Cellular signal boosters have one job to do: boost a smartphone's ability to pick up a wireless carrier's signal. The Drive Sleek from weBoost beautifully accomplishes that task.
Having been out in the market over a year now, the Drive Sleek has a singular focus: to make it easier to stay connected when driving through weak or dead zones by boosting 3G and LTE signals.
By now, weBoost (formerly Wilson Electronics) is a familiar player in this realm. The Drive Sleek promises 32x amplification. Since this number was hard to quantify in my testing scenarios, I honed in more on the qualitative points: how effective is it in typical real-world scenarios?
I've always considered signal boosters to be more a boon for rural dwellers and transport drivers because of the reception inconsistencies in the locations in which they are based or travel often, though dead spots do exist in urban areas, too. Losing a signal for any duration of time can be annoying, especially for salespersons in the middle of an important call, or travelers who need constant contact for safety and communicative reasons. How city residents might benefit from these devices depends on where they live and what they do. Regardless, if you find yourself struggling with having a consistently reliable connection while on the road, this is one way to eliminate that issue.
The Drive Sleek is made up of five components: an antenna, booster module, phone cradle, 12V power supply and a magnetic vent mount. Cabling links these pieces together, with the exception of the vent mount. Installing the system isn't difficult in terms of connecting the pieces together. Where it gets a bit tricky is in hiding the cables. Pro and efficient amateur installers should be able to figure out nooks and crannies in the vehicle's interior and body to make it less conspicuous.
It might be an easier task if the vehicle in question is used mainly for work, and not for ferrying a carload of passengers. In my case, however, I had to test it in my only car. It's typically just me in the vehicle, though I do occasionally have people with me. I quickly realized I couldn't leave cables dangling around when it proved problematic for some passengers getting in and out.
Every vehicle has a different layout, but some basics remain the same, like using door panels, or snaking some of the cable under the seats and up through the centre console to get to the 12V socket. In this, and my previous experience testing signal boosters, it's the most annoying setup aspect of these devices. But once you take the time to hide the wires away, it's smooth sailing.
While the vent mount works fine, I with there were other choices, like a suction cup or dash mount with a sticker.
With a product like this, the only way to know if it's working is over time, and determining that the phone maintains its connection, especially in spots where you previously commonly experienced dropped calls and spotty connectivity. It's worth noting that in order for the Drive Sleek to work, there needs to be a signal to begin with in the area. While you can go from one bar to three or four, for example, you can't necessarily go from zero to one or two in an area where no cellular signal exists at all. I liken it to how newer vehicles with SIM cards and in-car Wi-Fi hotspots work. The antenna is far stronger than that of a phone, but if it's dead out there, and no signal is coming through at all, you won't get one, booster or no booster.
The good news: the Drive Sleek does work. It effectively boosts a weaker signal to a point that it makes a noticeable performance difference. For example, when driving north of Toronto, I eventually saw a drop to two bars. At that point, I put the phone into the cradle and after a couple of minutes, it was up to four. In moderately strong areas of three bars, I got to five easily.
I also noticed another interesting tidbit. I saw a boost in a weak or faint signal in an underground parking garage, like those in condos or apartment buildings. This was usually for the floor directly below ground, but I sometimes maintained contact driving down to the second level.
Where the Drive Sleek will really come in handy is with short and long-haul drivers wading through weak areas every day. They will certainly appreciate the difference it makes.
One of the challenges in reviewing something like this is that it's hard to both quantify and qualify its efficiency in different parts of such a big country like Canada. Will it be the same in Northern Ontario and Northern Alberta? Will it be the same in the wilderness of the Maritimes and the plains of the Prairies? It's hard to know for sure, but I'm optimistic that as long as there is a signal to boost, the Drive Sleek should be able to do it.
One other point worth noting: the manual says to inform your wireless carrier about using the booster, but this is more for U.S. customers where it is a requirement: it is not required in Canada.
At $300, the Drive Sleek isn't cheap. But the good news is that there are no residual costs, like subscriptions or maintenance. For on-the-go workers, or those who live in rural areas, or often travel through areas with spotty signals, the Drive Sleek is a good option to solve a common connectivity problem you face while driving.
All photos by Ted Kritsonis