Spotwave Zen review: Spotwave Zen

3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Spotwave Zen Z1900 signal booster delivers on its promise to boost cell phone signals and improve data speeds. It also doesn't interfere with existing networks and other household electronics.

The Bad The Spotwave Zen Z1900 signal booster only works with phones that run on the 1900MHz band, leaving many 850MHz phones out of the picture. You also have to run a long coaxial cable across a room, which can be cumbersome.

The Bottom Line The Spotwave Zen Z1900 signal booster is a little expensive and we weren't fans of the long coaxial cable or the wall-mounting options. But, it did deliver on its promise to boost cell phone signals, and that could be a good enough reason to get it.

7.0 Overall

Spotwave Zen Z1900 signal booster

Like many of you, we too have occasional problems with our cell phone reception. This is especially an issue at home, where signal strength sometimes drops to only one or two bars. While some antenna boosters have offered a solution, we've found them often to be less than satisfactory due to network interference. The Spotwave Zen Z1900 signal booster, however, seems to have solved this with a unique, adaptive technology that avoids interference while improving signal strength. You also get faster data speeds. The Zen isn't cheap though; the whole system costs nearly $400.

The product only works with the 1900MHz band, and not with 850MHz. This shouldn't be a problem in most areas of the country, but certain Cingular and Verizon networks that still run on 850MHz may not be able to use this device. We used Sprint and T-Mobile cell phones for testing, so we were in good shape.

The installation process is fairly simple. First, locate an area in your home that has the strongest signal, usually near the exterior or a window, to place the large Network Access Unit box. Next, place the smaller Coverage Unit in a spot that requires coverage, probably on the other side of the room. Then hook both units up with a coaxial cable, which can become a tangled mess if the units are far apart, unfortunately.

After powering on the Coverage Unit (it includes a power cable), we fiddled with the position of the Network Access Unit until we got better signal strength on our cell phone. There's an indicator on the Network Access Unit that lets you know if the product performance is good--meaning that there isn't any network interference. Moving the Coverage Unit further away from the Network Access Unit will improve its performance. Mount the two units to the wall to get maximum performance and signal strength. We weren't willing to do that in our own homes, but just placing the units on shelves seemed to work well.

The signal booster worked. Whereas before we'd seen about two bars of signal strength on our T-Mobile Sidekick 3, now we had a full five-bars of signal strength. The same goes for the signal strength on our Samsung MM-A900 from Sprint. We should also note that, as promised, the data speeds on our devices seemed to improve remarkably. Web pages would load in half the time that they had with lower signal strength.

Overall, we were pleased with the performance of the Spotwave Zen Z1900. It delivered on its promise without any interference with household electronics. We would recommend this if you have poor cell phone reception in your home and about $400 to spare.

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