Whether you’re a small business owner, a work-at-homer, or a road warrior—or looking to give a gift to one—state-of-the art Wi-Fi equipment and accessories are feasible for almost any budget. We’ve made a list–and checked it twice—of the best Wi-Fi tools and toys for business users this season. If you know someone who’d prefer an iPhone with 3G to a partridge in a pear tree, then look no further.
Computers and smartphones
HP 2133 Mini Note PC, $499 and up
Netbooks are all the rage these days, but the HP 2133 Mini Note PC sets itself apart with some business-friendly features, including an ExpressCard/54 expansion slot and a built-in accelerometer to protect the hard drive from shocks, plus a higher-resolution display and larger keyboard than most netbooks. The 2.63 pound 2133 also has an aluminum case instead of plastic, and it’s available with Windows XP Professional or Vista Business pre-installed.
Apple iPhone 3G, $199 and up (from AT&T in the U.S., with two-year contract)
It may not be the most business-y phone you can buy, iPhones are a lot less expensive than they were last year, and they now support push e-mail with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. Plus, should the iPhone ever be lost or stolen, a remote wipe feature can keep your sensitive corporate data out of the wrong hands. (If you have a 1st-gen iPhone, you can update it to the 2.x software here.) Read full reviews of the iPhone 3G here, here, and here. For a full review of the 2.x software, click here.
RIM BlackBerry Bold $299 (from AT&T in the U.S., after rebate and with two-year contract)
Although largely eclipsed by another recently released RIM BlackBerries, such as Verizon’s touch-screen Storm, AT&T’s BlackBerry Bold has two things the Storm lacks and that business users may not want to do without. One is a “real” QWERTY keyboard, and the other is—you guessed it—Wi-Fi (as well as support for AT&T’s own 3G mobile data network).
Wi-Fi Access Hardware
CradlePoint MBR1000 Mobile Broadband Router, $250 (right)
It may look like a garden-variety 802.11n/g/b Wi-Fi router, but the CradlePoint MBR1000 is a little different—it can get its Internet connection from either a standard cable modem or DSL link or from certain 3G-equipped mobile phones or ExpressCard/USB 3G modems. The MBR1000 can automatically switch to cellular Internet access when a cable/DSL link goes down, or you can skip the cable/DSL connection altogether and have one less broadband bill to pay each month. Also available: CradlePoint’s CTR500 Mobile Travel Router (reviewed here). (A $25 mail-in rebate is available on both products until 12/31/08.)
hField Wi-Fire, $79
Business travelers frequently rely on hotspots to get work done, so the inability to locate one—or having a tenuous connection when you do—can be a real drain on productivity. The Wi-Fire from hField Technologies is a USB Wi-Fi adapter (compatible with Windows or Mac systems) that uses a powerful directional antenna that can pull in weak or distant signals most notebook internal wireless adapters won’t be able find or connect to. (Tip: through the end of the year, hField is offering a $15 discount to anyone that signs up for the mailing list—just click the Back button while on the purchase page to receive the offer.) For a full review, click here.
Ubiquiti Bullet, $40 and up
Need to shoot an outdoor Wi-Fi signal really, really far? The Ubiquiti Bullet transmits up to a full watt of power and connects to a variety of antenna types, potentially reaching distances of 30 miles. Learn more here.
Having to remove your laptop from your bag at airport security is a major inconvenience, not to mention an opportunity for theft if your computer goes through the scanner long before you do. The Belkin FlyThru Laptop Case meets the TSA’s “Checkpoint Friendly” guidelines; it unzips down the middle and splits in two, allowing screeners to X-ray your computer and view it under a clear plastic window while it remains safely ensconced in the bag.
Voltaic Solar Bags, $199 and up
Road warriors are often searching for AC outlets from which to recharge spent batteries, especially since heavy use of Wi-Fi can be a notorious power drain. A Voltaic bag might save you the trouble. The bags—which are made from recycled soda bottles— have integrated solar panels that can recharge a variety of handheld electronics, such as smartphones, digital media players, or GPS systems (though not notebooks), plus built-in batteries that store power for later use.
Other Hardware and Software
HAVA Titanium HD Wi-Fi, $249
When business frequently takes you away from home causing you to miss your favorite TV shows, the HAVA Titanium HD Wi-Fi can help. It connects to a cable box, satellite receiver, or DVR and your home wireless network, and lets you view those devices via a broadband Internet connection. Click here for a full review.
Laptop Cop, $50 for one-year subscription ($100 for three years)
If you want to protect a Windows notebook in case it’s lost or stolen, check out Awareness Technologies’ Laptop Cop software. It can use Wi-Fi geolocation to pinpoint your missing notebook’s whereabouts, which may help you get it back. The software will also let you remotely retrieve or delete files from a stolen computer.
You can’t be at the office 24/7—or at least you shouldn’t be—but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep tabs on what’s going on in your absence. The Linksys WVC2300 Wireless-G Business Internet Video Camera with Audio includes monitoring/recording software, and you can access the remote feed from a browser. The WVC2300 also supports two-way audio and can be mounted to a pan & tilt base.
Metageek Wi-Spy 2.4x, $399
2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks are susceptible to interference from a host of common devices as well as from other nearby networks. Those responsible for keeping a wireless network humming, may want to check out the Wi-Spy 2.4x, a compact and inexpensive spectrum analyzer for Windows systems that can uncover and visualize problems caused by interfering wireless devices or congested airwaves. Click here for a full review.
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology journalist and product reviewer. You can get more shopping ideas by reading “20 Best Gifts for Wi-Fi Lovers,” “The Geek Wishlist: Ten Tech Toys for the Holidays,” “Wi-Fi We Can Be Thankful For,” or even last year’s gift guide.
This article was first published on WiFiPlanet.com.