There's no question that the Internet is a huge part of our lives, in part as a direct result of the proliferation of wireless access. In the not-too-distant past, accessing the Internet meant sitting down in front of a computer with a fixed network connection wired to a wall. Those wires went only so far, however, which meant that your surfing session expired as soon as you got up from the chair. Well, no more.
Since the invention of the wireless Internet router, you're no longer required to be tethered to an Ethernet or RJ11 cable plugged into the wall. You can use an inexpensive wireless router to surf the Internet from the couch, kitchen, or bedroom with ease. Now that wireless Internet access is everywhere (or so it seems), many gadgets come with wireless radios built in.
The Android phone is no exception. In fact, it's practically a requirement for a smartphone (does anyone else dislike that term?) to have wireless, or Wi-Fi, capabilities. In November 2008, Research In Motion (RIM) and Verizon Wireless released the BlackBerry Storm without Wi-Fi and were universally panned by critics (including me) for the omission.
Like most things on the gPhone, Wi-Fi isn't very complicated to set up. Just tap Settings > Wireless Controls to access the Wireless Controls screen, where you can set up everything you need to access a Wi-Fi network at your home or office (Figure 4.6). When Wi-Fi access is set up, your preferred wireless access points are stored on the Google phone, so you can pretty much set it and forget it. Next time you're within range of a Wi-Fi access point that you've connected to before, the gPhone will switch from 3G or EDGE to the faster Wi-Fi.
Figure 4.6 The Wireless Controls screen allows you to see at a glance which Wi-Fi access point you're connected to. Here, I'm connected to an access point called Fluffhead.
To connect to a Wi-Fi network, tap Settings > Wireless Controls > Wi-Fi Settings and then tap one of the listed networks in the Wi-Fi Networks section (Figure 4.7, on the next page). Networks that are encrypted with a password (like Fluffhead in Figure 4.7) display a lock over the Wi-Fi icon and require you to enter a password to gain access. Open networks (such as Fluffhead Guest in the figure) don't require a password and show the basic Wi-Fi icon sans lock.
Figure 4.7 The Wi-Fi Settings screen allows you to connect a Wi-Fi network.
If you want to connect to a network that's not in the list, just tap Add a Wi-Fi Network at the bottom of the Wi-Fi Networks section; then enter its Service Set ID (SSID) and choose an option from the Security drop-down menu (Figure 4.8). If the wireless network has security, the next screen will prompt you to enter your password.
Figure 4.8 Adding a Wi-Fi network is easy, but you must know its SSID and security information, which you enter here.
When you're connected to a Wi-Fi access point, you see an icon in the status bar. The four segments in the icon indicate how strong your connection is. A Wi-Fi icon with a question mark over it indicates a problem with the wireless connection.
To wrap up this section, I want to leave you with a little anecdote about Wi-Fi security. In short, don't trust unknown networks with your confidential information. It's trivial to create a network called Starbucks, McDonald's, or Hilton Honors and then monitor the traffic of anyone who connects to it. The practice is called spoofing. A spoofed network is designed to look and operate like a normal Wi-Fi network, with one nefarious difference: The person who set it up could be scanning the traffic flowing through it for potentially valuable information.
If you plop down in a comfy chair in your favorite coffee shop and connect to the first free wireless access point that pops up, you could be connected to the laptop of the guy next to you, and he could be capturing your login information as you access your online bank account.
Not all free wireless access points are set up by hackers to steal your information, of course. My point is that you must use common sense when using unknown Wi-Fi networks. Surfing the Web is pretty safe on a wireless network, for example, but logging in to your e-mail account can expose your login credentials to a baddie. I'd refrain from logging in to any financial Web site (bank, credit union, investments, and so on) whatsoever while you're logged in to a Wi-Fi network that you don't know. It's just not worth the risk.