Enfora 802.11b Wireless Portfolio for
Palm PDAs Posted April 2005 by Tanker Bob
Palm OS device users have long grown accustomed
to having virtually full Microsoft Office document compatibility
on the road, image manipulation, music enjoyment, and a great deal
else. Until recently, though, we’ve been living with dial-up
connections to the Internet, though, either through modems or cell
phones acting as modems. A few solutions to networking on the road
have appeared in the form of SDIO
cards from SanDisk and PalmOne.
Now wel'll take a gander at a particular interesting solution—Enfora’s
802.11b Wireless Portfolio.
Who are these folks?
Enfora boasts an extensive
background in wireless technology. Their products span the spectrum
from GSM/GPRS to CDPD to 802.11. Enfora’s partnership with
Texas Instruments has borne fruit across the product range. The
company web site vaunts their concentration of technical expertise—including
an average of 20-years’ experience in wireless engineering
across its senior technical engineers. This distinguished pedigree
whetted our appetite for this review.
How DO we do it?
We tested the wireless portfolio with a Palm Tungsten T3 that
uses Lubak’s Fonts4OS5 and
Alexander Pruss’ FontSmoother with
Lubak’s anti-aliased ComicSans font. Network connectivity
occurred through a Linksys WRT54G Wireless Router to a Windows
XP Pro SP2 desktop. The Internet was accessed through the same
router, as well as a number of free public sites in hotels and
Bottom Line Up Front
Here’s the short story—Enfora’s
portfolio is definitely road warrior material! Its genius lies
in three key advantages: 1) the portfolio has its own battery so
doesn't need to tap the PDA for power; 2) when plugged in to AC
power, the portfolio passes power through to the PDA to charge
your handheld; and 3) while surfing the Internet or accessing your
network, you have full access to all your PDA’s features,
including/especially your SD card. SDIO card solutions fall short
on all three of these counts, except in the Palm Tungsten T|5 on
the last item because it has an internal drive that acts as an
internal memory card.
It looks like a case because it
The Soft Side – Enfora WiFi Manager
The Enfora WiFi Manager software takes care of all the connection
details. The small 61K application simply Hotsyncs to your handheld.
Upon opening, it shows the currently selected network connection.
Initially there won’t be one, of course, but after setting
up connections the screen provides the status of the current connection
including signal strength and the battery status. The status line
will move from AP Disconnected to Connection Pending to Associated.
Upon reaching Associated, the top LED on the radio will turn green
and you may connect to your access point.
Bringing up the menu offers a number of useful choices. Network
Information lists the current IP address and subnet mask of the
connection or association, access point name and MAC address, DNS
addresses, router IP, and radio channel once the portfolio becomes
associated with an access point. Device Information provides the
device name, firmware version, radio version, portfolio serial
number and MAC address, and power save status. It also provides
a soft button to restore the system defaults in case of problems.
The Power Save status can be changed from this dialog.
The Profile Settings menu selection brings up a like-named screen
that lists all currently stored profiles. Tapping on the Scan button
starts a search for discoverable sites in range. This takes a minute
or so, but seems thorough. When the search completes, simply select
the network of interest and tap Add at the top. You may also change
the settings of an existing network or delete nets from the list.
The Manager can store four profiles.
Upon tapping Add or Update, the manager presents a list of settings
that may be chosen for the selected connection. If the network
was just discovered, you must give it a profile name on the top
line. The network Service Set ID (SSID) will appear on the second
line. Most free public access points will not have security enabled,
so you may usually leave that box unchecked while out on the town
or on the road. The settings shown in the screenshot above will
be the usual settings required for a public hook-up, except that
a name must be entered for the profile.
For home or corporate networks, encryption
will usually be enabled. Enfora’s WiFi Manager support
WEP (Wired Equivalence Privacy) encryption with 40/64-bit and
128-bit flavors. The manager will store up to four keys for each
encryption level, and the keys may be hex or ASCII. The encryption
settings must match those of the router or access point exactly.
Although inputting 128-bit keys can be tedious, Tanker Bob recommends
using the highest level of encryption possible to protect your
network and data. 128-bit encryption will theoretically be slower
performing than 64-bit or no encryption, but I found no difference
on the 400 MH z T3.
