Quick View: SanDisk SD Wi-Fi card w/ Zire 71 support

The Product, Continued

Since SanDisk says they received no help or support from PalmOne in bringing the updated SD Wi-Fi to market, the resulting product doesn't provide the same user experience as Palm's sole WLAN-enabled device to date - the Tungsten C. Readers of the NeedToKnow: WiFi PDAs' Dirty Little Secret know that the Tungsten C beat all the other PocketPC-based devices that I tested.

But what's not clear from that article is the smooth user experience provided by that device. I had no problem using either the web browser to cruise the web or a third-party FTP utility to easily upload and download files to test wireless speed. The Zire 71, however, was an entirely different experience.

Things actually didn't start out that badly. The WiFi Utility bundled with the card (Figures 2 - 5) was serviceable enough and automatically connected to my test AP each time the card was inserted or an application was launched that requested web access. The Utility also showed in-range APs and their security status (Figure 2) and allowed storing multiple connection profiles.

Figure 2: WLAN Configuration

Figure 3: Connection Status

Figure 4: Connection profile

Figure 5: Encryption settings

But the Utility also had a few interesting quirks. It seemed to lease a different IP address from my LAN's DHCP server each time it connected. Since the card will probably be on and off a network frequently due to the nature of PDA use, this trait could quickly exhaust the available number of leasable addresses on a busy LAN.

You also have no way of seeing the Gateway and DNS server information for a DHCP connection, with the latter omission being a source of frustration when I tried out the bundled trial version of Novarra's nWeb browser - which kept telling me it was having DNS connection problems. You can, of course, enter all required information if you give the device a static IP.

6/27/2004 - Acting on a tip from Sychip, I verified that the DHCP lease problem reported above was due to the DHCP server in the OvisLink WMU-9000VPN wireless router that I was using for my testing.

Sychip also told me - and I verified - that DNS and Gateway information is available from the Zire's Network Log screen (Prefs > Network > Preferences menu > Options > View Log). They said they would be adding this information to the next generation of their driver utility.

Wireless security is limited to 64 / 128 bit WEP encryption - at least you can enter Hex or ASCII keys - with no support for either WPA or 802.1x authentication. Note, however, that the new Windows drivers support WPA and 802.1x in addition to WEP. Note also that only Infrastructure (AP-based) connection is supported - no AdHoc connections allowed.

But once I had the card installed and connected to my access point, I quickly found that there wasn't a lot that I could do with my new wireless connection. After tracking down the problem causing the DNS messages (my access point had lost contact with my LAN) I gave the Novarra browser a quick try. I didn't spend long with it, though, since page loads took quite a while and the browser doesn't provide any way of scaling pages.