on a laptop
■ Choosing the
By Marc Saltzman
Q: I’m buying a new laptop computer and
want to connect to the Internet while on
trips. Is it easy to set this up?
A: Yes—providing your laptop supports wireless
That is, most laptops sold today include built-in
“Wi-Fi” technology—also referred to “802.11” or
“wireless LAN” (local area network)—which means
you can log on to the Internet wirelessly at broad-band-like speeds as long as you’re in a “hot spot,”
such as in a café, airport lounge, hotel room and so
on. The operators of these places have set up equipment to send out signals that your laptop can pick
up to connect to the Internet.
There’s an easy way to find out if where you are
with your laptop offers wireless connectivity. If you
have a Windows-based computer, simply right-click the small “Network” icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen (near the clock). The icon
looks like two small overlapping computer screens.
Then choose “Connect to a Network” or “View
Not only will you be able to find out if you’re in
a hot spot, but you can tell if it’s “secure” or not,
meaning you might need a password to gain access
to the Internet and/or pay a small fee for the service.
(Hint: Always try the free ones first!) Once you
choose one of the available networks, launch your
favorite browser to see if you’re online.
Of course, be sure to have a firewall and
antivirus program installed on your computer. You
can pick up viruses in these hot spots.
Some products, such as the keychain-size
Kensington Wi-Fi Finder Plus, let you sniff out if a
wireless network is present before you even boot up
If your laptop does not have integrated Wi-Fi
connectivity, you can purchase a small PC card (
formerly “PCMCIA card”) that snaps into the side of
the computer or a Wi-Fi USB adapter.
Some travelers who do not want to rely on finding an 802.11 hot spot are opting for a snap-in WAN
(wide area network) PC card that uses wireless cell-phone technology to log on to the Internet. While
not quite as fast as broadband—yet—some wireless
network speeds aren’t too bad for Web browsing and
reading e-mail, including EVDO, EDGE and the latest buzzword, HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet
access). Check your cell carrier to see what’s offered.
Alternatively, you may also be able to connect
your cell phone, PDA or BlackBerry to your laptop
via its USB cable and use it as a modem so you can
log online with your computer.
A good Web site for more information on wireless connections, including a handy map that locates
wireless hot spots, is
Q: I’m excited about buying a new digital
camera, but can’t decide between a “point-
and-shoot” model and a digital SLR. How do
A: Point-and-shoot digital cameras are much
smaller, less expensive (as low as $100) and, generally speaking, easier to use than digital single-lens
reflex (SLR) cameras.
SLRs, on the other hand, offer better-quality
photos, more manual options and interchangeable
lenses (such as telephoto long zoom and wide-angle), and give you a more accurate shot since the
viewfinder looks through the lens, as opposed to
Other benefits: Digital SLRs offer faster start-up
times and speedier shutter speeds compared to
point-and-shoot cameras—so you’re better equipped to capture that magic moment.
Because of falling prices, many would-be point-and-shoot camera purchasers are now buying digital
SLRs. Many 10-megapixel models with numerous
hot features from leading manufacturers cost less
than $1,000 (including a 18– 55 mm lens), and some
older models can be found for as little as $600.
Be sure to touch and hold both kinds of digital
cameras before you purchase one, and ask yourself
how and where you plan on using the camera. Do
you mind having a bulky SLR hanging around your
neck instead of a slender point-and-shoot in your
pocket or purse? Do you need a camera with better
zoom, for situations such as taking photos of a kid’s
soccer game from afar?
If your budget allows, you might even consider
picking up both a point-and-shoot and a digital SLR
for different occasions. C
Marc Saltzman, a lead-
ing high-tech reporter,
contributes to more than
three dozen prominent
publications, appears on
radio and TV, and is the
author of 13 books.
Questions about electronics
or computers you purchased
at Costco? Send them to:
The Costco Connection
P.O. Box 34088
Seattle, WA 98124-1088
Or fax to (425) 313-6718,
or e-mail to
The Costco Connection
Costco offers a variety of laptop computers in
the warehouses and at costco.com. Also available in the warehouses and online are a wide
selection of point-and-shoot and digital SLR cameras and related accessories.
in the subject line.
Marc will answer
selected questions in this
column. We regret that
cannot be answered