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Wireless is sort of like technology’s Tom Cruise: glamorous and baffling at the same time. The good news is that like ol’ Top Gun himself, wireless doesn’t have to be understood to be appreciated; it just needs to be put to good use. These days, seemingly every tech product touts some kind of wireless functionality. Most of these are handy, but some devices and tools stand out for offering novel or downright offbeat wireless capabilities. We rounded up a few of the more innovative products and took them for a no-wires spin. GARMIN IQUE M3 When a Pocket PC can be described as looking like every other Pocket PC, that’s usually not a big selling point. But in the case of the Garmin iQue M3, it’s rather extraordinary. Garmin engineers have managed to squeeze a GPS receiver inside the M3′s remarkably unremarkable exterior and stuffed its memory with an intuitive mapping application that will literally steer you out of jams. GPS, or Global Positioning System, is a constellation of some two dozen satellites that orbit the earth and beam radio signals back to the ground. The science gets a little complicated, but the basic concept is this: By locking onto three or more satellites and analyzing their signals, a GPS receiver can figure out its exact location � give or take 30 or 40 feet. GPS is funded and maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense and was originally used only by the military. But it can now be used by anyone with a GPS receiver, for no charge (all you pay for is the receiver). When combined with mapping software, GPS is a handy way to get real-time driving directions, with turns and exits pointed out as you need to make them. It can also point you toward points of interest, such as hotels, ATMs, restaurants and police and gas stations. GPS on a Pocket PC isn’t particularly new, but typically you have to buy a clunky add-on gadget and plug it into the device. That combination tests the limits of both “pocket” size and one’s bank account. By integrating GPS into a PDA, Garmin offers a solution that doesn’t feel like two devices stuck on top of each other. At just 5.9 ounces, the iQue M3 weighs exactly the same as Dell’s GPS-less Pocket PC, the Axim X51. The downside: GPS is still going to cost you. At $499, the iQue M3 is about twice the price of the Axim. As a PDA, the M3 is perfectly adequate, if relatively ho-hum, with both a slower processor and less built-in memory than Dell’s Axim (and most other top-flight PDAs). There’s no Bluetooth or integrated WiFi, either. The latter omission is especially disappointing because the expansion slot you’ll need for a WiFi card will most likely be used by a memory card holding your map data. (Maps take up a lot of memory, far more than the M3′s 32 megabytes of ROM and 64MB of RAM provide.) But no one will buy the iQue M3 for cutting-edge PDA features. It’s the GPS that’s key, and Garmin’s take on it is truly slick. Simply pop up the antenna in the back of the unit, and GPS is automatically, if somewhat slowly, activated (it can take a few minutes for the unit to make contact with the satellites). Once your present location is calculated, you enter a destination, or pick one from a stored list, if it’s a frequent destination or one of the 6 million points of interest already in the M3′s database. The navigation software then maps a route, which can be displayed in either two or three dimensions. As you drive, the satellites track your position, and the route is updated. The M3′s display provides step-by-step driving directions, and also highlights nearby roads and points of interest with icons. The software is extremely easy to use; we barely cracked open the manual. We did occasionally lose the satellite signals while driving. (Typically this happens when the antenna doesn’t have a clear line of sight to the sky, such as when you’re driving in a tunnel or among tall buildings.) But in all cases, contact was quickly reacquired. As a navigator, the M3 scores top marks, even recalculating the route when you make a wrong turn. There’s also a surprisingly lifelike human voice to guide you, so you don’t have to keep looking at the screen while you drive. (The digitized voice will tell you when you miss a turn, but, unlike most human navigators, will not pass judgment.) We do have some gripes with the M3. For one thing, the unit works best when there’s someone else in the car to handle it. The M3′s windshield mount is a bit flimsy, and repeating an instruction requires you to press a button or tap the screen with a stylus � an awkward, and potentially dangerous, affair while driving. For a device that relies so heavily on audio, dedicated volume buttons would have been nice, too. These are small complaints, however, and Garmin’s iQue M3 warrants serious consideration by anyone who uses both a Pocket PC and a car. ZYXEL AG-225H WIFI FINDER & USB ADAPTER Internet hotspots are multiplying faster than indictments in Washington, D.C., but that doesn’t mean they’re always easy to find. Hotels, stores and coffee shops may advertise their in-house WiFi, but many more hotspots, particularly the free ones, go unheralded and often undetected. That’s because locating hotspots can be a bit of a pain. Typically, you have to boot up your laptop to find what, if any, networks are available. Zyxel’s WiFi finder lets you keep the laptop in your bag. The device is about the size of a pack of gum (or an iPod shuffle) and doesn’t weigh much more. Turn it on, and it will scan for WiFi networks, displaying its results (typically within 10 seconds, though sometimes longer) on an LCD screen. Like everything about the WiFi finder, the screen is tiny, about 0.5 inch-by-1 inch, but it gives ample information about each hotspot it finds: name, signal strength and whether the connection is using WiFi security (and thus requires a password to join). Networks are displayed one at a time; simply hit the “next” button on the top of the unit to scan the list. Our only disappointment with the display was that it should have been backlit, especially considering the device’s $100 list price. The Zyxel unit also doubles as a WiFi adapter; just plug it into a USB port, and