Choosing a Wi-Fi Adapter for Your PDA

A few newer PDAs, like the Palm Tungsten C, Sony CLI´┐Ż PEG-TH55, Dell Axim X3i and HP iPAQ H4350 Pocket PC, have built-in Wi-Fi chips. For a handheld, built-in wireless is extremely desirable, since the chips have been designed to use as little power as possible, have optimized software and setup, and add little extra bulk and weight. So if you are buying a new Palm or Pocket PC, opt for one of the integrated models if it fits your other needs. If possible, also choose a model with an external stub antenna (like the Dell), which will give much greater range.

If you already have a PDA, or need features not available in the built-in Wi-Fi models, there are several options for adding Wi-Fi. Things are easiest on the Pocket PC platform, since most such devices have a CompactFlash or Secure Digital slot that will accept a Wi-Fi card. The Pocket PC operating system also supports Wi-Fi well. Good 802.11b CF and SD card options for Pocket PCs include:

CompactFlash: Belkin 802.11b Wireless PDA Network Card SanDisk Connect Plus 128MB+ Wi-Fi CompactFlash Card (which combines Wi-Fi with 128MB of memory, handy when you only have one slot)

802.11g solutions for Pocket PCs should arrive soon, but will require 32-bit architecture, so will not run on all models. Do check with the vendors to be sure of compatibility before buying any Wi-Fi PDA card.

Belkin 802.11b Wireless PDA Network Card

For Palms, the picture is not quite as rosy. Beyond the Tungsten C, your best bet is the Enfora Wireless LAN Portfolio WLN0102. This wraparound 802.11b Wi-Fi adapter works with the m100 and m500 series, the Zire 71, and all Tungstens except the Tungsten E. While adding considerable size and weight to your Palm, it is a reliable and well-supported solution.

Support for SD and CF Wi-Fi cards on the Palm platform, on the other hand, depends on software drivers, and vendors so far have not been able to come up software that will work with version 4 of the OS. Palm OS 5 support is pretty far along and SD card drivers should come by summer 2004 from companies like SanDisk.