The Gadget Q&A
Wondering about Wi-Fi
Should a reader gamble on free wireless at his vacation condo in Vegas? The Gadget Q&A has the answer.
Philip O'Rourke works on his laptop using the free Wi- fi at the Evanston South Library Branch in Evanston on Friday, Dec. 18, 2009. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
—Art, Elk Grove Village
A: Hi, Art. Check with your condo board to see what your neighbors do for Wi-Fi and TV. Maybe they have a service you're not aware of.
If they have no options for you, I recommend buying a USB wireless adapter ($80-$100) and a data plan ($15 to $80 a month) with a wireless provider, such as AT&T, Cricket, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon and others. The USB adapter slips into your laptop and gives you Wi-Fi anywhere you can get a data signal. In most cases, you'll have to sign a two-year contract.
I recommend this option because it's more portable than adding wireless to your condo, so you can surf and check your email by the pool in Vegas — and anywhere you have your laptop with you when you're back home.
But — and this is very important — sign up for the service while you're in Las Vegas. Try to get assurances in the Verizon store (or AT&T or wherever you go) that you can cancel your service that day if it doesn't work for you. That way, as soon as you get to your condo, you can determine if your Wi-Fi signal is adequate. Some areas in homes and condos don't always receive a strong enough signal. If that's the case, you're all set to return your equipment. Then try another of the wireless providers I listed above until you get one that works reliably.
If all you're doing is surfing and email, consider a tablet — such as the Motorola Xoom or Apple iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G — which can be paired with a month-to-month data plan, so no two-year commitment. A tablet isn't as powerful as a laptop, so if you plan to run software such as Quicken or if you do serious photo editing or any video editing, a tablet won't be up to snuff.
Do you have a tech question? Send a note to Eric Gwinn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name, location and a way to reach you if we need more information—and your question, of course.