Wi-Fire long-range WiFi adapter hands-on and impressions

It's an age-old problem. What do you do when you're just barely out of range of a nearby WiFi signal, and moving closer really isn't a convenient option? hField Technologies has been solving said quandary for years with its continually revamped Wi-Fire, and we were fortunate enough to grab hold of the newest, third-generation version in order to put said company's claims to the test. Quite frankly, we were more than skeptical about this so-called range extender; let's face it, this thing has all the markings of an 'As Seen On TV' trinket that does little more than fantasize about delivering on its promises. Thankfully for all of the parties involved, we're happy to say that our doubts were hastily shelved. Read on for more.

We tested hField's oddly-shaped doohickey on both a Windows-based and OS X-based (10.5) machine, and we're happy to say that setup was a snap on both platforms. Once the drivers are installed and the device is connected via USB, you simply pull up the Wi-Fire control panel, refresh the list of nearby hotspots and select the one that you'd like to connect to. Refreshing the list was always snappy, and the handy signal strength indicators were -- on the whole -- rather conservative. In other words, we had no problem connecting to someone's open signal that showed 24 percent, and we found the connection to be rather strong for the hour or so that we were leeching.

Entering a security password was also a cinch; if the hotspot you selected required one, a pop-up box alerted you that some input was needed. If you were lucky enough to select an option that was open, Wi-Fire simply did the rest itself. Once connected, two new bars showed at the bottom of the Connection Manager. One displayed the real-time signal strength, while the other showed the real-time link quality. We can't say for certain if the Wi-Fire really did help us connect to routers that were 1,000 feet away, but we can say that the amount of hotspots available to sync with increased three to five times on average when compared to using our laptop's built-in WiFi antenna.

Better still, the Wi-Fire can be easily repositioned to get a more solid connection, and given that it connects over USB, you can use that 50 foot USB extension cable (and signal repeater) that's currently collecting dust in your attic. The device is remarkably lightweight and perfectly suited for travel, and at least in our experience, it proved to be a real lifesaver when visiting new locations where local internet wasn't available. Regardless of whether you're hoping to leech off of someone else's connection for a tick while you're away or you're looking to increase signal strength within your own home, the Wi-Fire delivers.

At first glance, we figured $59 for a device high on promises (and likely low on results) was outrageous. After spending a week with it, we can definitively say that this thing's worth every penny if you find yourself frequently on the move or in need of a stronger connection from one end of the house to the other. You're practically assured of seeing your available hotspot list grow at least threefold, and once connected, Wi-Fire does a commendable job of maintaining the connection and avoiding dropouts. Our only real beef with the device is the lack of 802.11n support, but unless you're looking to transfer files locally, you won't even notice. Trust us -- this one only looks like a gimmick.