weBoost Drive 4G-X review: Signal on the road


Losing reception in the car doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing people gripe about anymore, but that could also depend on where you live and the route you’re driving. A signal boost could make a big difference in weak or dead zones.

That’s what weBoost has attempted to rectify with its Drive 4G-X, a serious cellular booster that is theoretically capable of amplifying a signal up to 32 times. With that kind of power, one or no bars should easily turn into three, four or even full bars. With an agnostic setup that can work in any vehicle and on all carrier networks, this booster should be able to fit in anywhere.

weBoost Drive 4G-X3

The basics

To test out the tangible benefits of the 4G-X, it was used in a few different situations. One was city driving around Toronto to gauge consistency. Another was on a six-hour road trip from Montreal to Toronto. In between all that, I wanted to see how different phones reacted to it, and whether there were variations or fluctuations between them.

Formerly known as Wilson Electronics, weBoost has been in the signal boosting business for a long time, and with the move to LTE, the need for signal amplification arguably lessened, as a result.

However, again, that does depend on where you’re located or where you’re driving. Urban residents may not run into as many dead zones, whereas rural ones could invariably cruise through them all the time. Anyone who drives for a living may find the idea of a signal boost appealing. The Drive 4G-X supports every working band in Canada and the U.S., and works with 2G and 3G networks, too.

With so much data now being relied upon for everything from messaging to streaming music and social media, the inherent desire to stay connected with as few hiccups as possible is part of what the Drive 4G-X is supposed to ensure. Being device and carrier-agnostic only serves to help the cause and influence adoption.

weBoost Drive 4G-X2

Plug-and-play setup

The agnosticism extends to just about any vehicle, making the setup process far less invasive than it might seem. There is the option to have a professional install it and make it look less conspicuous, but I didn’t go that route because I also tested it in two different vehicles.

The Drive 4G-X is consistent with previous in-car amplifiers under the Wilson brand, which is made to be more portable than it looks. The main unit has a mounting bracket on the back for more permanent placement, though it can just as easily be placed under the driver or passenger seat.

On the one side, the outside antenna connects to the main unit and is then placed on the roof or side of the vehicle, with a strong magnet on the bottom keeping it steady. On the other side, there is a plug for the power adapter that goes into the 12-volt socket, plus a connection for the ultra-slim inside antenna. The latter antenna has Velcro on one side, and comes with a strip that can be stuck to a more non-descript part of the car, like the panel in between the passenger and rear door. If the interior material can attach to Velcro, placement options increase dramatically.

Running the cables is really the most time-consuming part of the setup. Trying to make them less exposed and keep them out of the way does require some thinking. The outdoor antenna cable, for example, can stay a little more hidden by running it along the weather stripping in the door. I did it that way and it worked out fairly well.

Flipping the switch on the adapter turns the booster on (indicated with a bright red light). Up to four SIM cards can be supported, boosting them all simultaneously.

weBoost Drive 4G-X5

Performance

The booster took a little time to get going at first. I noticed no real difference in amplification in the initial stage, but that soon changed.

On the drive from Montreal to Toronto, where reception rarely moves into dead zones these days, areas where one bar was as high as I could get soon turned into three bars. Others with three bars normally went to four or five.

Not all carriers appear to benefit the same way, which probably depends on location. For example, where I was getting four bars with the booster on a Bell SIM, a Fido one was stuck on two. Other times, reception was fairly stable on all the SIMs I had in the car at one time.

A Wind SIM, meanwhile, stayed steady at three. Anywhere I drove in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and surrounding areas, I was getting full bars on it. Most of that geography is officially a Wind Zone anyway, but I was particularly impressed at the potency of the connection in parking garages and other roaming areas.

At one point, with the booster turned off to gauge fluctuations, I lost the connection to Google Maps on an HTC 10 with a Bell SIM inside. Two minutes after turning the booster back on, the phone reestablished a connection. Whether I had already passed a small dead zone or not, I can’t be sure, but the fact the mapping app was back up may not have been a coincidence.

Calls along the Montreal-Toronto route and throughout the city went smoothly. I had no trouble hearing anyone at any time. No dropped calls, and no stuttering voices.

One of the tangible benefits weBoost touts with the Drive 4G-X is improved battery life because the phone doesn’t have to work as hard to make a connection. This would seem less of a boon when in-car charging is so ubiquitous, and I can’t be sure that I noticed that much of an improvement for phones that weren’t plugged into a charger, either.

As I was going through the testing, I mused about the device’s use cases. Renting a car to roll through more desolate areas that aren’t as well connected is a unique instance where the unit could be indispensable. Camping somewhere in the countryside, road trips with kids, and roaming across the country or continent in an RV are a few others.

Living in a big city that already has very fast wireless networks largely negates its need, so it’s not worth plunking down the $480 (at Best Buy and other retailers) to buy the booster if a vast majority of your driving is in a large metropolitan area.

weBoost Drive 4G-X4jpg

Wrap up

The Drive 4G-X delivered as advertised, boosting any signal from any carrier at virtually any time. Despite a lack of consistency with certain carriers in certain areas, the overall results were still easy to appreciate. Being device and carrier-agnostic makes the unit applicable to any phone in any vehicle.

Even without any subscription or residual fees to use it, the booster is an expensive, calculated purchase. It may be a no-brainer for anyone who needs a regular signal boost when driving, whereas it may be food for thought for those who may not need it all the time.

