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Our problem with Wilson Electronics' cell phone signal boosters has never been their performance--they actually work quite well--but rather with their complicated and clunky setup. Though the company's Mobile Professional Amplifier Kit from 2008 was relatively compact, we're more used to products like the Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit that involve a few parts.
Luckily, Wilson continues to evolve. Three months ago at CES, the company showed its new Sleek Cell Phone Signal Booster that offers a compact design for in-car use. It consists only of a small amplifier/cradle, a power adapter for your car's cigarette lighter, and the requisite antenna. You still have to thread the antenna cable through your car window, but it's an easy-to-use design arrangement that won't take up much space. The Sleek is $129.
The Sleek's primary part is the phone cradle that's also the actual signal amplifier. Though mostly plastic, the surfaces that touch your handset are covered in a soft touch material so there's no need to worry about scratching your precious device. On the whole, the cradle has a sturdy feel and its basic black color shouldn't clash with your car's interior. It measures 4.25 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 2.25 inches deep and weighs 2.5 ounces.
You can adjust the securing arms depending on your phone's size. Though it accommodates wider handsets like the iPhone with no trouble, smaller devices like the Nokia 2680 can slip right through the cradle's clutches if you're not careful. For the second-gen product, we'd advise Wilson to give more freedom to adjust the arms inward.
Setup for the Sleek is painless. After securing the cradle to your dashboard (Wilson gives you the tools), you'll need to connect the antenna and power adapter. The antenna cable runs a healthy 12 feet, so you should have enough slack to run it out the window frame and secure the antenna to your car's roof via the magnetic base (clearly, convertibles with fabric roofs won't be so lucky). Running a cable around your car is a little clunky, but you should get used to it.
The cigarette lighter adapter provides the amplifier with the needed power. Wilson includes a 3-foot power cord in the box, but you can use your own USB/Mini-USB cable if you'd like. That's a nice design touch. We also like that the amplifier can charge your phone at the same time. You'll need to purchase optional adapter cables, but it's a convenient feature.
We tested the Mobile Professional while driving in our usual areas in San Francisco that have consistently poor reception. We noticed the biggest change when using AT&T and Sprint phones, though a T-Mobile device showed improvement as well. In most cases we had a stronger signal with fewer fade-outs and dropped calls. Problem areas weren't eliminated completely, but our conversations sounded better and we didn't encounter any interference.
It's important to note that individual results will vary; you shouldn't expect the Sleek to magically cure all your reception woes. Also, keep in mind that the Sleek needs at least a minimal signal to do its job. If we had no reception at all, we didn't see any difference in performance.
The Wilson Electronics Sleek supports CDMA and GSM in the 800 and 1900 bands. It won't support overseas GSM bands and Nextel's iDEN network, but those users can take advantage of other Wilson products.