While browsing the Internet some weeks ago, I came across this SD Wireless card, and said to myself (and to the site's readers) that this is surely the world's smallest WiFi card. I decided to check to which point this is right, and what we loose (if anything) on account of that and requested from Spectec a review unit.
Spectec's center in Taiwan was very fast to answer, and very kind to accept my request of a review unit. In around 3 days, the unit was at my home in Israel, together with a lot of details about the technology behind the card.
I hope you enjoy my impressions about this card, which I describe in the next lines.
What's in the box?
The package, which you see above, is thin, light, well prepared and very cheap to move from country to country, thing that makes buying this product abroad not at all a problem.
When you open the box, you see the contents:
The box contains the card, in a plastic container, and a CD, which brings the drivers for the card and the User Manual. In the user manual, which comes in PDF format, Spectec's people left somewhere some Chinese characters, what forces you to download Chinese characters for the Acrobat Reader, something that could be avoided. I need to stop and explain that the unit I have received was still a pre-release unit, so things are still not closed until the end: the card I receive had no label (but I received by email a beautiful picture of the design of the label, which will be very nice, and the CD was still a pre-production burnt CD. No problem at all, it shows the effort that these guys have done to come towards me while I can still see the full product how it is going to be.
The size, the size
This is the point where things begin to be interesting: I have always enjoyed using my Socket SD Card (which is the same Sandisk Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that without the memory) with my iMate. To tell the truth, it seemed unlikely some other card would convince me to exchange the Socket card for it. Would the Spectec card be the one to do so? If you want to know that, please continue reading.
You can see now a picture comparing the Socket SD card, the Spectec SD Card (in the middle, all black) and a regular memory SD card (the smallest in the group):
It is easy to note that the Spectec card is closer to the size of a regular SD memory card than to the size of a WiFi card as accepted by us nowadays.
Here is how it looks on my iMate:
Well, the card almost disappears inside the slot. What is left outside of the slot is a small part of it that holds the antenna inside. It looks almost impossible that even the most careless user will come to a situation in which he breaks the card in the middle.
The next natural question is how much I will pay on performance for the drastic cut on the size of the card. Will the card has a lower range of operation, or not? And if not, at which cost in terms of battery usage?
I don't have the professional equipment to do the adequate lab tests. Should I have it, maybe the tests would be more accurate, but regular users wouldn't understand them. So I decided to do what I call "The user feeling test". I began by walking with my iMate (wearing the Socket card) and taking notes of the level that I was receiving the network at different points at my house. The levels were at 40%-70% in signal, and 70% to 95% on quality.
One should not forget that I live in a 2-floors penthouse, with a router on floor 2 in one extreme of the apartment, and an AP on floor 1 in the opposite extreme. So I should have good reception in the whole apartment, and the Socket's result is really what I expected from a good wireless card.
Then I walked the same path with the Spectec card. I've got 39%-70% in signal, and 70%-95% in quality. Virtually the same results.
What about battery usage? Well, the following data was taken from the specs of the cards, which can be found in the websites of Socket and Spectec:
||PA: 3.0 ~ 3.6V, TRX: 2.7V|
|Transmit Mode (15dBm output)
|Current in idle mode
My new card uses 185 mA instead of 285 mA in general working mode, and 5 mA instead of 15 mA in idle mode.
Well, when we think of the influence of this difference, we must remember that the WLAN card is only one of the pieces of hardware "drinking the juice" of the battery. With this in mind, I can tell that this card saved around 20% of battery when compared to my old card, and gave me 20% more working time than with the old card. Still, comparing to working with no card at all, you loose about 30% of your working time between recharges. This last result is achieved when working on economy mode. Working with fast mode can cause more battery to be used, however the difference between both cards stays about the same.
Spectec has not saved here and is using a customized version of the Prism drivers, which give good information about your situation in the network and let the user control the card easily and friendly.
Above we can see the main page of the driver, the Status page. We have the whole connection status, including levels of connection, MAC address of the card, IP address received, so the usage of products such as vxUtil is in most cases unnecessary.
The second page is the statistics page, very interesting to see throughput and error statistics.
In the third page (the radio page), we define power saving, the Ad Hoc channel, and turn the S/W radio on and off.
The fourth page just informs us of the version of the drivers.
I have no doubt that Spectec has found the trick on how to shorten the card substantially and at the same time lower its power consumption, all that without damaging the working range. Looks impossible, but it has been done. The card works greatly most of the time. It has happened to me that when the phone rings, the card disconnects, and the reason seems to be the electromagnetic field created by the incoming call. Since I have noticed that sometimes the same happens in my PDA2k with its internal network adapter, I am not worried about it. Nevertheless, I have reported this fact to Spectec and maybe they can find something in their labs.
It is irrelevant to talk about pros and cons regarding this product. I still haven't found any cons to list after one week working with it. It is making me consider retiring the PDA2k and going back to the iMate. I am very interested to see the price with which the product will be released to the market, and hope this will not be a CON, but a PRO.
In summary, these are one of these products that you get in love with while reviewing, and decide that you have to be the one marketing it in your country. The product is stable, well designed and has excellent performance. I am trying to wait patiently until it receives the last FCC approvals, a condition to make the Israeli approval faster and easier. Then I will possibly put my plans into action and you might begin seeing this product distributed around here.
Helio Diamant, Pocket PC Freak - The Hebrew Pocket PC site