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A WiFi® finder can be a small, portable, battery operated device that locates wireless hotspots so computer users don't have to turn on their computers to see if a network is available. Instead, colored lights on the device indicate whether or not an Internet network is accessible. The most basic model is about the size of a computer mouse, though there are also very small keychain models. Another type of WiFi® finder can be an application that is downloaded to a smart phone, usually for free, and serves the same purpose as a physical finder. Instead of flashing lights to indicate Internet access, a message is sent to the phone alerting users of available networks in the area.
Most WiFi® finders have a single button and three or more LED lights. Depressing the button starts the device searching for WiFi® signals, and if no networks are detected after several seconds, the LEDs will usually remain off. In most models, a weak signal will initiate one light, while the strongest signal initiates all LEDs; if only one light is steady, it is usually possible to head in a direction that causes more LEDs to light up. When the lights flash, it most often means that the signal is intermittent or weak.
A more expensive WiFi® Finder might have additional capabilities to make things even easier; for example, one available model is built like a small flip phone, where the flipped end acts as a rotating, high-gain antenna, making it easy to hone in on the direction of the signal and head towards that area. Once a network is located, the USB port on this model allows the user to attach the WiFi® finder to a computer and instantly connect to the network, eliminating the step of configuring each hotspot in the laptop's wireless interface. Furthermore, the advanced WiFi® finder can indicate whether or not a network is secure, saving time and hassle. Once the device is connected to the USB port, its batteries are recharged, eliminating the need to replace them.
Just as a Global Positioning System (GPS)can be a physical device or downloaded to a smart phone, a WiFi® finder also has both options. Many phone application options exist for Internet finders, and most of them are free to download from the Internet. Most applications will alert the user, via text message, of free and pay-to-use networks, but there is often an option to search for only free networks. Once a network is found and selected, the user is automatically connected. Some applications have other options such as searching lists and maps of networks in other areas, which can be convenient when traveling to new places.
Purchasing a Finder
When considering a WiFi® finder, one of the specifications to pay particular attention to is how far the device scans. Less expensive models might scan up to 150 feet (46 meters), while other models can have the capacity to scan 300 feet (92 m) or more. The ability to scan not only opens the user up to more possibilities to connect in any given area, but also improves signal quality. For example, a WiFi® finder that scans up to 300 feet will provide better reception at 150 feet than a finder that is already at its outer limits of functionality at that range.
It is equally important to purchase a finder that is compatible with the laptop with which it will be used. An older laptop may have USB 1.1 ports, but many finders with USB ports are made to comply with newer USB 2.0 standards. If this is the case, it is possible to purchase a finder that is backward compatible so it will work with older laptops. WiFi® finders are usually available everywhere wireless products are sold.