WiFi SD cards for Windows Mobile devices have traditionally been "hit-and-miss." Although they usually get the job done, they also tend to be oversized, power-hungry, and accompanied by inelegant software that is difficult or unreliable to use. The Socket P300 WiFi card, however, makes substantial improvements in these key areas, even though the usual problems are not eliminated entirely.
Socket To Me
Measuring just 40 x 24 x 2.1 mm, the P300 is only slightly larger than a regular SD memory card, sticking out of a standard SD slot on a PDA by only a couple of millimeters. This still leaves enough room for a gentle blue blinking light on the card that indicates card activity. The card complies with the 802.11b and g standards, allowing it to connect to wireless 802.11b and 802.11g networks with a theoretical maximum download speed of 54 megabits per second. Socket says the device consumes less of your PDA's battery charge than any of its competitors do.
The card is compatible with Windows Mobile 2003 First Edition or later and supports open (unencrypted) networks, as well as networks with WEP encryption at 40, 60, or 128 bits. Socket says that the card also supports WPA and WPA-PSK where available, which requires at least Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, or a special update to WM2003 First Edition that only a few vendors (such as HP) opted to provide for their devices. The card's range is rated at 300 feet, and, during testing, its range was quite impressive, indicating that this is an only slightly optimistic estimate. Socket also includes a free copy of their WiFi Companion software, although Palm OS devices, not surprisingly, are not supported by the P300, though the Windows Mobile Treo 700w and 700wx are.
Giving WiFi A Try
Although Socket's promises seem rather ambitious, the P300 largely lives up to their claims. I was able to connect to an open hotspot easily, and I achieved an impressive 540 kilobits per second with 0.611 seconds of latency on an 802.11b network, even on my modest iPaq 1940 (using speed tests from www.dslreports.com). Web browsing was fast enough to be an enjoyable experience, almost like browsing on a computer, rather than a "last resort" when no other option is available. After over 30 minutes of use starting from a full charge, I had only used about 15% of my battery. Although this is still a pretty high rate of power consumption, it is indeed lower than that of competing WiFi cards.
We also tested the card with the Palm Treo 700w and did well. The software installed easily and after a reboot were able to set up a reliable wireless connection with a variety of access points.
The P300's software isn't perfect, but it is a definite improvement over the jumbled mess included with some SD WiFi cards. Installing the P300's drivers appears to conflict with drivers for most other WiFi cards, so you won't be able to switch back and forth between the Socket card and, say, a SanDisk model. At first glance, the WiFi Companion software looks pretty similar to the Wireless Zero Configuration (WZC) screen that is built into Windows Mobile: it consists primarily of a list of available networks, on which you can tap and hold to initiate a connection. However, WiFi Companion has one major advantage over WZC: accuracy. Whereas WZC can take several minutes to stabilize on correct information, sometimes incorrectly indicating that it is connected to a router that is actually miles away or even turned off, WiFi Companion's results generally represent whatever is really happening at the moment, although sometimes it can take a moment to provide any information at all. WiFi Companion also displays more information than WZC when connected, such as the current channel, type of hotspot (802.11b or 802.11g), and amount of data sent, which is handy information, although it is often not really necessary.
I had difficulty using WPA-PSK with the P300 and my iPaq 1940, even though my iPaq has HP's ROM update that provides WPA support (I have successfully used WPA in the past with a SanDisk card). I experienced an issue that Socket's discussion forums indicate others have seen as well: WPA networks would indicate that they were "Available," but when I tried to connect to them, they changed to "Connecting" and then back to "Available," instead of "Connected." A clear error message would've really been nice here, but since I had limited ability to monitor the configuration of the router using WPA, and since HP's WPA update is probably not tested as thoroughly as the "official support" that appears in later versions of Windows Mobile, my testing was ultimately inconclusive about whether there is actually an issue between the card and WPA.
WiFi for the iGuy
Most recent PocketPCs have built-in WiFi, and many older models may have potential WPA issues that could make the use of any WiFi card somewhat impractical on WPA networks. However, if you have a fairly recent Pocket PC but no built-in WiFi, the P300 is probably the best SD WiFi card available, and is a godsend to Windows Mobile Treo owners.
Pros: Small form factor; less power-hungry than other SD WiFi cards; fast performance; good range; included WiFi Companion software works well.
Cons: Conflicts with other SD WiFi drivers; possible WPA issues (though most newer Pocket PCs aren't affected).