- Editor's Rating
- Free app
- Access to Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide
- Great integrated mapping and directions
- No offline use
- Doesn't include every hotspot
- iOS version doesn't do it all
3G/4G broadband communications for smartphones has significantly reduced the need for Wi-Fi connectivity when you’re away from home or the office. Still, though, there are some solid reasons for using Wi-Fi instead.
In trying out Boingo Wi-Finder on my iPhone, I found the app to be really helpful for tracking down wireless hotspots both nearby and far away. The integrated maps and driving directions turned out to be great. However, the iOS edition of Wi-Finder isn’t as quite as capable as its Android OS, Windows, or Mac counterparts.
What are some of the reasons for using Wi-Fi instead of cellular for wireless communications? Some apps, such as FaceTime, are Wi-Fi-only. For big downloads, like movies, and installations of large apps, cellular bandwidth might not be enough. Meanwhile, cellular reception is poor or even unavailable in some buildings and on airplanes and ships. If you’re traveling internationally, cellular phone calling can be expensive and data usage fees exorbitant.
Yet whether for free or for a price, Wi-Fi isn’t available everywhere, either. The Wi-Fi software on your phone or notebook will, of course, detect Wi-Fi services in range of your current location. Yet many if not most of the Wi-Fi networks you’ll find in range will be ones that you can’t (or shouldn’t) use, such as corporate wireless LANs or home networks.
Boingo’s Free Multi-OS app
Enter Boingo, a Wi-Fi “hotspot consolidator” with a free app called Boingo Wi-Finder. Boingo’s app is available for iOS devices, Android OS phones, and Mac OS and Windows PCs.
For a flat fee, with no contract or cancellation charges, Boingo offers subscription-based access to almost a third of a million Wi-Fi hotspots at airports, coffee shops, hotels, convention centers, retail shops and other places worldwide. Some 50,000 of those locations are in North America or South America.
For example, Boingo Mobile, priced at $7.95 per month, allows unlimited access by two mobile devices in categories such as smartphones, tablets, gaming devices, MP3 players, VoIP handsets, and even cameras. Boingo also sells its services by the hour.
With the free app, you can query Boingo’s hotspot directory using either your current location or a remote address that you type in, such as “Eiffel Tower.” Boingo Wi-Finder returns information about free hotspots in that geographic area as well as commercial hotspots that are accessible to Boingo customers at no fees other than the Boingo subscription.
By the way, Boingo Wi-Finder is not to be confused with a competing app called JiWire Wi-Fi Finder. Like Boingo, JiWire also publishes a directory of hotspots which can accessed with a mobile app. Unlike Boingo, though, JiWire has no contractual agreements with commercial hotspot providers.
For all of the commercial hotspots in its directory, Boingo holds contractual roaming deals that let its customers log in at that location with their Boingo accounts. On the other hand, JiWire lets you download its database to your device, whereas Boingo does not.
Hands on with Boingo Wi-Finder
I tried Boingo Wi-Finder on my iPhone. I used it while walking around the neighborhood where I live. I also typed in some remote locations (including the Empire State Building in New York City, hundreds of miles away).
It wasn’t at all hard to get the hang of things, and I found that the app worked as claimed. I really liked Boingo Wi-Finder’s integration with maps and directions.
When Boingo Wi-Fi Finder retrieves the results from the directory database, you get your choice of how the information is displayed: either as a list, a map, or a map/photo hybrid. You can switch between the views.
The map is zoomable, and it shows hotspots as “pins” — red for Boingo hotspots, blue for free ones. Tapping on a hotspot pin brings up other information about the hotspot, including Google mapping and directions.
However, I also noticed that there are plenty of free hotspots — such as the one at the public library in my town, and at several local businesses I patronize — that don’t show up in the directories of either Boingo or JiWire.
I do wish Boingo’s app would support downloading the database in the way that JiWire’s does. This would let you perform offline searches when you’re in a place that doesn’t have either cellular or Wi-Fi wireless access. According to Boingo, though, an enhancement along these lines is on the way.
I also wish that the iOS edition of Boingo Wi-Finder had all of the same capabilities of the Android, Mac, and Windows OS versions. These non-iOS apps not only detect but offer to connect you when you’re in range of a hotspot signal. (Boingo’s explanation is that, “Because of Apple’s iOS API restrictions, the iPhone and iPad apps don’t proactively prompt you, but they will help you log on once you’re connected via the OS.”)
Don’t forget to try the native Wi-Fi features in your phone for detecting nearby Wi-Fi networks. Also consider obtaining the JiWire app and downloading their database for offline use. However, I do recommend getting Boingo Wi-Finder as another resource for Wi-Fi connectivity. If it turns out that you need to pay Boingo for wireless service for more than one hour per month, look into getting a Boingo Mobile account.