you can turn any laptop into a wireless Internet device, provided you’ve remembered to bring along Zyxel’s software CD, which contains the necessary driver. A year or two ago, this would have been an impressive feature, but today it’s hard to find a laptop that doesn’t already sport a built-in WiFi adapter. Zyxel’s price � even its street price of around $75 � only seems reasonable if you need both a WiFi finder and a WiFi adapter. Most users won’t need the latter, which makes us hope that next time, Zyxel will take the adapter out of the product and cut the price in half. JIWIRE SPOTLOCK Wireless security is like a prenup: Getting it can be awkward; not getting it can be a disaster. Unlike most office networks, a wireless connection at home, or at a free WiFi hotspot, is typically not secure. That makes sense: Why lock down a network that’s open to everyone? But the problem is just that: The network is open to everyone, and if someone is intent on intercepting the data you’re sending and receiving � called “snooping” � figuring out how isn’t exactly rocket science. JiWire SpotLock is a clever service that protects your data stream from prying eyes, but doesn’t make you configure software or set codes. What SpotLock does, in essence, is create a secure, encrypted tunnel between your laptop and its own servers at JiWire headquarters. So it doesn’t matter what security, if any, the WiFi network has; JiWire builds security on top of it. It’ll cost you, of course, but not too much: $4.95 per month. Even if the chances are slim that the guy on the next park bench is snooping your summary judgment memorandums, that’s a small price to pay for on-the-go security. Some users have complained that SpotLock can be a bit of a resource hog, slowing down performance on older PCs, but we didn’t notice any adverse effects, even on a 3-year-old laptop. SpotLock has one other handy feature, and this one you can keep even if you decide that pay-per-month security isn’t for you. The program features a database of worldwide hotspots that is constantly updated and sits on your hard drive for easy access when you’re not online (and that is when directories like this are most handy). The directory is thorough; as of press time more than 76,000 hotspots were listed. It did miss a few free hotspots near us, but it noted so many others that we really didn’t mind. Even if you don’t need the security or the directory, be sure to visit JiWire’s site (www.jiwire.com): There’s a lot of information about how WiFi security works, and what steps you can take to protect yourself. GOOGLE SMS If there is anything that Google mints faster than money, it’s Google-branded tools. One of the latest, an SMS-based search service, is aimed at wireless phones. If SMS � for Short Messaging Service � doesn’t ring a bell, you’re obviously not spending much time in Europe, where it is wildly popular. SMS allows wireless users to send and receive short bursts (no more than 160 characters) of text via their phones. SMS is finally starting to catch on in the U.S., and now Google is getting in on the action. Good thing, too: This is mostly useful stuff. It allows you to send search queries to Google for such things as movie times, driving directions and business listings, as well as facts in general. You send the queries via SMS and get back the results the same way. The advantage of an SMS search is that it doesn’t force you to use phone-based Web browsers, which are awkward on small screens. There is no URL to input, no lag while you’re waiting for the mobile version of a Web site to download to your phone. Instead you just type in a text message and send it to the short code 46645 (“GOOGL” on most phones). Google SMS is pretty forgiving when it comes to how you format your queries. To get a movie time, for example, you can simply enter the title of the movie and your ZIP code or the title and your city. To get driving directions, you can enter addresses, or simply city names or ZIP codes, though the more specific you get, the more detailed Google’s answers are. The most novel feature of Google SMS � and the one that sets it apart from its rival, Yahoo SMS Search � is its ability to grab facts. To learn who invented the microwave oven, for example, simply enter “inventor” and “microwave oven” and send your message off to Google, which will stew on it and get back to you, generally in a few minutes. (Simpler queries, like those for movie listings and weather, are typically returned in less than a minute.) In retrieving facts, however, Google SMS sometimes ran into trouble. Some facts, like population sizes, inventors and authors, were a piece of cake for Google SMS. Others, like Academy Award winners, stumped it (after a few minutes, Google SMS gave up and sent us a message confessing that it has failed). And Google SMS’s driving directions won’t make you give up MapQuest anytime soon. The directions it gave us didn’t have enough detail, and they occasionally missed turns and guided us onto dead-end streets. Even more annoying was the way Google sends the directions, breaking them into multiple SMS messages, which don’t always arrive at your phone in the proper order, leaving you to sort it all out. Overall, however, Google SMS is a handy tool for obtaining quick bits of information. But the service is still in its beta phase, so you may find a bug here and there (the worst we encountered were the wrong turns and a couple of off-the-mark business listings). And while Google SMS is free, your wireless provider may charge you for SMS messages, depending on your plan. We wound up paying 10 cents each time we sent or received an SMS message � small change considering all the $11 movies and $30 entrees Google SMS steered us to. Memo to Google: Not all of us own your stock. Alan Cohen is a New York-based freelance writer. This article was originally published in The American Lawyer, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.Practice Center articles inform readers on developments in substantive law, practice issues or law firm management. Contact Associate Editor Candice McFarland with submissions or questions at [email protected].

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