The Socket Low Power Ethernet Card (LPE) debuted in 2000 alongside the
initial push of Pocket PC handhelds. In spite of competition from
others for the production of CompactFlash Ethernet adapters, LPE still
remains one of the few products truly geared towards mobile use. The
hardware dimensions continue to be the same as the launch product. The
LPE is a Type I CompactFlash card so it maintains its high level of
compatibility. It works with a series of handhelds and PDAs, ranging
from the CE devices like the Casio BE-300, to older HPC Windows CE
devices, to the latest Pocket PC 2002 devices. Moreover, devices like
the HP Jornada series continue to support Type I only cards and the LPE
is ideal for that device. Connecting with a 10BaseT interface, the
output is restricted to 10mbps and has no provisions, unlike other
CompactFlash Ethernet cards, to support the faster 100mbps standard.
This makes it compatible in a wide variety of settings, except perhaps
with 100BaseT only hubs/switches/routers (and those are rare). However,
the speed is adequate considering the LPE offers speeds comparable to
what we would find in wireless 802.11b standards and with an Ethernet
connection, you are always assured of the fastest speed possible.
Although there is an assortment of CompactFlash Ethernet adapters out on
the market, Socket Communications has the dubious record of delivering
one that is battery conscious. Coined as Battery Friendly R cards, it
consumes more than ten times less energy than its typical competitors.
This makes it useful when you are on the road or away from your docking
station. Moreover, the LPE is fairly sleek in size and dimension. The
card itself is no bigger than your usual CompactFlash memory card.
Thus, its profile fits snugly into the handhelds themselves. Because
the dimensions of the Ethernet cable are larger than the actual adapter,
a dongle is provided to help bridge that gap. The dongle itself is
small and the clip that attaches it helps it remain connected, even
under pressure. The design is similar to what IKEA does to furniture.
It is space-saving for sure and eliminates the aesthetic bulkiness that
is attributed to most other CompactFlash Ethernet adapters.
The LPE also distinguishes itself with value-added software. Since its
inception, it has been updated to support the Casio BE-300; a Windows CE
3.0 device. Otherwise, for all Pocket PC devices, it loads itself on
the taskbar of your operating system and displays activity / link lights
there. The manufacturers claim this helps the LPE save electricity.
From what I understand about engineering though (and I asked an engineer
about this), LEDs are designed to save energy in the first place and I'm
not sure how much is actually shaved off with this design decision. The
software installs through ActiveSync and I found the package has been
updated to support the latest operating systems. I installed it in
Windows XP and ActiveSync 3.5 without a hitch. It has a combined
network configuration screen for the LPE only, allowing you one touch
access to IP and MAC addresses of your Ethernet connection. For the
Pocket PC 2000 folks, there is a handy feature where the LPE driver
software will start up ActiveSync upon the insertion of the LPE card.
This is a tremendous timesaver. If anyone has played around with
Ethernet cards and Pocket PC 2000, you'll know that ActiveSync takes
more than a few stylus taps to get through. LPE solves this problem
completely and elegantly.
The package as a whole has also aged quite gracefully. Support for
Pocket PC 2002 is still there although the timesavers introduced by the
LPE software may be a moot point in the new operating system. For
example, ActiveSync is now prominently displayed in the default Start
Menu. Still, LPE's driver software continues to work. Perhaps a big
plus for owners of Casio's BE-300, special drivers are available for it
too with similar amenities.
There are a few words that help mark the LPE product. One of them is
compatibility. It simply supports a wide variety of Windows CE devices
and its correlated Pocket PC PDAs. It works flawlessly with the native
NE2000 drivers and provides extra functions to make the package unique.
Though the LPE has been out for quite some time, you can be sure that
Socket Communications has not neglected the product. In fact, there is
an additional rugged version of the LPE for the weary traveler. The
bundled software, although small and trite for modern Pocket PC 2002
devices, left me with the impression that the manufacturer actually
cares about its product, rather than slapping the hardware in a box and
shipping it out after that. My hope is for Socket Communications to
work this form factor into an updated product. And from the perspective
of an entertainment publication, good wired or wireless networking will
be one of the hottest features for PDA titles this year.