Related reading: weBoost aims to increase awareness of signal boosting in Canada with the Eqo

Comments

  • YoGoerz

    So this isn’t a cell repeater, but rather you have to get a second sim from your provider and basically activate this device?
    What kind of offers did the carriers give you for that sim given it is only for boosting purposes?

    • Justin Steen

      No its just a repeater.

    • YoGoerz

      What does it mean by supporting four sims?
      Thanks ????

    • Gloomfrost

      Four devices.

    • zanzee

      It’s not a repeater it’s an amplifier and better antenna. You’d need an active device that connects to the tower this is all passive.

  • willy

    How about you post a link as to where to buy it for $ 480.00, because I can’t…. $399.00 USDA at best buy , $ 749.00 Drive 4G-X Canadian site and did find it for $ 579.99 At the Canadian best buy site. Just wondering where to pic it up… Thanks

    • Ted K

      I had seen it fro $480 on Best Buy’s Canadian site, but it could be that it was a sale price that has since gone back to $580. In any case, retail seems to be considerably less expensive than direct from weBoost.

  • Angelos Epithemiou

    You lost me when you said it would work in dead zones. If there is NO signal how can you amplify nothing into something?

    • Sheldon

      At the risk of sounding like a smartass, even if it appears to be no service , could there possibly be enough of a signal for the device to amplify it even it was to only make a call? Maybe someone with more knowledge on the topic could chime in.

    • Angelos Epithemiou

      You are not being a smart a*s, but if there is not enough signal for your phone to pick up then there is not enough for that unit to do it either. Also if you have 1 bar on your phone and the repeater shows 3 bars you still have only 1 bar, just more stable. There are cheaper units that can be had from Canadian tire no less that can help a great deal in ones car. No extra sim needed. Also it needs to be stated that while we are moving in a car the signal strength will fluctuate greatly. Obstructions coming and going etc.. I know several truckers that would argue they seldom lose signal while on the major motorways 😉

    • Laer

      I don’t have any technical authority here but I’ll say a bit.

      1) Carriers “calibrate” the number of bars on your phone as they see fit when you purchase a phone from them, so this is basically meaningless information. You need to get an app that will show you actual signal strength seen by your phone.

      2) A some point the software on the phone will say that communication with X amount of signal strength is not possible, at this point you’ll be a no bars. This doesn’t mean that you are or are not seeing signal, it means that what you see isn’t effective.

      So you are right, you can’t make something from nothing but you certainly can make something from very little. The issue here is the bars you see are almost completely meaningless when you are determining if you can or can not communicate effectively.

      Get a signal strength app and start putting real data to the number of bars that your carrier has “tuned” your phone to.

    • MassDeduction

      You’re thinking of this the wrong way around. Your handset almost always has a signal. A phone may be putting out (say) 0.5 watts on a tiny internal antenna, when the cell site might be putting out 10 watts on a huge antenna. The issue isn’t the device hearing the cell site, it’s the cell site hearing the device.

      My presumption is that it’s repeating both the cell site to the handset, and the handset to the site, but that the latter part of the equation is what’s most important.

    • Shushwap

      I have a friend who lives out in the sticks and he has a booster in his truck and that is the only way he gets any reception… No booster no signal

    • Travis Pinky Mcdowell

      the antenna that mounts on the out side of the vehicle is much much larger then what you would find in your phone. so although your phone will say your s.o.l for signal being that the we boost is much larger its more capable of picking up the faint signal that is available. dead zones aren’t a network thing they are a per phone issue. a iPhone with bell may have no signal where as a blackberry will have 2 bars, the iPhone user will say “this is a dead zone stupid bell” the blackberry owner will say “stupid Facebook bring back the app support well at least i can still bbm”. why is this a thing? because the iPhone has less antenna then the blackberry there for it doesn’t pick up faint signals as best. This is all fairly basic things taught when working for select cell phone providers. I say however that the articles writer using the word dead zone is a little misleading where as “phone dependent low or loss of signal locations” would be a better choice.

  • Brad Fortin

    “with the move to LTE, the need for signal amplification arguably lessened, as a result.”

    I’d say the opposite is true. The older 2G and 3G networks run at 800-850 MHz, whereas most of the LTE networks run at 1700/2100 and 2600 MHz, resulting in significantly worse coverage for LTE. There are many rural places where LTE barely covers the downtown area, and anywhere outside the downtown area falls back to 3G/2G. Urban areas may have towers every few blocks but many rural areas only have a handful of towers, sometimes just 1 tower, for the entire area.

    • Tim Wilson

      LTE has greater performance at much lower Rx levels as compared to HSPA/WCDMA

    • Brad Fortin

      “Performance” in terms of what? It’s not in terms of coverage area, that’s for sure.

    • Tim Wilson

      Coverage area will be tied to carrier frequency ie: 700 vs 2600mhz. Lte at -120dbm will have more throughout than hspa will (if it has any at all)

    • MassDeduction

      LTE can have better RF performance. For example, HSPA suffers “cell shrinkage” when a site is overloaded, but LTE doesn’t suffer this.

      Networks and devices are set to favour LTE first. If they lose LTE they drop to HSPA. If all else fails they’ll drop to Edge. This creates the impression that HSPA is better than LTE, and Edge better than HSPA. But it isn’t necessarily so; if your devices favoured HSPA then they might fall to LTE before finally falling to Edge.

      Add in the fact that the best deployed frequency (MBS, AKA 700MHz) is LTE-only in North America, and I rarely if ever drop to anything else anymore.