managing e-mail and Web browsing, you can use the connection to sync your PDA with a computer on the local network, but you can't sync over the Internet.
The Xircom devices include built-in batteries and recharge at the same time as the PDA does, through the cradle. In my tests, both lasted two to three hours with moderate use. The Symbol Wireless Network draws its charge from the battery of the PDA, bumping down the battery life of the iPaq from its usual four to six hours to a much skimpier three hours or so.
Adapters that use the 802.11b standard can send and receive data at up to 11Mbps. Handhelds lack the processing power to match that speed, so everything is much slower than on a PC. Nor are the devices cheap: the Xircom units cost about as much as the PDAs they attach to.
Symbol Technologies Wireless Networker
This light and easy-to-use adapter adds wireless networking to a Pocket PC, but for most users "this addition won't overcome the price.
Price: TBA [Approx.$US179]; Phone: (03) 9862 7000; URL: www.symbol.com/australiaXircom SpringPort Wireless Ethernet ModuleAllows Handspring Visor users to sync their PDAs and use the Internet without cables, but it's of limited use to most people.
Price: $600 [$US299]; Phone: (02) 9937 5800; URL: www.xircom.comXircom Wireless LAN ModuleIf you need it, this module brings the advantages of wireless networking to the Palm M500, but it adds substantial bulk and comes with a steep"price tag.
Price: $600 [$US299]; Phone: (02) 9937 5800; URL: www.xircom.com