Enfora WiFi Adapter for Treo 650

Does it really work? Is it too clunky for the slick Treo?

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Bottom Line.

The Enfora WiFi Adapter is a small device that connects to the Treo 650 to allow 802.11b (WiFi) wireless network connections. Overall, I really like the product. Although I have come up with a decent list of cons below, they are mostly just suggestions for improvement; I am really happy with the adapter. And yes, it really does work.

Rating: 4 out of 5.     

Pros:

Cons:

Introduction.

For those of us who do not have a data plan with our Treo 650s, or who need to use resources on a home or corporate network, the absence of built-in WiFi is a real downside to the Treo 650 (especially for those of us, like me, whose prior PalmOS device was a Tungsten C, which has built-in WiFi). I had hoped for a long time that Palm would release Treo 650 drivers for its WiFi Secure Digital Card, but it seems that the cellular carriers have persuaded Palm not to give consumers an easy alternative to their expensive data plans. As a result, I was excited when Enfora released its WiFi adapter for the Treo 650. I was also skeptical, though, of a snap-on "sled" device as opposed to a more compact SD Card. Despite my skepticism, I missed my Tungsten C's WiFi enough that I dropped some serious hints and received an Enfora adapter for my most recent birthday. Below are my thoughts about the product and some observations after using the device for a few weeks.

The Details.

Opening the Box. The package includes the WiFi adapter, a replacement for your Treo's back battery cover (more on that below), an AC charging cable with prong attachments for various countries, a tiny quickstart guide, and a software and documentation CD. If you would like to get a preview of the software or documentation, you can download them at Enfora's website. For more detailed technical specifications, see the official datasheet (clicking this link will start the download of a PDF file).

Setting up the Hardware. The adapter attaches to the Treo by plugging into the connector at the bottom of the Treo and then by snapping two clips into the back of the Treo. Enfora supplies a replacement for the Treo's back battery cover with two small rectangular openings to which the clips fasten. Other than the openings, and its metallic blue color, the replacement cover is pretty much identical to my original battery cover. The process of attaching the adapter to the Treo is pretty easy, but the clip system is different from other Palm accessories I've used, so the first one or two times, I found myself wondering whether I was doing it correctly and re-reading the instructions (there's no secret trick that I needed to figure out to attach the device; it's just that I needed to read the instructions a few times to get the hang of it).

Setting up the Software. The adapter requires a special software interface in order to operate, so you must install a few relatively small files to your Treo. You then need to run the Enfora PalmOS application on your Treo and set up a profile for the wireless network to which you want to connect. If you are at a hotspot, or do not use security features such as WEP or hidden ESSID at home or in the office, then it's as simple as hitting the scan button, clicking on the network you want to use, adding it to an empty profile, and hitting the connect button. Otherwise, you will need to enter (if applicable for your network) your WEP key, ESSID, IP address, etc. There's nothing tricky here. The Enfora app is as easy to use as any other WiFi configuration application I have seen.

Using the Adapter. Once you have the software configured, connecting to your network is easy as well -- just hit the "connect" button in the Enfora application (at least the first time; see below for a small inconvenience if you also plan to use a non-WiFi connection). The software will create a special "Enfora802Net" network entry in the Network section of the PalmOS Prefs application (and tell you it has done so). You will then see the green LED blink as the unit associates with an access point, and then light solid green once associated. It will obtain an IP address (and other configuration parameters) if necessary and then show you it has connected with a display of the signal strength. You can then use your Internet applications seamlessly, as you normally would. I have used SnapperMail, Blazer, Vindigo wireless sync and other applications without a glitch.

I have found that the adapter does a better job than my old Tungsten C at pulling-in WiFi signal. For example, the Enfora can connect in the corners of my house in which my Tungsten C could not. Data transfer speeds are relatively fast and consistent even at a decent distance (SMB Mate grabs a 1.6M file from a network share in about 1.5 minutes, a rate of 16431 cps (roughly 148kbps), whether I am close to the access point or not). I can transfer the file a bit faster over a Bluetooth connection if I am within a few feet of the PC with the Bluetooth adapter, but once I move to another room, the throughput over Bluetooth is much slower. The bottom line is that the adapter provides consistently good speeds (not stellar, but definitely decent). Another nice thing about using the adapter (as opposed to a built-in solution) is that you can set it for a long timeout so that it does not disconnect while you are working, but since it has its own battery, it does not affect your Treo's battery life.

