Slideshow: Best handheld Wi-Fi test tools

Here, we review four hardware-based products that you can throw in a laptop bag and carry around with you.

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Wi-Fi test tools

Many Wi-Fi test tools are software-based, such as Wi-Fi stumblers and analyzer programs that use a laptop’s internal Wi-Fi or maybe a USB wireless adapter. The four products we reviewed are: AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester, Yellowjacket-BANG Wi-Fi Analyzer, Wi-Spy DBx and WiFi Pineapple Mark V. Here are the individual reviews:

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AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester
AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester

The AirCheck Wi-FiTester ($2,000) Fluke Networks is a handheld tool dedicated to performing basic wireless troubleshooting, security auditing, interference analysis, and signal testing and locating. The unit can be used independently or optionally connected to a PC to view captured data with the AirCheck Manager software. Though the LCD screen of the AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester is not a touchscreen, it’s function and control buttons are specifically designed for the unit. The back of the AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester is where you can remove the rechargeable battery and also connect an external antenna if desired.

AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester
AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester

Along with the AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester unit, you receive a simple cloth-type carrying/storage bag, USB cable for the optional PC connection, power supply for recharging, quick start guide, and a CD.The unit is relatively small, measuring about 8 inches high, 3 ½ inches wide, and 2 inches thick and weighing less than a pound. After pushing the instant-on power button, you see the main menu, allowing you to open the following screens: Networks, AutoTest, Access Points, Clients, Channels, and Tools.

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AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester

Overall, we found the AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester to be a very useful tool that’s also user-friendly. It provides all the basic Wi-Fi details, including non-802.11 signals, and offers some unique testing functionality. However, it would be nice if it provided a more thorough selection of graphs and also fully support 802.11ac. The LCD screen is not touch screen either, but the way the selection and function buttons are designed makes it painless to use. Although we didn’t specifically test the battery life, the specs say it typically gives you 5.5 hours of use and takes up to 3 hours to recharge.

WiFi Pineapple Mark V
WiFi Pineapple Mark V

The WiFi Pineapple Mark V ($99) is a Wi-Fi security auditing and penetration-testing tool, built specifically for that purpose. It’s basically a wireless router sporting all kinds of interfaces, ports, and tools dreamed up by hackers themselves for advanced rogue applications, Wi-Fi monitoring, and packet injection. The unit is pretty small, measuring about 3 ½ inches long, 3 inches wide, and 1 inch tall. The two detachable 3 ½ inch antennas can be positioned to your liking. Using the WiFi Pineapple, you can perform reconnaissance of Wi-Fi APs and clients, whether associated or not.

WiFi Pineapple Mark V
WiFi Pineapple Mark V

The penetration testing attacks and demonstrates the unit can perform include but aren’t limited to: setting up a honey-pot, intercepting and injecting wireless traffic, performing DNS spoofing or IP redirection, and even substitution of executables in transit. It also integrates with standard penetration testing frameworks such as Metasploit via Meterpreter. To manage the unit, a modular web-based interface is provided. Once you login, you’re met with the main page with windows displaying select stats and controls for each module. Clicking on the title opens the full GUI for that module. The unit can also be remotely accessed via SSH, SSL VPN, even via an out-of-band Internet connection.

WiFi Pineapple Mark V
WiFi Pineapple Mark V

Overall, we found the WiFi Pineapple Mark V to be a feature-rich and inexpensive penetration-testing tool. Though we didn’t test each feature or functionality, we did get a good idea of how the tool works and what it offers. Our only gripes are with the look and feel of the GUI and the Ethernet port lacking PoE capability. Although quite functional in design, the GUI could be improved. It currently has more of a hacker-ish type of look and feel than a professional appearance.

Wi-Spy DBx and Chanalyzer
Wi-Spy DBx and Chanalyzer

The Wi-Spy DBx ($500) from Metageek is the hardware component, an RF spectrum receiver for 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and Chanalyzer ($349) is the software that lets you view and analyze the captured data. Together they allow you to scan the airwaves to verify they’re clean and identify any Wi-Fi and non Wi-Fi interference that’s detected. There are also other add-ons and packages available that offer additional functionality. The Wi-Spy DBx is relatively small, measuring about 3 inches long, 1 ¼ inches tall, and a ½ inch thick. The removable single dual-band antenna measures about 4 inches long.

Wi-Spy DBx and Chanalyzer
Wi-Spy DBx and Chanalyzer

Chanalyzer is a Windows-based application requiring a minimum of 4GB of RAM. It can also run on Mac OS X via virtualization with VMware Fusion or Parallels. In addition to the Wi-Spy DBx device, an internal or USB Wi-Fi adapter is also required. After you open the Chanalyzer application and plug in the Wi-Spy device, you start to see the colorful spectrum graphs. Chanalyzer can save sessions in which you can open and play back the captured data later.

Wi-Spy DBx and Chanalyzer
Wi-Spy DBx and Chanalyzer

Overall, we found Wi-Spy DBx and Chanalyzer to be a good economical entry-level RF spectrum analyzer solution. Though interference sources aren’t automatically identified, the MetaGeek tools allow you to both detect and physically locate them with some effort and analysis of your own. The Wi-Spy device is small and rugged enough to be thrown into your laptop bag or even carried slipped into your pocket.

Yellowjacket-BANG Wi-Fi Analyzer
Yellowjacket-BANG Wi-Fi Analyzer

The Yellowjacket-BANG Wi-Fi Analyzer ($3,500) is similar to the AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester, but is more advanced in some areas. It’s a dedicated handheld tool for performing wireless troubleshooting, security auditing, interference analysis, and signal testing and locating. The tool is from Berkeley Varitronics Systems. The unit and its accessories can be stored and transported via the durable and lockable hard case that provides ample cushion inside to protect the unit and accessories. However, it’s relatively large at about 1½ feet long, 1-foot wide, and 7-inches tall when sat flat.

Yellowjacket-BANG Wi-Fi Analyzer
Yellowjacket-BANG Wi-Fi Analyzer

When you power on the YellowJacket unit, you may be greeted with the OS or the YellowJacket BANG app, depending upon if the app was open previously. The YellowJacket BANG app has an archaic-looking GUI, which is not surprising given it’s running in the old Windows Mobile 5 OS.The first tab is MAC Information showing the basic AP list and details. Tapping on an AP allows you to tab through more pages on details pertaining to that particular AP, including graphs on RSSI over time, multipath, and channel frequency response, 802.11n capabilities, and security info.

Yellowjacket-BANG Wi-Fi Analyzer
Yellowjacket-BANG Wi-Fi Analyzer

Though this YellowJacket unit provides great graphs and details, the design with the old iPAQ Pocket PC and the decade-old Windows Mobile 5 OS is less than desirable. From the way the case covers a portion of the buttons to all the issues presented from the OS, such as possibly losing the optimized OS settings if the iPAQ battery runs out, the solution overall isn’t very user-friendly. The software could be improved as well with faster scanning and/or caching. The battery life at 3+ hours is also relatively low. We hope to see an improved edition of the YellowJacket, as we are told Berkeley Varitronics Systems is planning to move everything to a touch tablet running at least Windows 7.

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Net results

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer—keep up with his writings on Facebook or Twitter. He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity providing a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service, and On Spot Techs providing RF site surveying and other IT services.