Aug 27 2013

Wilson Electronics Sleek Review

I have to confess that when someone says the words “antenna booster” to me the first thing that comes to mind are those horrible stickers that some technical charlatan tried to pass off as effective if you stuck them on the back of your phone. You remember these crazy things, right?

wilson electronics

Oh, the horrors!

These were technical placebos and they were more of a nerd fashion statement than anything that had any real impact.

When I stumbled into the Wilson Electronics booth at CTIA it quickly became clear to me that this was a company that actually had real engineering and expertise. Not some fly by night, sticker antenna company, these guys know their stuff. They make building based solutions as well as large-scale systems and the kind of antennas that make radio stations jealous.

But what I need is something to make my 425 mile commute a little bit more functional.

Enter the Sleek.

wilson electonics

This unassuming little device looks like a car mount and it comes with several set of arms that slide into tracks on the side of the Sleek to hold your phone in place. The range of choices here allows for enough width to cover any phone that I could find, even my Note 2.

An SMA RF connector runs to the included antenna which attaches magnetically to the top of your car. The cable for the antenna was long enough to run through the door molding and down under the dash before connecting to the Sleek for an unobtrusive install.

The included antenna is four inches but Wilson also offers an upgraded version if you are looking for additional coverage.

wilson electronics

That is one tall antenna you have there, Wilson!

The Sleek does require power but it includes a 12 volt USB adapter and a USB to Mini USB cable to drive the amplifier in the Sleek. Don’t fear if you have only a single DC outlet in your car as the Sleek also has a female USB connector to pass charging power through to your phone while it is on the amplifier cradle.

There is a switch on the upper right side of the cradle that switches the amplifier back and forth between being optimized for the frequencies for AT&T and Verizon. This just impacts its performance for 4G signals. I am on Sprint so I set it to Verizon and crossed my fingers.

The idea behind the Sleek is that the external antenna transmits and receives signals and it connects it to an antenna that is in the back of the cradle that your phone is in. Since this antenna is right next to the phone it is the “loudest” RF source your phone will see and it will connect to that. Since your phone is constantly ramping its RF power up and down to maintain connection with towers, and you are changing your position constantly while driving this makes the phone more efficient. The battery last longer because it is not working as hard! The amplifier boosts incoming and outgoing signals and uses the external antenna for more efficiency.

Although the Sleek is rated as having 26dB of gain, this actually refers to the amplifier in the cradle. In my tests, the Sleek netted me around 10 to 12 dB of actual gain at the phone in 3G mode, which is very respectable.

In 4G, Sprint has to be creative because of competition for spectrum. They have their LTE ranges in the 1900 mHz range, and in the 2.4 mHz range…and in the 800 mHz range. This makes the Sleek booster not quite as effective for a Sprint 4G phone. The Galaxy S4 I used for testing has radios that lean on the 1900 mHz band for LTE and I was seeing about 6 dB of actual gain. Being on the number three carrier can be a bit of a bummer for me sometimes!

On Verizon or AT&T you can expect to get gain around the same range that I was seeing with 3G signals on Sprint.

If you are not familiar with logarithmic scales, 6 dB is still quite a bit of improvement. In fact, mathematically it translates into an improvement of four times.

Before you get overly excited, understand that four times the power does not translate into four times the distance. That 6 dB typically turns into an extra bar of coverage no matter what was going on. That is a pretty substantial improvement.

My real world test was to drive from Nashville, TN to Fort Wayne, IN. I drive this route often and I am INTIMATELY acquainted with the coverage challenges along Interstates I65 and I69.

In practice, my coverage was much better in all of those spotty borderline areas where phone calls go all domo origato, mister roboto. Calls that typically went away carried through and hand-offs from tower to tower, or coverage at the bottom of hills, was much improved.

In the one spot where coverage completely dies between Louisville and Indianapolis, the Sleek battled valiantly before finally giving up on Sprint. At one point, the Sleek was working so hard to try and grab that signal that it forced my phone on to Verizon’s network (check your roaming agreements!) and I got coverage where I have never had it before.

In general, an amplifier can’t make something of nothing and the Sleek is no exception. It will make sure that you get every last bit of usage out of the coverage you have access to.

The metal connector for the RF cable at the base of the Sleek is the only place that the amplifier can dissipate heat and it can get uncomfortably hot as the amplifier does its work so beware of grabbing the bottom of the Sleek.

My only real complaint with the Sleek kit is the dashboard mounting option. It comes with a ball mount that is attached to a small rectangular piece of adhesive. There are no free spaces on the dash of my Honda Fit so I ended up having to apply it to a curved space and the stickiness did not win that fight. I would really love to see another mounting option, like a vent mount or even a suction cup for the windshield.


I have fallen off of important conference calls more than once on that northbound drive and the Sleek carried me through all of the drop-outs but one on the long drive to Fort Wayne. That is a huge improvement and given that the Sleek will work with any phone that you place in the cradle it plays well to my propensity to change phones on a far too regular basis.

If the mounting options were a bit more extensive it would be darn near perfect and it easily performs as advertised.


Wilson Electronics Sleek $129.95

Editors note: Wison was kind enough to let me know that they do offer some other mounting options in addition to the included one.

A cup holder mount, as well as suction cup mounts with and without goosenecks are available.

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