Sure, it sounds silly, but a few of my favorite weekday lunch places on University Ave don’t offer WiFi (free or otherwise) and aren’t near enough to anywhere that does to pick up the signal. They’re almost close enough; my MacBook Pro and my Palm Pre can “see” the networks and try to connect, but not achieve or maintain a connection. It seems that this situation is the perfect one for one of these devices. I’ve found a few that look promising but I’m having some trouble choosing one. Feel like helping?
Hawking HWUN3 Hi-Gain USB Wireless-N Adapter with Upgradeable Antennas for Mac & PC (White) – $42.24
1000mW 1W 802.11g/n High Gain USB Wireless G / N Long-Rang WiFi Network Adapter – Dongle – $23.95
1000mW 1W 802.11g/n High Gain USB Wireless G / N Long-Rang WiFi Network Adapter – Dongle With Original Alfa 5dBi and 9dBi Rubber Antenna – $24.99
MacWizards Antenna & Booster for MacBook/PowerBook – $79.99
There’s quite a price difference between the least and most expensive, but the MacWizards item looks to be much smaller and sleeker. They all seem to have fairly similar specifications.
There’s also the rather different BearExtender n3 – $44.97
The BearExtender is an external device connected by a USB cable, not a plug-in antenna as are the others. It seems a bit too clunky, but the performance might be better since it can be moved around more freely.
What do you think?
Someone from the company that makes BearExtender found this blog post and contacted me, offering free shipping and a 30-day review period to try out their product. Not a freebie for review, just an invitation to buy one. I figured with free shipping and the 30-day return privilege I couldn’t really go wrong, so I jumped at it.
The BearExtender is not nearly as large as it appears in the promotional pictures. It’s actually a flat (maybe 1/2″ thick) square (around 2″/side) and very light, with a clip on the back to stick on to the Mac’s open lid. Comes with one short and one long USB cable, an antenna, and a USB drive which includes a getting started guide and the driver software. The software is really the only disappointment; it’s ugly and the usability is rotten. However, it does work.
My baseline use case is sitting at a cafe in downtown Palo Alto across the street from a Starbucks. With the Mac’s built-in WiFi, I can intermittently see the “attwifi” network and get a very weak connection that drops after a minute or two; essentially useless. With the BearExtender, I get a strong signal from the “attwifi” network, can immediately connect, and the connection stays up without dropping.
It connects without issue to my AirPort Extreme N at home, and also displays quite a few more networks around my home than the built-in WiFi. I’d say it’s well worth the money, which after all is only as much as dinner for two at a reasonably nice place.
Again, to be clear, I’m reviewing this on my own accord; I paid full price (less free shipping) for the unit and they didn’t ask me to write or do anything.