Although the Manager supports Infrastructure (using access points/wireless
routers) and AdHoc (peer-to-peer) modes, Infrastructure should
be the architecture of choice for most users. Accompanying PDF
manuals on the CD describe connection setups step by step for WiFi
Hotsyncing and AdHoc support very c learly. Strong hint: If
you intend to Hotsync over WiFi, be sure to set the Primary PC
Name to “!!” without the quotes under Hotsync’s
Primary PC Setup menu item. Wifi Hotsync through the portfolio
isn’t nearly as fast as through the USB cradle, but it does
The Advanced button at the bottom of Network Settings takes you
to a screen that allows the user to set a static IP and DNS server,
though these should usually be left to the default automatic discovery.
One note: If you choose to set a static IP, you must also set a
At the bottom of the Advanced Network screen is a More button.
Tapping it takes you to some more technical settings. Except for
the Preamble, these should generally be left alone. The defaults
match most router and access point default settings. The default
Preamble setting comes set to Long, but I found that this should
sometimes be set to Short to get reliable connections. If for some
reason you don’t get a quick connection on initial setup
and your WEP keys recheck as good, try setting Preamble to Short.
Hardware Easy on the Eyes
The Enfora Portfolio comes in an attractive black mesh and leather
design, with most of the interior being leather as well. The high
quality stitching and excellent general construction make it at
home in any environment, including business use. It zips open/closed,
opening like a book with the PDA on the right side and the radio,
four credit card holders, and two SD card holders on the left.
These features give the portfolio a handy wallet-like function
in addition to its WiFi functionality.
This particular Wireless Portfolio supports all PalmOne PDAs with
the Palm Universal Connector. The PDA goes in the portfolio at
about a 20 degree angle to the hori zontal in order to engage the
connector. As is standard for the Palm connector even in the cradle,
the PDA can rock in the connector causing disconnects. To help
stabili ze the Palm, Enfora provides a pair of Velcro-like dots
(one is a backup) with adhesive on their backs to stick to your
PDA. The dots then press into a similar pattern on the inside of
the case, holding the handheld against movement. The dots have
a wavy pattern that matches the backing in the case. Pressing the
dot into that wavy pattern holds it in place. The system only requires
one dot, but Enfora provides the other as a spare.
My recommendation for best results is to
push the dot firmly into the backing in the case in a location
roughly where you want it to end up on the back of the PDA, then
expose the adhesive on the back of the dot. Carefully place your
PDA correctly on the connector and then press it back against
the dot. If the portfolio won’t
be your primary case, you might want to check the spacing in your
usual case to ensure the PDA will still fit with the dot on its
The radio has two LEDs on a panel that runs vertically along the
center of the left-inside of the case. The bottom LED serves both
as a power-on and charging indication. The power-on button sits
on the inside of the radio spine just above the bottom LED and
is recessed to prevent inadvertent powering of the radio. The top
LED flashes amber while connecting to an access point, then steady
green when associated with a network. After being connected to
a net, the top LED flashes during data transfer. The charger connects
at the bottom center under the power LED, making it possible to
zip the portfolio almost closed while plugged in.
In the Wild
The Enfora Wireless Portfolio’s operation proved incredibly
simple. Reliable connection to the Linksys router characteri zed
its performance at all encryption settings. It reliably found discoverable
WiFi access points on the road. The portfolio no-kidding saved
my bacon in one instance during testing. I had it with me during
a business meeting in a hotel when I needed immediate answers to
a question that I knew I could find on the Internet. I fired up
the portfolio, searched for and found the hotel’s free WiFi
connection, gave it a name, and jumped on the net in less than
a minute. Sweet!
Theoretically, 802.11b handles transfer
rates up to 11 Mbits/sec. PalmOne’s USB Universal Connector can theoretically transfer
data at 12 Mbps—ostensibly a good match for 802.11b capability.
