10 great Wi-Fi gadgets for work and play

Add these Wi-Fi devices to your network for a new world of wireless productivity and entertainment
  • The Grace Wireless Internet Radio lets you listen to Internet radio shows, podcasts and music on your PC from anywhere in your Wi-Fi zone, providing a surprisingly rich and clear sound.
  • Left: The Eye-Fi Share card pops into any camera with an SD card slot and automatically beams your photos over your Wi-Fi network to your computer and/or to any of two dozen online photo services.

Right: If you're in the market for a new camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50S sends your pictures wirelessly to Google's Picasa service.
  • The HP OfficeJet J4680 multifunction printer has a wireless print server built right in.
  • At $400, the Panasonic KX-WP1050 Wi-Fi phone for Skype is pricey, but coupled with one of Skype's inexpensive VoIP calling plans, it can save you money in the long run.
  • The eStarling WPF-388B digital photo frame uses Wi-Fi to pull photos off an online photo service, displaying them at a sharp 800-by-600 resolution.
  • The Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera watches over your home or office without the hassle and expense of running video cables throughout the building. You can even pan and zoom it remotely.
  • The HP MediaSmart Connect x280n wirelessly connects your Windows Media Center PC to your HDTV, meaning you can surf the Web, watch online videos and listen to Internet radio on your TV.
  • The NEC NP905 wireless projector creates a vibrant 1024-by-768 image on the screen while freeing you from clumsy cables.

You've done the hard work of optimizing your Wi-Fi network, and it reliably beams high-speed data to every nook and cranny of your home or office. Now, it's time to take it to the next level by connecting more than just computers.

There's a whole world of gadgets out there that can help you get work done and entertain you -- all without wires. From wireless print servers and security cameras to Internet radios and VoIP phones, the variety of Wi-Fi appliances available is astounding. There's even a Whirlpool refrigerator equipped with interchangeable wireless modules to serve up recipes, digital photos and Web sites. (Personally, I can't imagine stopping to check the weather when what I really want is a cold beer.)

But let's stick with more practical devices. Any of the 10 Wi-Fi gadgets in our list can liberate you from the tyranny of cables by wirelessly printing, phoning, moving photos, playing music and more.

It's easy to get started, but a word of warning: Time and again, the hardest part of setting up these wireless wonders was entering the Wi-Fi network's encryption codes with clunky on-screen keypads rather than a standard keyboard. Still, it's the best way to cut the cord and stay connected.

Wireless printing: Two-way data street

Linksys WPSM54G print server

One of the best things a wireless network can do is print without cables. It may seem like magic, but the latest print servers, like Linksys' WPSM54G (US$90), can also send scans from any recent multifunction printer (MFP) to a computer. It all works well, but my advice is not to be in a hurry.

After plugging the WPSM54G into my Canon Pixma MP780 MFP, it took 5 minutes to load the software, enter the security codes via my PC's keyboard and configure the print server. Capable of linking to 802.11b/g/n networks, the server is small (about 5 by 1 by 4 inches) and works with Windows 2000/XP/Vista systems, but not Macs or Linux machines. It has a range of 95 feet and demands to be the system's default printer.

Unfortunately, speed is not of the essence with the Linksys print server. It printed a two-page color Adobe Acrobat document in one minute 51 seconds and scanned an 8-by-11-in. color magazine cover in 6 minutes 30 seconds, or about half as fast as with a USB cable.

Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet J4680 multifunction printer

I also tested HP's OfficeJet J4680 (US$130), an MFP with a built-in wireless print server that works with both Windows and Mac computers. The device has a range of 90 feet. After an agonizingly slow 30-minute software installation, it took me another couple of minutes to correctly enter the network's encryption code with the printer's clunky phone-like keypad. The device works with 802.11b/g networks only.

Once set up, however, the OfficeJet zoomed along. In contrast to the Linksys print server, the OfficeJet J4680 printed the same file in 37 seconds and scanned the document in 47 seconds, making it a wireless speed demon. For my money, I'd opt for the printer with wireless built in because I hate to wait.

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Brian Nadel

Computerworld
Topics: peripherals, Printers, WLAN, consumer electronics, personal storage, wireless, entertainment, digital cameras
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