One of the issues with cellular service that the vendors keep working on is reliable consistent signals no matter where you are. While it gets better all the time, it's still far from perfect -- and it's not unusual to hit dead zones on almost any trip, especially the long ones.
Wilson Electronics recently released the Sleek 4G, a signal booster that works with almost any cell phone or cellular wireless hot spot device. At first, it sounds like a perfect device, ready to help commuters and road warriors over one of the biggest problems they face -- losing service while in the middle of an important connected task.
To find out, I had the perfect test -- a 12-hour train trip with my daughter from Connecticut to Pittsburgh, with a jaunt underneath New York City and a stop in Philadelphia.
We packed a lot of electronics as usual, including my laptop, two cell phones and two Verizon Wireless MiFi wireless hot spots. We were prepared for anything. The last time I took a long train trip my signal was inconsistent -- pretty good as we traveled through the larger towns but weak when we were just a few miles outside of each and almost nonexistent for a good portion of the trip.
With the Sleek 4G, I was prepared for a experience where I could work, connected to the Internet, throughout most of the trip. And that's exactly what happened. We only lost signal completely a few times. So we traded my laptop back and forth, allowing me to work and my daughter to socialize and view photos via Facebook.
The segment from Connecticut to New York City gave us no connectivity problems whatsoever, until we got into the tunnel below Manhattan. I didn't even need to take out the Sleek 4G. Once we changed trains at New York's Penn Station, the device became extremely helpful.
I mounted the antenna to the train's large side window and to get AC power from the 120 volt outlets on the Amtrak wall.
According to Jonathan Bacon, Wilson Electronics' director of marketing, the Sleek 4G is not meant to give a signal where none exists. It strengthens a signal that actually exists, up to 10 times as strong. That could mean a one-bar signal becomes five bars.
On the segment through New Jersey, the device seemed helpful, but really only needed in a few places where signal diminished substantially.
The Sleek 4G shined through the Pennsylvania portion, where signal was often faint. At one point, I was able to surf the Web attached to a wireless hot spot in the Sleek 4G, while my daughter was getting connection-lost errors using her smartphone attached to the same Verizon Wireless network. Putting her cell phone in the Sleek 4G gave her signal strong enough to connect.
The $199 Sleek 4G was a design and engineering award honoree at the recent Consumer Electronics Show.
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