I Love These Bars: zBoost zP Improves Cell Phone Signal

Do you curse the cell phone dead spots in your house? The zBoost zPersonal (zP) YX300 cell phone booster from Wi-Ex improves reception in home offices, hotel rooms and other small spaces by creating "personal cell zones." But we have a few complaints.

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Every mobile phone user knows the pain of receiving an important call in a building or home with bad cellular reception. Nobody knows that anguish better than the remote worker who has poor service in his home office or workspace. Sure, you may try plenty of tricks to boost cellular signal, but none is known to enhance productivity. There's the run-around-in-search-of-one-more-bar trick. There's hanging out the window or otherwise contorting oneself to find that perfect spot. And then there's the zBoost zPersonal (zP) YX300 cellular signal booster from Wi-Ex, which bolsters cellular signal strength within a 6-foot radius of its antenna—though that increase might not hold steady from one day to the next, in my experience.

First off: "You must have some signal where you place zBoost. It does not create signal," according to Wi-Ex. So if your home office, hotel room or workspace doesn't get any cell reception, zBoost won't change that. It's meant for spots where you have some coverage, just not great coverage, and where you can plug it into an electrical outlet.

image of the zBoost zP YX300
zBoost zP YX300

Unfortunately, the gadget doesn't include an internal battery, or a way to plug it into a USB port, automobile power outlet or other alternative power supply.

I found setup to be simple. First, you stick the 4-by-5-inch zBoost box in a window via the two suction cups on its rear side. Next, affix the thin, black antenna to a surface close to where you'll be making calls, but at least 10 feet away from the zBoost box. Then connect the two with the antenna cord, plug the whole thing in, and you've got a "personal cell zone." (Wi-Ex claims the product also extends your mobile device's battery life—probably because it takes less power for a cell phone to communicate with a tower when there's good reception between the two.) You could travel with this product; the box is about the size of three CD cases stacked together, and the somewhat unwieldy antenna is a thin, 6-inch-long piece of black plastic on the end of a long cord.

Wi-Ex currently offers additional cellular signal boosters for the home, office and automobile, though they cost as much as $399. With the gadget that I tried, the main draw seems to be the price.

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My main complaint with the zBoost zP: The signal boost is inconsistent. For instance, I tested the product using my Verizon LG VX8100 phone in a home office where I normally get one or two bars of service out of four. When I first set up zBoost zP, I didn't see any increase in cellular signal strength at all. After a few minutes, I noticed my one bar of service had increased to three. When I picked up the phone—while remaining within 6 feet of the antenna—the signal immediately dropped back down to one bar and then bounced back and forth between one and two. I walked around the antenna to see where the signal was strongest, and I eventually got the signal up to four bars, but couldn't get it to stay that way for more than a few seconds at a time.

I even saw my coverage bars drop down to zero without moving the phone more than a few inches from where it had three coverage bars a moment earlier. So while there's no doubt zBoost zP did indeed increase my cellular signal strength, what would truly be of value is a reliable increase.

The zBoost zP is dual band—it works with both the 800MHz and 1900MHz frequencies—and according to Wi-Ex, it's compatible with any cell phone, smartphone, PDA or wireless data card from all U.S. carriers, no matter what the wireless technology, except for Sprint Nextel's Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN). (iDEN is a wireless technology that enables users to make walkie-talkie calls via their mobile phones.) The company also offers another flavor of this gadget, the $99 zBoost zP YX100, a wired version that connects directly to your cell phone. Both versions of the product will be widely available on Sept. 15, Wi-Ex says.

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