This year, Santa’s sack could be full of wireless gifts that’ll make life on the home front simpler, safer, and best of all, lots more fun. To save you precious December shopping hours, we’ve made a list—and checked it twice—of the best home-use Wi-Fi gifts for giving (or receiving) this holiday season.Increase Speed/Distance
The new RangeMax 240 line of products from Netgear utilizes Airgo Networks’ True MIMO Gen3 chipset to support data rates up to 240Mbps, taking wireless home networks up to wired-quality speed—five times as fast as its competitors, claims Airgo—a real boon for home users who want fast access to high-bandwidth content like music, games, VoIP and video. The RangeMax 240 line consists of 802.11b/g routers, USB products for desktop and workstation PCs, and small adapter cards for laptops and ranges. Prices range from $129 to $199.
If you’re tired of slow (or no) connections in the far reaches of your home or yard, Linksys offers a simple solution. Its high gain antennas, the HGA7S for SMA connections ($42.99) and the HGA7T for TNC connections ($51.99) are an inexpensive way to extend the range of home (or small business) Wi-Fi networks using the very popular Linksys routers. The antennas, which are sold in High Gain Antenna Kits, increase both broadcast range and receptivity, which cuts down on re-transmissions and improves throughput. Installation is simple: just unscrew the antennas on your current Linksys router, replace with these, and voila! No more weak signals out on the patio or up in your attic bedroom.
For the music lover on your list, Roku’s SoundBridge Radio Wi-Fi Music System ($399) will be…well, music to their ears. The radio-shaped digital audio receiver streams digital audio files from Mac or PC. The built-in speakers with sub-woofer provide top rate sound quality, and SoundBridge gives users lots of options for music sources. It can play most audio files, including DRM WMA files purchased from online music vendors; it supports Rhapsody; it’s compatible with Windows Media Connect and iTunes servers; and it streams Internet radio. It also has an alarm clock, AM/FM radio, and includes a headset jack (although no optical or coaxial digital audio outputs). [Corrected on 12/6/05 from having reversed the available outputs.]
Point and Shoot
Integrated 802.11b/g is the latest and greatest in point-and-shoot digital photography. Among the first manufacturers into the fray is Nikon, which released its CoolPix P1 ($549.95) and P2 ($399.95) this fall, both of which offer built-in Wi-Fi.
Owners of the P1 or P2 can transfer images from their cameras to their PCs, to PC-connected printers, or directly to PictBridge-compatible printers (by purchasing a wireless printer adapter from Nikon).
The P1 (8 megapixel) and the P2 (5.1 megapixel) each provide a nice-sized 2.5” display, strong battery life, and Nikon’s special D-Lighting in-camera software that automatically corrects underexposed images. Unlike its competitor, the Kodak EasyShare One, which provides Wi-Fi via an SDIO card, users of the P1 can also control their camera from their computers. [Check out our review of the CoolPix P2.]
Beef Up Security
Most home Wi-Fi networks are unprotected, partly because the process of installing any true security measures seems too complicated for most home users to bother with. McAfee, which claims that 60 percent of wireless networks are currently unprotected, hopes to change that.
With the release of its affordable and simple-to-use McAfee Home Network Security software ($49.99), available as a download or on CD, McAfee has made guarding against data theft, unauthorized network access, and broadband “freeloading” possible for even the least tech-savvy home users.
The Wireless Home Network Security software encrypts personal and private data, and blocks unauthorized users from accessing a wireless network. Users with routers from any of the leading vendors (Belkin, D-Link, Linksys, Netgear and others) will find that the software integrates directly with their router and supports the ability to rotate encryption keys for either wired equivalent privacy (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and WPA2/802.11i. [We’ll have a full review of this software later this week.]
Reach Out and Skype Someone
While technically not a Wi-Fi product, the Linksys CIT200 Cordless Internet Telephony Kit ($129.99) is tightly integrated with the free Internet telephony company Skype. That makes using Skype over your home wireless network more like talking on a “real” phone. The cordless DECT 1.8-1.9GHz phone has a backlit color display and backlit keypad. Using the CIT200 phone, Skype users are free to talk without having to sit in front of their computers. The phone can be used to make calls, to receive SkypeIn calls (calls from regular phone lines), or to access voicemail and contact lists.
For gamers, Nintendo DS ($129) the dual-screen handheld gaming system that comes with built-in Wi-Fi to enable head-to-head gaming, is the perfect gift. Currently, three titles are available, which support Wi-Fi game-play: Animal Crossing: Wild World; Mario Kart DS; and Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land. To find opponents, gamers can go online for free at any of the 6,000 McDonalds restaurants using Wayport’s wireless network to provide access. From there, DS players can link into a worldwide network of competitors, or play against other players at the same location. The site www.nintendowifi.com has a JiWire-powered directory of all the venues where gamers can play online in North America, from Panama up to Canada. If you’d rather play at home, the DS works with any Wi-Fi router, though the company has a special partnership with Buffalo Technology to support its AirStation One-Touch Secure System (AOSS) for setting up instantly secure connections.
Coming soon: Gift ideas for wireless road warriors.