App of the Week: Wi-Fi Finder

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App: Wi-Fi Finder from JiWire Platforms: iPhone Web site: JiWire.com/iphone Cost: Free

Working from home can be isolating. Sitting in a tiny office surrounded by nothing but your computer and your cats (shut up) can get a little depressing day after day, which is why I often take my laptop and hit the road to work from a cafe or library -- any place that has some people and activity.

When I do head out, I need to find wi-fi locations so I can easily connect my laptop to the Web and get working. While I certainly have favorites near me, there are times when I need to find a spot near a client or, occasionally, I just want a change of scenery.

But finding a decent spot with free wi-fi isn't always easy. There's always Starbucks, but their firewall keeps me from accessing certain things online that I need (not porn, pervert). Recently, I downloaded JiWire's free app, Wi-Fi Finder for the iPhone, and my problems were mostly solved.

Wi-Fi Finder has a nice overall look and utilizes Google mapping technology to help mark spots on a map. There is a nice interface for limiting your search to, for example, only restaurants or libraries, which is particularly handy if you want to filter out the dozens of Starbucks locations in the area.

Green pins mark free locations (blue marks places that charge for wi-fi, if there is still such a thing) that can be tapped to view the name of the establishment. If you have difficulty tapping individual pins due to "fat finger syndrome," Wi-Fi Finder includes a list view as well.

I was surprised to see just how many open networks were listed in my immediate vicinity. The map was basically covered in tiny green pins. Still, there were a number of spots I use with regularity that were missing. Fortunately, the app allows users to submit their own hotspot locations for addition to the database. 

Other features include a favorites for keeping track of the spots used with regularity, a list of recent locations and, something rarely seen on an app, an offline database that downloads to the phone the first time it is connected to wi-fi, giving users the option of searching even if the phone isn't connected to a network or if there is no service in the area.

The app even runs in the background and holds your place for when you return. A simple shake of the phone gets you back to the home screen.

It should be noted that JiWire is a company focused on getting advertisers in front of people, so this is an app supported by ads. They aren't overly intrusive, but they are there and there isn't a paid version to remove them, which is a little annoying. In addition, their network clearly favors their partners, which include Starbucks, which makes me wonder how long it takes to add a hotspot to the database, particularly if it is a competitor to one of JiWire's partners.

In the case of my favorite wi-fi spot -- Dunn Bros Coffee -- there wasn't a listing, but other Dunn Bros Coffee locations did show up, so I'll be adding that one to their database myself. 

The one drawback I found in using the app was the lack of a search by venue name. 

No doubt it is difficult to keep track of the hundreds of hotspots that crop up with regularity in a city like Houston, so the app, like many others, is limited to information submitted to its database. I found it was missing a few places near me that have wi-fi and probably don't publicize it, but it's a limitation quickly overcome by submitting the site to the database. If more people do the same, I'll never be wanting for a mobile office spot again.

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