We've all been there: waiting to board a flight, wondering if there's a wireless network in the area and whether to boot up the laptop to find out. The Trendnet TEW-429UB 802.11g wireless USB 2.0 adapter with hot-spot detector helps you locate Wi-Fi networks without using your notebook. This device serves as a self-contained hot-spot detector, scanning for Wi-Fi networks, then displaying their vital signs on the integrated screen. It's also a USB 2.0-based wireless adapter, so you can use it to connect to wireless networks as well. Though it costs about twice as much as a plain old USB Wi-Fi adapter, such as the Netgear WG111, the TEW-429UB is well worth it for road warriors who depend on hot spots while they're on the road.
The Trendnet TEW-429UB 802.11g wireless USB 2.0 adapter is a bit bigger than the average wireless USB adapter, but it can still fit comfortably inside a pocket. The device has one very distinct advantage over the competition: a tiny LCD screen. Once you charge the adapter's internal battery by plugging it into your booted-up computer's USB port, you can detach it from your system and turn it on by flipping the on/off switch on its right side. When you press the Seek button on the device's left side, the TEW-429UB scans for networks in the area and displays up to 16 results, one by one, on the LED. You can then use the Next button to scroll through each network; salient information on the individual networks, including network type (802.11b/g), signal strength, channel, and more, appears on the screen in the form of icons.
When you settle on a network, however, you can't simply plug the device back into your system, hit a button on the device itself, and connect to that network. Rather, you must launch Trendnet's network configuration utility (which you've already installed on your system from the included CD), then click on the network name within the utility window. (Alternatively, you can use the Windows Zero Config utility to connect to available networks. Doing so will disable the Trendnet utility automatically.) From that point on, you have to manipulate the device via the utility, since the LCD goes blank once you plug it back into your computer.
Other, somewhat minor, quirks include the adapter's removable cap, which you're likely to lose, and the lack of a useful USB extension cable, which helps you connect the device to hard-to-reach ports on the back of your computer.
The Trendnet TEW-429UB 802.11g wireless USB 2.0 adapter proved easy for us to install, thanks to its straightforward installation guide. To delve deeper into the adapter's features, we turned to the TEW-429UB's user guide, which is also fairly well organized (though in need of a spell-check). The guide provides solid explanations of both the adapter's hardware capabilities and its comprehensive software configuration utility. The network configuration utility allows you to create various profiles for the different networks you access regularly; manipulate security settings, such as WEP and WPA keys; and search for hot spots while the adapter is plugged into your computer. The utility also displays the same pertinent info on each network (channel, signal strength) that shows up on the LCD when the device is disconnected from your system.
In our anecdotal performance tests of the TEW-429UB, the adapter achieved acceptable data transfer speeds. Using CNET's BandwidthMeter, we tested the device at various times and locations, resulting in real-world throughput that ranged from 3Mbps up to 40Mbps. These speeds are more than sufficient for the basic tasks of the typical traveler, such as checking e-mail and surfing the Web.
Trendnet includes a generous three-year warranty with the TEW-429UB 802.11g wireless USB 2.0 adapter, though its telephone support terms are thoroughly disappointing. Not only are the support lines open only Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, the tech support number is not toll-free. The company's support Web site isn't much better: at press time, the site's FAQ database turned up a big goose egg for issues related to the TEW-429UB.