Cell phone signal boosters can be invaluable, but they can also be expensive and a bit complicated. For example, take the SignalBoost Mobile Professional Amplifier Kit from Wilson Electronics. While it works like a charm, it's also expensive ($269) and it comes with quite a few parts to assemble. But if you're on a budget, or you just prefer a simpler option, there are a couple of products from Cell Ranger. Both the Stix and the Port promise to boost your cell phone reception by two to three bars. Both products offer a user-friendly, portable design with just one difference--the Port uses a USB connection for power while the Stix plugs into your car's cigarette lighter. In this review we examined the Port, but essentially they're the same product. The Stix and the Port are $149.99
The Stix consists of two basic parts: a cigarette lighter adapter and a stubby rubber antenna with a cable running between them. The housing around the adapter is rather large, but its narrow neck should accommodate most cars. The antenna measures 4.75 inches and is slightly bendable for added durability. It has a magnetic base that you can affix to the roof of your car. Setup was fairly easy. Attach the antenna to your car and then run the cable through a window so you can connect the adapter to the power source. The cable measures 15 feet so it should be long enough for your needs. Threading the cable through your car door might take some time and effort, and it might be a tad unsightly, but that's the price that you pay for better reception.
We tested the Cell Ranger Stix with an iPhone 3G, a Nokia 5300 on T-Mobile, and a Samsung Delve on U.S. Cellular. The Stix is compatible with every cell phone and carrier in the United States and Canada, except Nextel's iDEN network. We have yet to review a cell phone signal booster that doesn't have that problem. On the other hand, Cell Ranger promises that the Stix and the Port can improve 3G signal strength for phones and laptop cards.
We used the Stix in a couple of areas in San Francisco with spotty GSM and CDMA reception. For the most part, we did see a change from the Stix, but it depends on what you're looking for. In the area of signal strength and dropped calls, we noticed an improvement. We did see more bars on all phones--two was the norm but we saw three on a couple of occasions--and a reduction in dropped calls as we passed through the worst problem area. Normally, we would lose all calls there, but the Stix did save a couple of them. The GSM handsets fared slightly better, but that could be because we were using U.S. Cellular's roaming network with the Delve.
Keep in mind, however, that an improved signal does not always translate to better audio clarity and voice quality. And on that front, the Stix didn't fare quite as well. In our tests we still encountered some static, and the volume fade-outs remained to some extent. These issues were no longer completely distracting but they remained on all phones. Yet, even with those caveats, the Stix does the job. If your commute (or with the Port, your home or office) is in a perpetual dead zone, Cell Ranger's products might do you some good.