Wilson Sleek All-In-One Cell Phone Booster: Review

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Thursday, 15 April 2010

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Wilson Sleek All-In-One Cell Phone Booster: Review

The easiest, most affordable way to boost the signal to any cell phone or MiFi!

wilson sleek
Maintaining solid signal strength is a major issue for many cell phone users, especially folks who spend a lot of time in their vehicles (who hasn't had an important call dropped while driving through a rural area at some point?). Many users are aware that signal boosting products exist, but boosting the signal to a cell phone isn't always easy - most cell phones don't have antenna ports to directly connect an antenna, and wireless signal boosting solutions (AKA "repeaters") can be very expensive and complicated to set up.

Wilson Electronics, manufacturer of a wide variety of signal-boosting products, has been working hard to create products for cell phone users that are affordable and simple. Last year they released some all-in-one kits for specific phones (like the iBooster for iPhone and C-Booster for Blackberry Curve), but those kits only work with those specific phone models, and, while more affordable than a full repeater setup, were still too expensive for some users. Their latest cradle-based cell phone booster, the Sleek, solves both of those problems! The Sleek is a universal signal booster for both voice and data, meaning you can use it with just about any cell phone (except Nextel/iDen), and Wilson has set the price to make it accessible to users with any budget!

Since we first heard that Wilson was developing the Sleek, we couldn't wait to get our hands (and phones) on one. An all-in-one cell phone signal booster for any cell phone that barely costs more than some traditional antennas?! It sounded too good to be true! To our extreme excitement, it was not too good to be true - the Sleek is small, portable, effective, and affordable. Read on to learn more about the Sleek and how it performed in 3Gstore's testing!

Design: Aside from performance and affordability, one of Wilson's primary objectives for the Sleek was to keep it as compact and, well, sleek, as possible - and they certainly succeeded. The Sleek is by far the most compact wireless signal boosting product available, smaller even than Wilson's other cradle amplifiers like the iBooster and C-Booster. The package includes everything you need: the cradle, which has the amplifier built into it; the 5" tall magnetic mount antenna, which has a 12' of cable attached; a 39" mini-to-standard USB cable for power; and a DC plug-in power supply (for your car's cigarette lighter port).


left to right: the cradle/amplifier, mag mount antenna, DC power supply, and USB cable - everything you need to boost the signal to your phone!

The cradle is the "largest" part of the setup, and it's not large at all - just 2.25" x 4.25" x 2.5". The cradle features adjustable arms, which you can slide out and reposition to accommodate just about any cell phone. The back of the cradle has a connection to attach it to the included mount, and the connections for the USB power cable and the antenna are at the bottom of the cradle. The side of the cradle features a second mini-USB port, which can be used with special charging cables to allow the Sleek to power/charge your phone while it's in the Sleek (Micro USB and Mini USB charging cables are available now; cables for phones that have different types of connectors may be available in the future).

With the appropriate cable, the mini-USB port on the side of the Sleek can be used to charge your phone!

Besides being small, the cradle is also super versatile. The adjustable arms allow you to secure just about any sized phone, and you can also move them up or down vertically - so if your phone has buttons or ports on the side, you don't have to worry about them being blocked by the arms. The cradle also doesn't block the top or bottom of your phone, meaning you can still plug in any accessories you like to use with your phone (charging cables, headsets, FM transmitter to use with your car stereo, etc).

Thanks to the "open" design of the Sleek cradle, you can still connect all your auxiliary accessories to your phone

Finally, a note about where the Sleek is designed to be used. With the included cigarette lighter power supply and magnetic mount antenna, it's obvious that the Sleek is intended for use in a vehicle. However, you CAN use the Sleek indoors with the optional home/office accessory kit, which includes an AC adapter, window mount for the antenna, desk mount for the cradle, and a carrying case. You'll still need to use a headset or the speaker-phone feature to talk on your phone, though.

Installing the Sleek: The Sleek is incredibly easy to install. Everything that you need is included in the package, and since each piece is specifically made for vehicle use, installing it in your car couldn't be easier; you can go from opening to the box to enjoying a boosted signal on your phone in literally about five minutes. The cradle connects to a mount, which has an adhesive backing for easy attachment to your dashboard (the adhesive is remarkably strong - no need to worry about the mount popping off your dash in the middle of a road trip - but it was also surprisingly easy to pry off, in case you need to re-position it or take it to another car!). The magnetic mount antenna attaches to the roof of your car, and you can bring the cable in by sliding it under the seal above the door (see the picture below). Screw the end of the antenna cable into the bottom of the cradle, connect the USB power cable from the amplifier to the cigarette lighter power adapter, and that's it! Check out the animation below to see how easy the installation process is:

Performance: Obviously, the most important consideration for a signal boosting product (or any electronic equipment) is whether it works. Price and style are nice, but if the product doesn't perform well, any other feature is irrelevant. To test the Sleek's performance, we tested it with a variety of different phones and even some aircards, in several different locations, and were consistently impressed with the results.

