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Reviews

hField Wi-Fire High Gain WiFi Adapter

By Legacy November 27, 2006, 12:00 am

INTRODUCTION

    WiFi, Wireless Local Area Network, 802.11b/g, Wireless Fidelity… call it what you will. It’s everywhere and it’s an excellent (cheap)
way to stay connected. Sure, 3rd Generation mobile radios are rolling out, but without flat rate tariffs, coupled
with the limited availability of 3G, WiFi still remains the easiest and most affordable option for a lot of mobile users who require
a high speed connection. WiFi itself has inherent limitations, namely, it only has a short range. Without repeaters, an access point might only broadcast a few hundred feet. Bridging the gap between access point and adapter, a number of 3rd party adapters/antennas have sprung up on the market; their primary function, receive any shred of ambient signal and amplify it, so that it is strong enough to constitute a working connection. Today we are going to look at one such device, the hField Wi-Fire. This item claims to improve reception, boost signal strength and increase connection speeds. Does it live up to these claims? Read on as we review this device!


WHAT’S HOT

    This item has a directional antenna (Yagi) allowing the user focus the leading edge toward an access point, improving
transmission and reception of the signal. Fold-away, lightweight design, it can be stowed in most gear bags. Device
independent (can be used on different laptops/notebooks/desktops with USB support), but platform specific; no Macs.

SETUP

    The Wi-Fire is bundled with connection software, and once the software is installed, the device can
be physically attached to your intended computer. This involves attaching the included USB stowable cable to the device, clamping the device to your intended system, and plugging the male end of the stowable USB cable
into a spare USB port on your computer. Easy as pie. Note: this is not an antenna that you attach to a router, rather, it is an adapter that you attach to the computer which contains a built in antenna.  

    Clamping the Wi-Fire to your computer involves flexing the two hinges at the base of the adapter such that when the unit is placed on a suitable ledge (typically the top of the screen) it is held firmly in place. How firm was the grip? More on this later…

Here’s a look at the install menu after inserting the included CD-ROM

PRODUCT FEATURES

    The primary role of the Wi-Fire is to increase/improve/sustain your WiFi browsing experience via proprietary technology. As mentioned, the antenna is multi-directional, thus can be focused to enhance signal quality.

Here’s an un-boxing shot. Included: the WiFire adapter, stowaway USB cable, CD-ROM.

Here’s the Wi-Fire folded. Looking at the USB plug, one can get a rough idea of the size.

Here’s a shot of the Wi-Fire fully extended.

In this shot, the Wi-Fire is half extended, and the antenna it tilted. This gives an idea of the range of motion.

Here’s the clamp against the back of the laptop screen.…   

…and here’s the front.

Here’s a wide shot of the device attached to my laptop.

    The bundled Wi-Fire utility allows for configuration and connection of available networks. WEP/WPA can be input for access to secure networks. Frequently accessed networks can be stored as "Profiles".

Here’s a shot of the Wi-Fire software up and running.

Profiles can be created and stored, allowing for quick retrieval of preferred networks

THE TEST

    To test the claims alleged by hField, I established a rough testing environment. This consisted of testing a network connection at 2 points: ~250 feet from the access point and ~700 feet from the access point. Line of Sight (LoS) was maintained throughout, however,

the wireless router was located within a brick building

. Note: this test was not performed scientifically, therefore, results should be used for informational purposes only.

The testing environment. The green arrow indicates the location of the access point. A and B refer to points where the connection was tested.

THE RESULTS

    At Point A (250 feet), both the built-in and Wi-Fire were able to receive the signal. However, the built-in adapter had a noticeably weaker signal, and speeds were slower (404kpbs vs 691 kpbs).

    At Point B (700 feet), the built-in adapter failed to register the network, whereas the Wi-Fire was still able to establish a connection. Note: Speeds on the Wi-Fire had dropped to around ~500kps.

The Wi-Fire at Point A, signal strength was Poor at -72dBm

At Point A with the Wi-Fire unplugged and the built in adapter only, the connection was slighly weaker than the Wi-Fire.

At Point B, approximately 700 feet from the AP, the Wi-Fire classed the signal as "Bad", the built in antenna did not register a signal at all…

 

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HELP SUPPORT

    This item carries a 1-year warranty, and support information is available if required, as with an FAQs section. Phone and email support can also be reached via the contact page.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

    Works on most Windows environments. Currently not compatible with the MAC OS.

BUGS AND WISHES

   
My main issue with this item relates to the clamp. It does not hold the Wi-Fire firmly in place, rather, relies on
pressure from the rear arm. This setup is not ideal, jolting movement will cause the Wi-Fire to slide right off. I would like to have seen (next time maybe?) some type of adjustable clamp that was able to be tightened.

PURCHASING

   
The Wi-Fire is available for purchase from hField for USD$109.00. I was unable to locate any other resellers.

PROS


  • Increases WiFi performance


  • Compact, fold-away design


  • Adapter can be focused for improved reception

CONS


  • Windows PC only


  • Clamp does not hold the adapter securely in place

  • Pricey
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

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OVERALL IMPRESSION

    Although I was unable to completely replicate the claims on the hField site, the adapter did out perform the built-in device on my laptop. The clamp had a somewhat loose grip on my laptop screen, and as a consequence, was prone to sliding off. Future iterations need to be address this oversight. Overall though, this item

did

receive a signal when the built in adapter failed, probably due to the ability to focus the antenna. If you use WiFi frequently, this item would be worth a look; inevitably, the one time you really need a connection, the Wi-Fire could save the day and ultimately pay for itself.




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