Around four years ago, I wrote about a device that had the ability to find hot spots, for Wi-Fi access. Back then, they were still fairly...

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Around four years ago, I wrote about a device that had the ability to find hot spots, for Wi-Fi access. Back then, they were still fairly uncommon and hard to find.

The only option you really had to locate a Wi-Fi signal was to pull out your notebook computer and turn it on.

The Digital Hotspotter from Canary Wireless was a godsend because you could press its little button and see if there was Wi-Fi available. Not only could it detect a Wi-Fi signal, it would also tell you whether it was open or locked and the name it had been given (its SSID).

It displayed the strength of the signal and told you what channel it was using.

Since then, Wi-Fi has continued to expand, and so have its number of options and configurations.

So Canary Wireless has just introduced the Model HS-20, the next generation of the Digital Hotspotter.

It’s slightly larger but slimmer than the HS-10, weighs 2.5 ounces and offers new and improved features. It also looks a lot nicer in its shiny black case.

Backlit screen

The first and most noticeable thing is that its 96×64-pixel LCD screen is backlit.

Some features remain but have been improved. For example, the signal-strength indicator on the old model used only three indicator bars. The new one offers five vertical bars, which give a more accurate measurement.

The older model required you to repeatedly press its one button to force the Hotspotter to rescan for multiple hot spots in the same location.

Now the unit performs a single scan for all available Wi-Fi signals at the same time.

A scroll button on the side lets you easily access multiple access points from the single scan. You just highlight an access point’s name and you instantly see all of the network’s details.

Before, you could only see if a network was locked or open. Now the Hotspotter can identify the type of encryption being used — WEP, WPA, WPA2 and CCX.

You will also see the type of Wi-Fi being used such as 802.11 b, g or n. In addition, the HS-20 can scan 14 channels.

While only 11 are used in the United States, 13 are used for Wi-Fi in Europe and 14 in Japan, making the HS-20 useful when you go overseas. This is important because channel information can be useful in detecting potential reasons for interference.

Another nice touch is the addition of a battery-strength indicator. While I always made it a point to carry two additional AAA batteries, now at least I can see when I’m going to need them before the unit just quits.

No fooling

As with its predecessor, the HS-20 uses a true 802.11 engine, which basically means that unlike other devices that make an attempt to just show you there’s a Wi-Fi signal nearby, you won’t receive false positives from the presence of other wireless standards such as Bluetooth.

I’m glad to see that Canary took its time coming out with its new model.

From this newer one, it’s clear they were listening to its users and they’ve come up with something that has adapted to the newer standards as well as being much easier to use.

My older one served me well, but the HS-20 is a welcome new addition.

The HS-20 Digital Hotspotter is available from the Canary Wireless Web site ( and sells for $59.95.