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Nathan Edwards Aug 12, 2008

Canary Wireless Hot Spotter HS-20

At A Glance

Tweety

Quickly sniffs out most Wi-Fi networks and runs on economical AAA batteries.

Big Bird

Doesnt find 802.11a and shuts off too quickly.

Canary Wireless was the first out with a usable Wi-Fi network spotter. We say usable because we’ve seen all manner of gimmicky, useless devices that couldn’t spot a Wi-Fi network if they were hit by a semi full of them.

Finding a network has never been a problem for Canary’s Hot Spotter; this second-generation product sports an upgraded display, has better sensitivity, and is able to detect more networks. This unit can also spot some 802.11n access points in addition to 802.11b and 11g signals. However, the Hot Spotter is restricted to the 2.4GHz band, so access points operating in the 5GHz spectrum won’t be spotted, nor will 802.11a networks.

The three-line LCD displays the spotted SSID, what channel it’s on, its speed, whether it’s secure or not, and, if applicable, what security mode is being used. The unit, for example, easily found the Cisco access points in our building and the CCX extensions in use (it can ID WEP, WPA, WPA2 as well as CCX).

The Hot Spotter is pretty dummy-proof. Hit the power button and the device scans and displays available networks. You then scroll through the access points using two buttons on the side of the device. We’re really not into rechargeable batteries these days in gadgets since they invariably seem to die out  right when they’re needed. Fortunately, the HS-20 operates on a pair of AAA cells that can easily be swapped out. The downers? For one, the unit times out far too quickly. It stays on for 30 seconds, but somehow, 30 seconds isn’t what it used to be. We’d prefer the unit stay on a full minute.

While 802.11a would be nice, the biggest ding against the HS-20 is that most geeks already have free Wi-Fi spotters—their smartphones. Any smartphone worth its weight has built-in Wi-Fi and a pretty capable scanner to boot.

However, for those who don’t have a Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone and want a way to find a signal before breaking out their big notebook PCs, the Canary Wireless Hot Spotter HS-20 is worth a sniff.

THE VERDICT

Canary Wireless Hot Spotter HS-20

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