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Wilson Electronics Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit review: Wilson Electronics Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit

Wilson Electronics Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
5 min read

When we reviewed the Wilson Electronics SignalBoost Cellular Amplifier earlier this year, we were impressed with how significantly it boosted our cell phone reception in areas with patchy coverage. Where previously, we struggled to get a consistent signal, the SignalBoost made it possible to make a call. Yet as useful as it was, we didn't love how we had to use a wired connection from the amplifier to our phone. Though that wasn't a huge problem when using the device in the car, it wasn't so ideal when using the product at home. Nothing takes the mobile out of mobile phone like a wire that anchors your handset to one place.


Wilson Electronics Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit

The Good

The Wilson Electronics Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit successfully boosts your cell phone's reception in areas with fair or poor signal coverage. It also uses a convenient wireless connection to your phone.

The Bad

The Wilson Electronics Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit has a somewhat clunky design, and it can take a lot of effort to arrange the various parts. It's also on the expensive side, and it won't support Nextel's iDEN network.

The Bottom Line

If it works with your cell phone, and you'll use it enough to justify the cost, the Wilson Electronics Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit is a great tool for boosting your cell phone's reception.

Fortunately, Wilson's engineers corrected this issue with the company's most recent product, the Wireless Amplifier Cradle Kit. Designed for use in a car, the Cradle Kit delivers the same performance as the previous model but with a more convenient wireless connection to your phone. The arrangement is still a bit clunky, and you'll need a lot of room in which to set up the various parts, but the Cradle Kit delivers on its promise of boosting cellular signals for both GSM and CDMA carriers. All that functionality comes at a high price tag, however. The Cradle Kit is $459.95.

Like its predecessor, the Cradle Kit consists of four parts: the main amplifier, a power cable, an external antenna for catching the cell phone signal, and an internal antenna for transferring the signal to your phone.

In the product that we reviewed, the internal antenna is integrated into a phone cradle that holds your phone in place. You can secure the cradle to that dashboard or an air vent using one of three included connectors, and the cradle adjusts to hold just about any device, including larger smartphones, such as a BlackBerry. It's a great arrangement, particularly if you're making hands-free calls while driving (as you should). Alternatively, if you're hoping to use the amplifier product in your home, Wilson Electronics sells comparable models that instead use a more traditional antenna.

The blue amplifier measures 5.6 inches by 3.6 inches by 1.7 inches, and it has a utilitarian design and solid metal construction. It's quite sturdy, so you don't need to worry about banging it around, but it's also a tad heavy, at 1.44 pounds. We prefer to rest it under a car seat, but since it tends to grow quite hot, we were wary of cramming it next to seat fabric.

This time around, we were glad to see that Wilson put a series of indicator lights on the amplifier (the previous product had only a power light). They indicate the amplifier's status and whether it's receiving a signal.

Setup involves just a few steps, but it's important that you follow the directions. First, install the 12-inch external antenna, and connect it to the amplifier. The antenna has a magnetic base, which ensures a secure fit to the roof of your car. Of course, a magnetic base won't work on convertibles, but Wilson sells a variety of other antennas, including ones that can you affix to a windshield, a mirror, or even a model that requires you to drill a hole in your vehicle.

The external antenna connects to the amplifier via a long cable that measures 11 feet. Although that should accommodate almost any vehicle, keep in mind that you'll need to run the cord through a door or window. Wilson recommends tucking it under the door seal. While that certainly gets it out of the way ,and it protects the wire from wear and tear, the arrangement is still a tad cumbersome.

The next step is to install the cradle using one of the methods discussed above and connect it to the amplifier. The cord is long enough (7.5 feet) that it shouldn't be a problem for most drivers, truckers included. Finally, connect the power cord to the amplifier, and insert the adapter into your car's cigarette lighter. The cord should be long enough for any vehicle, but it can be tricky to get the wire out of sight and away from the driving pedals. The wire also includes a small DC converter that you'll need to secure, as well.

Although the Cradle Kit's setup is easy, it's worth mentioning again that the whole arrangement can be somewhat clunky. We had to work to arrange the various wires so that they didn't get tangled with each other and they weren't in the way. Also, Wilson clearly states that the antenna must be installed at least 12 inches away from other antennas (like a radio) and at least 20 inches from "any of the vehicle's occupants and nearby persons." Hopefully, your car will give you enough space to follow those guidelines. We don't know what happens if you don't follow the company's instructions, but we weren't about to find out.

We tested the Cradle Kit on the same stretch of Bay Area freeway where we tested the SignalBoost, and again, we were pleased with the results. Where we normally received one or two bars, the Cradle Kit boosted our signal up to four bars. Other times, we received five bars, but, like before, four seemed to be the norm. The results were about the same for all phones we tested--an AT&T Sony Ericsson W580i, a T-Mobile Nokia 6133, and a Verizon Wireless Samsung FlipShot SCH-U900--but there were some slight variations. The Sony Ericsson and Samsung handsets seemed to get the biggest assist form the Cradle Kit, while the Nokia was patchier. That could be because of the phone itself, however. Keep in mind that the Cradle Kit won't magically create a signal where one barely exists. In a location with very poor reception (one bar or fewer), it didn't have much of an effect. Of course, your individual results will vary.

On their end, callers also noticed a difference in call quality. They still reported some static and fade-outs, but ultimately, we were able to understand each other without major interruptions. We also experienced fewer dropped calls than normal, except in one particularly bad spot on Twin Peaks in San Francisco, where every carrier has a dead spot.

The Cradle Kit supports CDMA, GSM, TDMA, and AMPS cellular bands, in addition to EV-DO, UMTS, and HSDPA 3G bands. Nextel iDEN users are still shut out (Wilson does offer products that support iDEN), but that's not such a big issue for most users.

As was the case before, we didn't notice that Cradle Kit interfered with other electronic signals. Wilson promises that the device can boost cell phone signal strength up to 10 times, but we had no way of verifying that claim accurately.