Product Feel. One of the big questions in my mind before purchasing the Enfora product was how the Treo would feel in my hand with the adapter attached. I was surprised to find that the adapter really does not bother me. The extra bulk of the adapter is mostly added to the back and the bottom. The adapter barely makes the Treo any wider, so I can still comfortably hold the Treo in one hand and use all the one-handed navigation features included in many Treo applications. I can even talk on the phone comfortably with the adapter attached (and YES, you can make WiFi connections while talking on the phone; there is even a cut-out in the adapter so that you can access the Treo's headphone jack, though the connector for my headphones, a cheap eBay knock-off of the Seidio 2-in-1 stereo buds, cannot reach the jack through the extra thickness on the bottom of the adapter). The adapter is also very light so the weight added to the Treo does not bother me at all. On the other hand, the adapter still does take up enough space that I do not feel comfortable carrying around my Treo with the adapter attached at all times. This means, of course, that the adapter is yet another gadget to carry around in my jacket pocket or briefcase.

Minor Gripes. While I am overall very happy with the adapter, I have run into a few things that could be improved, mostly related to the software. I tend to use Bluetooth for shorter network sessions when I am at home, and WiFi for longer sessions (such as a hotsync) or when I am out. So, if I have just gone from my home to a hotspot, I should be able to fire-up the Enfora app, tell it to connect, and use my Internet applications. However, even after connecting to a hotspot with the Enfora app, my Internet applications do not know the Treo is connected and will try to open a Bluetooth connection. This is because the Treo's Network prefs application is still set for my Bluetooth connection. The fix is easy, just inconvenient (and annoying when you forget to do it before trying to connect) -- you must change the Treo's Network setting, and then connect using the Enfora app (you cannot just hit the connect button in the Network prefs screen unless you are connecting to the same hotspot you last connected to; see discussion of profiles below). I would like to see the Enfora app take care of switching the Treo's network setting automatically, or at least remind you that it is not set for WiFi and offer to switch it before it spends the time connecting to the hotspot.

This brings me to another area for improvement: The Enfora app requires you to go through the process of creating a separate profile for each network to which you would like to connect, and then select a profile before attempting to connect -- it cannot just connect to a network "on the fly." I would rather have the ability to choose a network from the scan results screen and just have the device connect to the network (assuming no special configuration is required, as is the case with most public hotspots). In addition, switching profiles is a bit clunky because it requires a few steps (you must choose the profiles item from a menu, and then click a profile, and then click the OK button to switch). I would prefer to see a picker menu on the main screen of the application (and maybe in the connection dialog too) for to allow switching profiles in ONE step. Also, the Enfora application allows only six networks to be saved to profiles. I have already used five of them with networks I use regularly, with one saved to use with one-time-use hotspots, and would like to store profiles for a few more that I use only occasionally. More profile slots would be welcome.

Finally, I ran into a mildly annoying bug. When switching from my home WiFi network, which uses static IP addresses, to another network with dynamic (automatic) IP addressing, the adapter fails to obtain an IP address. The workaround is to delete the Enfora802Net network entry in Palm prefs and then let the Enfora app recreate it. Once you do this, it will connect immediately. Enfora's support is aware of the problem and is working on it (although they were responsive to my support inquiry, they did not really help -- I had to find the workaround on my own). Hopefully this will be fixed in a future software release.

Battery Life. The device comes with a typical AC adapter to charge the battery. Enfora claims it takes two hours for the battery to charge fully. Unfortunately, the device does not provide feedback as to when it has charged fully (instead, the charge indicator will blink indefinitely). I tend to plug the adapter in overnight, so this is not a significant issue for me. Enfora claims the battery will last for 3 hours of use, or 5 days of standby time. I have not used the device long enough between charges to drain the battery, and I have left it in my jacket pocket for several days without charging, with light use over those days, and again the battery has not drained. So while I do not have any hard numbers as to battery life, I have never run out of power -- I am happy with my experience.

Conclusion. While Enfora did not do a perfect job, they did pretty well. I use my adapter all the time and am very happy to have it. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.     

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Copyright © 2006 Marc D. Field. Third party brands and marks are the property of their respective owners. You can contact me at reviews at fieldnetworks dot com.