Though cell phones have become much more than simple communication devices, even the most high-end and feature-rich handset is only as good as the calls it makes. Of course you can't blame just a phone for a bad connection, as the strength of a carrier's signal also plays a role in the equation. And while you can always swap out your phone, increasing your carrier's signal isn't so easy. Besides waiting for new towers in your area, you can try a variety of signal boosters that promise to bring better reception to areas with poor coverage. In the past, we've reviewed the Spotwave Zen and the Wilson Electronics SignalBoost Cellular Amplifier. While both devices performed as promised, they are expensive and have a complicated setup. That's why we were interested to try the new Arc Wireless Freedom Antenna, which offers a cheaper and simpler arrangement. While setup is exceptionally easy, the Freedom Antenna won't win any beauty contests, and it uses a wired connection to your cell phone. And while it worked well for the most part, there were other instances where we didn't notice much of a change. But at $39, you might as well try.
We'll be clear from the start that the Freedom Antenna is a tad unsightly. Yes, we get that there's not a whole lot you can do to make a signal booster attractive (not that you really need to anyway), but the Freedom Antenna's circle-on-top-of-a-square design makes it look like a prop from a bad sci-fi film. What's more, the plastic body gives it a cheap feel, and the removable base is easily lost. On the upside, it is rather compact at 5.8 inches tall by 3.25 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, so you can transport it easily between your home, office, and car. It also comes with a suction cup for securing it to a window.
Setup for the Freedom Antenna is quite simple, and we liked that it doesn't require any power. Inside the box are three parts: the antenna and cable, the aforementioned base, and the adaptor for your phone. The All-in-One pack comes with a variety of adaptors, but you also can buy a version with an adaptor for just your handset. For a complete list of supported phone models, see Arc Wireless' Web site. To connect your phone, turn the handset off and find its antenna port. Typically, it's covered by a small rubber plug in the same area as the main antenna. The plug can be tricky to pry out, but a paper clip or sharp fingernails help. Then, after connecting the adaptor to the Freedom Antenna's cable, you have only to secure the adaptor to the antenna port and turn on your phone.
Of course, that means the Freedom Antenna requires a wired connection to your phone. The cable and adaptor measure about 4.5 feet in total length, so you won't be able to stray far from the Freedom Antenna during calls. And since signal boosters tend to work best when positioned near a window, the Freedom Antenna doesn't give you a lot of, ahem, freedom where you can use it. Like with the Wilson Electronics SignalBoost, we don't think such an arrangement is ideal for a mobile phone. Also, we found that when we used a Sony Ericsson W600i with the device, the adaptor plug wasn't very secure. The fit will vary by phone model, though.
Arc Wireless promises that the device can boost cell phone signal strength up to eight times, but we had no way of verifying that claim accurately. We were hoping for an indicator on the amplifier to indicate signal strength; but it's devoid of any kind of lights or indicators. On the whole, it did an acceptable job of boosting our signal, but it's hardly a miracle worker. We tried using it in a building where we usually get poor reception, and we did detect a small but noticeable jump in reception. Instead of just one bar of coverage, we went up to four, though a bump up to three bars was more common. Audio quality increased as well, with less static and fewer fade-outs, but there wasn't a huge difference where calls suddenly became crystal clear. Our verdict is that the Freedom Antenna definitely works, but just not quite as well as the other signal boosters we've tried.