Review: BearExtender PC Pumps Up Laptop Wi-Fi

Last Updated May 10, 2011 2:36 PM EDT

Wi-Fi signal strength outside the Panera Bread where I'm currently working: two bars.

Wi-Fi signal strength with the BearExtender PC plugged into my laptop, same location: five bars.

I think that about sums it up. The BearExtender is a small device that clips onto your laptop screen (or just sits next to it if you don't have bezel space to spare) and boosts Wi-Fi signal strength -- significantly. It's a great fix for those times when you're stuck in a low-signal area: that weird corner of the office, a poorly configured airport, or even outside a bagel shop.

The gizmo is about the size of a breath-mint tin, with a clip in the back for attaching it to your screen. A sizable antenna (like what you'd see on a router) screws into the top; a USB cable runs from the bottom to an available port on your laptop.

After installing the driver, you just plug the BearExtender in, then connect to whatever Wi-Fi network you want to use. (Don't be surprised if you pick up a lot more networks in the area.) That's all there is to it. The company promises up to four times the usual Wi-Fi range, and my tests (sorry) bear that out. (Engadget has some harder data if you want to see some real-world numbers.)

The adapter supports 802.11n Wi-Fi and all its older, slower cousins (b, g, etc.). It also supports all manner of encryption standards: WEP, WPA2 Personal, WPA-Enterprise and and so on.

So, what does it cost to pump your laptop full of Wi-Fi steroids? BearExtender sells for $44.97, which strikes me as pretty reasonable -- especially if you frequently find your productivity impeded by weak Wi-Fi. What do you think?

More on BNET:

  • Rick Broida On Twitter»

    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.