In order to test the performance, we looked at both signal strength and data speeds. When comparing signal strength, we used RSSI instead of the standard signal bars or percentages. RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) is simply a numerical representation of your signal strength - it shows up as a negative number, and closer to zero is better (so -80 is better than -90, and so forth). To test the Sleek's effect on an iPhone, we first put the phone into "field test mode" so that we could see the RSSI instead of signal bars (to put the iPhone into field test mode, simply open the phone application and dial "*3001#12345#*" (without the quotes) and hit "call" - for other phone models, check out this page). Our initial RSSI was -106dBm, a relatively weak signal. We also did a speedtest, so that we could compare how the performance actually changed with the Sleek. Our initial speedtest results were about 500kbps download, and 200kbps upload.

After placing the iPhone in the Sleek, the signal improved drastically to -83dBm! That is a huge increase. We did a second speedtest, and the speeds improved as well: almost 1000kbps download, and about 350kbps upload!

Of course, that was just one location. Since the Sleek is made for the road, we also wanted to see how it performed while driving. During a 120 mile trip from San Diego to Los Angeles, we kept one iPhone in the Sleek, and used a second iPhone in the car (but nowhere near the cradle) as a "control". Throughout the trip, the "control" iPhone fluctuated between 3G and Edge and showed anywhere from 1 to 5 bars. The phone in the cradle, on the other hand, maintained a 3G connection the entire trip! We had the MLB application running on the iPhone in the Sleek, streaming live audio of a baseball game during the drive, and the audio never stopped to buffer or cut out (in weak signal situations, streaming audio like that can be troublesome). Needless to say, that side-by-side test of the two iPhones confirmed to us that the Sleek made a very impressive impact on the phone's performance.

While the Sleek is made for phones, it can also be used with 3G data devices. The Sprint and Verizon MiFis, for instance, are great candidates for the Sleek since they don't have antenna ports like traditional aircards. The MiFi fits perfectly in the Sleek and we saw excellent results from the Sleek, just like we did with the iPhone. Using the Sprint MiFi, we saw a 10db signal gain and significant speed improvements after placing it in the Sleek. MiFi users who have been wishing for an affordable way to boost their signal (and wishing Novatel had included an antenna port on these devices) now have a solution!
MiFi in Sleek
The Sprint or Verizon MiFi fits perfectly in the Sleek's cradle!

What we love about the Sleek: Wilson really hit it out of the park with the Sleek. It's small, it's versatile, and it boosts the signal very well... and it's affordable! Here are a few of our favorite things about the Sleek:

  • Price: Wilson's MSRP for the Sleek is just $129.95! This is far cheaper than any other wireless signal boosting option available, making the Sleek accessible to just about everyone, regardless of budget.
  • Size: the short magnetic mount antenna and compact cradle/amplifier make the Sleek easy to fit in just about any environment
  • Portability: no permanent installation is necessary - you can easily take the Sleek from one car to another, or even use it inside (with the optional home/office kit)
  • Versatility: works with just about any phone from any North American carrier (except Nextel/iDen) or even a 3G modem. If you get a new phone someday, no problem - you don't have to worry about getting a new signal-booster.
  • Design: Adjustable arms allow you to use any size phone, and the cradle doesn't block buttons/ports on the side, top, or bottom of your phone
  • Simplicity: It is SO easy to set up and use the Sleek. 
  • Works with the MiFi: The Sprint and Verizon MiFi are extremely popular 3G data devices, but their major downfall is that they don't have an antenna port like most traditional aircards. The Sleek gives MiFi users an affordable way to boost their signal!
  • Works with the Sprint Sierra Wireless Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot to improve the 3G signal (will NOT improve 4G signal).
  • Performance: No doubt about it, the Sleek WORKS!

What we're not as fond of:
There's really not much to dislike about the Sleek. We've racked our brains trying to come up with something negative to say about this device, but it really is a great product. If Wilson really wanted to WOW us they could include an AC adapter and the suction cup mount for the antenna to make it easier to use the Sleek indoors, or maybe include a headset (since you have to use some sort of hands-free method to use your phone while it's in the cradle)... but for a product to work this well at such a low price, the Sleek is hard to criticize!

The bottom line: If you need to boost the signal to a single phone or a MiFi in your vehicle, the Sleek is going to be your new best friend. With an MSRP of just $129.95 and impressive performance, the Sleek is a great choice for anyone who spends a great deal of time in their vehicle and wants to make sure they have the best possible signal.

Check out our video demonstrating the Sleek below:

Related links:

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 07 December 2010 )
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