Wilson Electronics Sleek Pumps Up Cell Phone Reception
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 12:19 AM
The problem of dropped calls and sluggish data service continues to plague a wide range of cell phone users--and unfortunately, there's no silver-bullet fix for all customers and situations. Case in point: the $100 (as of August 31, 2010) Wilson Electronics Sleek, which is designed to improve reception for a single phone, primarily in a moving car.
The Sleek is basically an elaborate antenna upgrade consisting of a small box (about the size of a laptop adapter brick) with slide-on arms to snugly cradle the handset, plus a long cable that screws into the box at one end and terminates in a skinny, 5-inch-tall antenna with a magnetized base that you place on the roof of a car.
The device supports both the 800MHz and 1900MHz frequency bands and works with both CDMA and GSM phones, so you can use it with handsets for all major U.S. carriers with the exception of Nextel (it won't help in Europe, either, because networks there operate on different frequencies). Wilson has been making high-quality signal boosters and repeaters for years, but the Sleek is its most affordable--and portable--to date.
Wilson's package includes three sets of slide-on arms; since you can further adjust the arms' width by choosing from three slide-in tracks on the back of the Sleek, the device should be able to hold most popular cell phones securely. To test a shipping unit with my iPhone 4, for example, I used a narrow set of arms in the narrowest slide-on track, which created a supertight fit that made it impossible for the phone to slide out of the cradle accidentally.
The unit comes with a glue-on dashboard mount, the idea being that you would use the phone with a Bluetooth hands-free kit. The Sleek's package also includes a car charger that plugs into a mini-USB port on the bottom of the unit, next to the screw-on antenna cable; you must keep the device charging for it to operate. Worried about powering both the Sleek and the phone? Wilson offers optional $10 charging cables for phones that charge via micro- or mini-USB ports: One end plugs into the phone, while the other goes into a second mini-USB port located on the side of the Sleek.
Setting up all these cables takes a few minutes, mostly because you have to figure out a way to string the antenna cable from the Sleek to the roof without blocking your vision or subjecting it to inadvertent yanking or other wear and tear from passengers. (If you have installed a satellite-radio antenna in your vehicle, you'll be familiar with the drill.) Many people will also want to invest in a multiport car charger, because even if you can use a Wilson cable to charge the phone, you might need another charging port for the hands-free kit and/or a GPS device.
However, if you talk a lot on the phone while driving and want help dealing with dropped calls, the setup hassles and additional expense could prove worthwhile. In my tests making calls in a variety of locations while driving, the Sleek did seem to keep me connected in places where I previously experienced poor reception and dropped calls.
For using the Sleek in a home or office, Wilson Electronics offers a separate $30 kit that includes mounting equipment and a plug for a wall outlet, but I question whether most people will want to keep a cell phone in a cradle when they're not in a car. Femtocells (such as the AT&T MicroCell I use in my loft) and standard signal boosters (which Wilson Electronics also sells) seem like better options for dealing with indoor dead zones. True, they're more expensive--typically $150 and up--but they support multiple handsets, and they allow you to walk around with your phone.
As I said, cell phone users have no silver bullet for eliminating poor reception. The Sleek certainly can solve one set of problems, though.