I tested the Enfora with McAfee’s
Speedometer using WebProV 3.5. On an average of ten runs over
a 4Mbps cable modem connection, the portfolio came in at 350 Kbits/sec
(43.7 Kbytes/sec)—very impressive. However, when transferring
files locally over WiFi links, including WiFi Hotsync, and even
downloading from the web, the numbers came in more like 68 Kbits/sec
(8.5 Kbytes/sec). I assume that’s because Palm’s Connection
Manager offers serial connections natively. I attempted to reconcile
the two sets of test results, but I certainly can’t argue
with the file transfer tests where I could control the test entirely.
After testing with other handheld and desktop connections, I believe
the Speedometer result to be erroneous with most handheld browsers
and prefer direct file transfer and download results for accuracy.
While 68 Kbits/sec is not even close to WiFi speed, this proved
adequate for mobile-oriented sites and far superior to cell phone
Critical to a T3 owner, the Enfora portfolio
had no negative effect on the PDA’s battery. I could surf the Internet or work on
my network for as long as the T3’s battery normally lasts,
checking my email over WiFi and downloading attachments to my SD
card. Even better, when plugged into AC power, I could charge my
T3 while doing the same. So, I only needed to take one charger
with me on trips. Beauteous! Enfora rates the LiIon battery at
8 hours of normal operation, far longer than any color PDA currently
on the market. I found no reason to doubt that rating during testing.
The portfolio’s antenna being outside of the PDA and separated
from the PDA’s electronics offers the opportunity for improved
reception. Enfora claims this advantage and my experience bears
that out. I enjoyed strong reception on the opposite side of the
house and up a floor. In fact, I connected to the router from the
street in front of my neighbor’s house. While I don’t
live in a Graceland look-alike, I easily validated Enfora’s
claim of 150 foot range outdoors—even from my basement office!
So what’s the downside? Well, the portfolio is not small,
measuring in at 6” long, 4” wide, and 2” deep.
It’s not shirt-pocket eligible, and in fact barely fits in
my front pants pocket. The issue isn’t the length so much
as the thickness. It travels best in a coat pocket, briefcase,
or a medium to large purse. It only weights 9 ounces, so it isn’t
heavy. On the plus side, the portfolio protects the handheld and
radio very well. The inside face with the card slots presses on
the PDA when the case is closed, so you’ll need to use Keylock
on the T3 or a utility that disables the buttons’ ability
to power-on the handheld. The leather spine will probably stretch
with use, lessening the pressure on the PDA when closed.
Then there’s the data transfer rate. Card-based WiFi solutions
suck battery power like cra zy, but the PalmOne SDIO card can deliver
data transfer rates around 133 KBytes/sec in a T3. Enfora doesn’t
seem to have tapped the T3’s connector’s USB capability,
instead settling for serial transfer speeds. A driver or firmware
upgrade may be able to tap the USB capability, but I didn’t
find any indication that such an upgrade might be on the hori zon.
All that said, I found surfing or keeping up with email a p leasant
experience with the portfolio.
Overall, I grew quite fond of the Enfora
802.11b Wireless Portfolio. By bringing its own battery to
the party, providing pass-through charging to the handheld, and
freeing up the SD slot for email attachments and net downloads,
Enfora offers a strong WiFi alternative for Palm OS devices.
Teamed with Enfora’s portfolio, my Tungsten T|3 definitely
replaces a laptop on business trips. The tradeoff here comes
down to preserving battery life and card operation vs. slower
WiFi-delivered data transfer rates.
The portfolio retails at $149, and is compatible
with OS 4 and OS 5 Palms with the Palm Universal Connector. Other
models interface with m-series Palms, mini-USB connector-endowed
Tungsten E, and sleds for
600 and Treo 650 will be re leased
soon. Enfora has well-answered the Palm community’s p lea
for WiFi connectivity while preserving our batteries and SD card
Long battery life
Pass-through charging of the handheld in the case
Excellent radio sensitivity
Attractive leather/weave case w/SD and
credit card carry
Clever, simple PDA stabilization in the case
Too large for standard pocket carry
No WPA or
shared key support (yet)
Essentially serial transfer rate through
the Palm connector
The Palm Universal Connector model reviewed here
is compatible with several Palm and palmOne brand models such as
the Tungsten T3, T5, Palm m125, m130, m500, m505 and m515). A
mini-USB connector Portfolio is available for Tungsten E as well.
Deals and Shopping!
For palmOne models with the Palm Universal Connector