Gadling gear review – hField Technologies Wi-Fire high-gain USB adapter

Don’t let the complicated sounding title fool you – this is by no means an overly technical article, in fact – I’ll keep things as simple as possible. The hField Technologies Wi-Fire high-gain USB adapter is not much more than a USB Wireless network adapter. However, unlike most wireless adapters on the market, the Wi-Fire puts some special focus on providing a better signal and extended range.

Now, any of you that have spent any time in a hotel, will know that wireless Internet access can be a major pain in the backside. Even in upscale hotels, getting online can be a massive frustration.

In smaller hotel chains, Internet access is often provided through just one or two access points for the entire building, and if you find yourself in a corner room, it may be impossible to grab a reliable signal. Then there are hotels that do have a decent signal, but for some reason, your laptop can’t hold on to the signal for any length of time. This obviously makes getting any work done in your room nearly impossible.

I’ve become so disappointed with hotel Wi-Fi, that I carry my own wireless broadband adapter, and will often just use that instead of the slow and unreliable hotel offering.
As I mentioned – the Wi-Fire adapter is designed to increase your chance at getting a better signal. It accomplishes this in three ways:

  • Better Wi-Fi chipset and software than most laptops (uses its own connection manager)
  • Directional antenna and ability to be extended away from your computer
  • Larger antenna surface than most laptop computers

The adapter itself is not much of a looker – in fact, it is downright ugly. In plain gray with a wobbly rotating base made of plastic and rubber, it doesn’t give the appearance of a well designed wireless adapter. Thankfully what matters most is what’s inside the device.

The rubber feet can fold flat, allowing you to place the Wi-Fire on a table or other flat surface, or folded down to cling on to the screen of your laptop. The grip isn’t too strong, so don’t expect to move your laptop around much and have the adapter hang on.

The connector on the Wi-Fire is miniUSB, which means you can use the included cable, or provide your own one if you need something longer.

My first, and most obvious test, is using the Wi-Fire in a hotel with what I can only describe as “crap Wi-Fi”. This property had a horrible signal, a dreadful 256kbps speed limit and was obviously trying to cover an entire 40 room floor with just one access point. Using the Wi-Fi adapter in my laptop, it took me 10 minutes just to get past the login screen. Connections would constantly stall or simply drop.

On the left, my laptop with integrated Wi-Fi, on the right, the Wi-Fire. Now – I’ll admit that a little signal bar doesn’t really mean much, but the connection on the Wi-Fire was far more reliable, and the signal never dropped during my 10MB download test. Speeds between the two were similar. The laptop stayed in the same place, and I used the Wi-Fire on top of the screen, so I did not physically move closer to the access point.

The Wi-Fire connection manager is simple to use, and in many cases, much easier than the standard Windows Wi-Fi management screens. It shows a clear overview of available networks, their signal strength and quality (in %, rather than silly bars) and it shows whether they have security enabled.


Our friends over at Engadget also took the Wi-Fire for a spin, and they came to the same conclusion I reached – the Wi-Fire works. After using it in four different hotels in the past weeks, I can really conclude that this adapter picks up a more reliable signal, and can help prevent dropped connections.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of the plastic/rubber mount, but it gets the job done, in a future version, I really think that a smarter design of the mount would make a great product even better – but as I said earlier, it really is what is inside the device that counts the most.

You’ll find the Wi-Fire adapter over at hField Technologies, where it retails for just $59.00. At that price, it is close to being a no-brainer for people regularly confronted with bad hotel and airport Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fire retailer page also lists vendors that carry it in-store as well as several international retailers.