We had the opportunity to try out a cell signal booster from Wilson Electronics. It's called the Sleek, and, to be honest, when it comes to things like cell signal boosters, we're pretty skeptical. So when they showed us the device and explained how it works, we were eager to see if what they claimed was true.
A few pieces to the Sleek work together to improve signal. There's an antenna, which has a magnet on the bottom to make it easier to mount it to the vehicle's roof. There's a cradle, which contains an amplifier, in which the cell phone sits. Finally, there's a power cord that plugs into the cigarette lighter. The antenna directs the cellphone signal from the cell tower to the Sleek. The amplifier, well, amplifies it, and sends it to the cellphone. It also works in the opposite direction, sending increased cell signal back to the tower.
We started by creating a drive loop that included multiple spots where we knew we would lose bars, or lose cell signal altogether. It was easy -- we based it on where we always hit cell-phone dead spots on the daily commute. We drove the loop, noting where the number of bars would go down, and put the Sleek in place.
It's easy to use. Since we tried it out on our long-term Ford F-150, a vehicle we need to return to Ford in its original, undrilled condition, we opted for the least intrusive installation for this test. We put the magnetic antenna on the roof of the truck, ran the wire above the partially opened passenger-side window, connected it to the cell phone cradle, and plugged the cradle into the truck's power port. Then we did the loop again.
Despite our initial skepticism, the Sleek worked. There were spots where we saw the bars increase from two to three or four. In a couple spots, we saw zero bars both with and without the Sleek -- but the Sleek doesn't promise to make something out of nothing. There has to be some signal for it to be boosted.
Currently, buyers can choose among products that are optimized for specific phone carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.). In the future, Wilson will offer a new Sleek that works for all carriers.