Last week I mentioned the Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter HS10, a full-featured WiFi detection and analysis device, and promised to post my thoughts on the device when I had gotten to try it out.
Well, I have mine, and have played with it, and highly recommend that you do too. The device is small, about 2 inches by 2 inches, and under an inch thick. It uses 2 AAA batteries (included), has a single line LCD display, and a single button. (It also has a cut-out at the top that looks like it may be intended for putting on a key ring, which I’d not do as the device is too bulky for that).
Press the button and the device starts scanning. As soon as it finds a network it displays a scrolling message in the form: SSID, signal strength (indicated by 1 to 4 bars), secure|open, channel. This message scrolls repeatedly until the button is pressed again and the next found network is displayed. The display keeps cycling through found networks, unless no network is found in which case it displays a “No AP found” message. There is no on/off button, the device turns itself off after 30 seconds.
I tested it in my house (it picked up my network, and several neighboring networks which my computer did not find), and all over my office. The Macromedia Michigan office is in a 28 story building, and I stopped the elevator at random floors and found lots and lots of open networks (including some with SSID’s of well-known companies). Oh, and apparently there are lots of open SSID’s named LINKSYS NETGEAR and DEFAULT (no surprise there).
I don’t know if it missed any networks, but I am amazed at what it found and at how fast it found them.
I do have two complaints about the device (although neither are overly serious). Firstly, the display needs a backlight. Secondly, the device should list how many networks it has found before showing the first (that way you’d not need to keep scanning unnecessarily).
But that being said, this device is well worth the $50 it cost me, and I highly recommend it.

8 thoughts

  1. So other than this being a cool gadget to play with, up and down elevators :). Do you see yourself using it, before you boot up your laptop, everytime you want to use the Internet? Half the time hotspots are marked in places you’re not familiar with (ie hotels, airports etc.). And in places you are familiar with, there may not be a need for the device after first use. With that being said, do you see yourself carrying it around, like you carry around your optical mouse, as an essential part of your laptop kit, if you will?

  2. Good question, and time will tell I guess. But my gut feel is yes, I spend lots of time in building lobbies waiting for meetings, in airports that don’t have WiFi officially (but some individual vendors do), in coffee shops (not all of which have WiFi available), … So I’d say yes, this is small enough that it will live in my laptop bag alongside my USB flash drive, mouse, notebook cam, Bluetooth presenter, and more.

  3. Ben, thanks for mentioning this. I’ve seen several reviews and all praise it (and knock the lack of backlight), but it’s nice to hear of it from someone I know (and who’d use it like I would).
    Of course, the best thing about this one over all the first-generation devices is that detection/indication of WEP status (secure|open). That’s why I’ve not bothered with the earlier ones. What good is learning there’s an access point if it’s encrypted and you don’t know the key?
    I am curious, though: when you say "(it picked up my network, and several neighboring networks which my computer did not find)", that’s a little troubling. If the device found one that your computer didn’t, then it would seem less useful in that you might trust that you could use it when you cannot. Any thoughts?

  4. I got one of these for Christmas.. I really like it as well. Charlie, it has a signal indicator, so even though it picks up really weak signals that might not be usable by your laptop you have a chance to see the signal strength before you boot up.
    It would be nice if it listed the number of open and secure networks before it started scrolling the first one. Open: 3 Secure: 5 would be nice.. and display the open ones first. But it’s a really neat and handy gadget anyway.

  5. The thing that really gets me with this device is what is the difference between using this device and wardriving?
    I’ve heard stories all over the internet about people being arrested by using their laptops to see if there are an open networks available. Now I’m saying that these people connected to the network once the found them, but by simply using their laptops to find the network, they were arrested.
    Once has to ask themselves what use this device can bring. If it is illegal for you to even try to find another network, then what good is this device.
    Granted I’ve also read horror stories where people were using wardriving to link into open network and download KP. To me, these people should be shot. Not only are they commiting a crime themselves, but they can also get the owner of the network in trouble.

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