The ZyXEL AG-225H is a rather unique little device in that it is both a Wi-Fi Finder and USB based wireless card adapter. That means you can use this ZyXEL Wi-Fi finder / USB adapter to find a wireless network, and then plug it into your USB port to connect to that network you just found. The ZyXEL AG-225H also has the ability to function as an access point so you can share an internet connection with other wireless enabled laptops around you.
ZyXEL Wi-Fi finder and USB Adapter in the box (view larger image)
Back of box for ZyXEL Wi-Fi finder and USB Adapter (view larger image)
What’s in the box:
- AG-225H Finder
- Quick Start Guide
- CD with guides + Windows drivers
- Strap for holding wi-fi finder
- USB extension cable
Specs for AG-225H Wi-Fi Finder:
- 801.11 a/b/g Compliant
- Powered by Li-Ion battery (recharges via USB 2.0 port, lasts about 2-weeks as a wi-fi finder without recharging)
- WPA and WPA2 support as a wireless access point
- Product spec and datasheet details here
- Body casing material: plastic
The ZyXEL AG-225H as a Wi-Fi Finder
A wi-fi finder can be a useful tool for finding the closest wireless spot without having to open and boot up your laptop. The problem with some wi-fi finders I’ve seen is that they lack being able to give detailed information on the number of wireless spots available in the vicinity, the strength of the signal, the type of 802.11 the access points are and whether the access points are secured or not. The ZyXEL wi-fi finder offers a nice LCD display that tells you all of this information.
In order to get the ZyXEL to find networks and display information you hit the “Seek” button and the AG-225H will fire into action and search for wireless networks. Be warned, this process takes forever — or seemingly so. It’s the slowest wi-fi finder I’ve ever used, it’s an intolerably slow 20-30 seconds to seek a lot of the time. While searching for networks the device simply displays “Seeking” on the LCD.
The ZyXEL wi-fi finder / USB wireless adapter example LCD display readout (view larger image)
Once the AG-22H has found networks though, the information it provides is very useful. In the above photo you can see what the AG-225H has to offer in terms of display readout. In the top left corner you see “1/1” meaning it is currently displaying access point information of 1 of 1 that has been found (the “belkin54g” named access point in this example). The device can pickup up to 15 access points at once, you hit the “next” button on top to scroll through access points available.
The top right unlocked pad indicates that a wireless access point is unsecured and open (as is the case with the “belkin54g”). This area will display WEP or WPA if it is secured by such means. To the far top right is displayed an “A”, “B” or “G” to indicate the 802.11 type of wireless access point that is detected, and then the bar graph next to the letter indicates the relative strength of the signal from where you are currently situated.
The “S” you see in the top middle indicates the wi-fi finder is in “Standard” mode, you can switch it to “F” mode to find “Free hotspots” or “D” to find a dedicated chosen network. To switch modes you hold in on the “Seek” button and then hit “Next”.
Top view of AG-225H shows the “next” and “scan” button, you hit the scan button to find access points in the vicinity and the next button enables you to scroll through information for each access point found after a scan (view larger image)
The ZyXEL does a fairly good job of picking up hotspots, it’s never as good as the X41 ThinkPad laptop I use though. For instance, the X41 I have right now can see 7 wireless networks using it’s ultraconnect antennae (built-into the notebook screen) and an Intel 2915ABG card wireless card. The AG-22H can see 5 wireless networks — it’s possible that the ZyXEL is simply rendering out the very low connectivity hotspots my X41 is reporting but I know are too weak for me to possibly connect to.
There’s an on/off button on the bottom of the Wi-Fi finder (view larger image)
Size comparison of the AG-225H to a stick of gum (view larger image)
One thing I can attest to is that in New York City, a rather dense urban area with lots of wi-fi spots, the ZyXEL gets to really do its work as I nearly always can detect the maximum 15 networks the device will allow when walking down any street. Given the density of Starbucks locations in this city, the ZyXEL is good for figuring out which ones have Wi-Fi if the Starbucks folks forget to put that handy T-Mobile Hotspot sticker in the window.
Detecting wi-fi at a Starbucks, yup, T-Mobile wi-fi is available with your coffee here (view larger image)
The ZyXeL is lightweight to carry around, probably due to the fact it’s made of plastic, which is a blessing and a curse since it means it keeps weight down but if you sit or step on this thing it could be curtains closed on this act. Although the AG-225H is quite light and and fairly pocketable (you’d never notice the extra weight in a bag if you store it there), I should mention the device is rather thick and definitely bigger than your average USB flash drive (about twice the size and weight).
The ZyXEL AG-225H as a Wi-Fi USB Adapter
When placed in the USB 2.0 port of your laptop the AG-225H takes on its second personality, that of being a wireless adapter that enables you to connect to a wireless access point and access the internet. The AG-225H isn’t all plug and play here, you’ll need to install the ZyXEL AG-225H drivers first to get this to work. The drivers are included on the CD for Windows, or you can download Mac and Windows drivers from the ZyXEL download library website: http://www.us.zyxel.com/support/download.php.
The ZyXEL AG-225H plugs into your USB 2.0 port and acts as a wireless adapter, it also charges and powers itself while plugged into a USB port (view larger image)
When you install the drivers for this device you get a fairly nice client software package to manage the AG-225H and connections. Below is a screen shot of this connection manager software, it’s pretty straight forward.
I disabled my internal Intel wireless card and used the ZyXEL AG-225H on an 802.11b router for 30-minutes to test it out. It worked great, as well as my internal Intel 2915abg card does. Now, the fact that 99% of notebooks these days come with an internal wireless adapter makes me wonder how useful this aspect of the AG-225H is going to be for notebook buyers today, but for those with older laptops or who want a backup wireless card in case of emergency (i.e., your internal card plays up and won’t connect to a certain router) this is a nice to have feature.
Also very useful is the fact the AG-225H can share an internet connection by switching to “Access Point Mode”. So, if you’re plugged into a LAN or if you’re using your internal wireless card to access the net you can use this USB adapter to broadcast a connection to other laptops around you.
One thing I didn’t like about the AG-225H is that it didn’t feel very secure in the way it plugged into the USB port, it kind of wobbled a bit and since it’s a somwhat bulky and thick adapter it would certainly bump into other devices plugged into USB ports around it, so if your USB ports are all stacked close to each other then the size of this device would prove a problem.
The AG-225H is more useful than your average wi-fi finder in that it doubles as a wireless card, wi-fi finder and can be a wireless access point. The wi-fi finder aspect of the device is somewhat dragged down by the horrible seek time, but the LCD information display is good. The wi-fi adapter capabilities are useful, but only really if you don’t have an internal wireless card on your laptop, and most people these days do. There are some organizations such as hospitals and banks that refuse to allow wireless in their buildings and ban it from laptops, so if you need a wireless card that can be easily added/removed then this could be a good solution. The AG-225H retails for around $70 so it’s certainly not overpriced and could certainly make sense as a useful gadget for the right person.
Pricing and Availability: ZyXEL AG-225H