Canary WiFi Spotter >> StarTech WiFi Detector

Sometimes I am attracted to the simplest products that do just one thing but do it well. For the past several weeks, I have been carrying around the Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter HS10. Smaller than a PDA or an iPod, the little gadget detects WiFi signals and tells you several important things about each 802.11b and g access point that it finds: the channel, the SSID, overall radio signal strength and whether it is open or using encryption.Why bother with a $60 device when you can use your laptop to do almost the same thing? Several reasons. First, getting your laptop setup isn’t always easy or desirable, especially in areas that have marginal coverage. Second, the Canary unit can help you find the best spot to do your remote computing. Finally, showing the radio channels is helpful for setting up your own wireless network. In my case, I had four neighbors who were all using channel 6 for their networks. When I changed my own AP to another channel, I got better reception.The Canary unit worked both in radio rich environments, such as downtown San Francisco, and more rural and radio-poor areas too. In the former case, it will take a while to scroll through the many access points that it finds. And yes, you can dive into your computer’s wireless control panel and eventually find this information out without the unit. But why waste battery life and time when the Canary can do a better job?

Unfortunately, it is no longer for sale. Here is an alternative until Canary comes out with a new product.

Update 11/07: ThinkGeek sells a t-shirt that has a Wifi detector built-in. Cool, but it just displays signal strength and not the SSID or whether or not you have an open access point.

Update 2/08: StarTech.com sells its WiFi Detector, which is both a USB 11b/g wireless adapter with a small LCD panel that will show you which networks are in range. It sells for $75. You have to install drivers from a CD (and only for Windows) if you want it to work as a wireless adapter — a better solution would be to have a separate disk partition on the USB drive in case you lose the CD. The screen is small and if you are of a certain age, you will find the information hard to read. The adapter has its own connection and configuration software that is fairly easy to setup and works with all flavors of encrypted networks.

0 thoughts on “Canary WiFi Spotter >> StarTech WiFi Detector

  1. David,

    I use my iPod Touch to do the same thing. Just select Settings, Wi-Fi and it pulls out a list of the SSID, strength and if they’re locked. But it doesn’t do the channel number.

    But you can listen to Metallica why you’re doing it.

    …Bruce…

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