Recently, Wi-Ex, a leading manufacturer of cell phone signal boosters, released two mobile apps designed to help you visualize the cell phone signal strength in your area. The iOS version for iPhones and iPads is called the zBoost Signal Mapper while the Android version is called the zBoost Signal Finder. In addition to visualizing how strong the signal is on a map, the Android app goes one step further and points you in the direction of the closest tower. This feature could be very helpful when trying to install a signal booster with a directional antenna so that you know which general direction to point it.
When you open the app, the main screen is dominated by a map that attempts to find where you are and center the map on your location. When you’re ready, you can click on a start button to begin the mapping process. The app will display a circle in your current location that’s color coded based on how strong of a signal you currently have. The colors range from a dark green, representing a strong signal, to a dark red, representing no signal at all. As you move around, the app will add additional circles to the map along the path you’re traveling so you can see how strong the signal is everywhere you’ve been. When you’re done, there’s a stop which stops the app from adding any more signal readings and a clear button to remove the circles from the map.
While the zBoost Signal Mapper app could be entertaining to use while walking around a city, I feel that it doesn’t have much practical value. To be helpful while installing a signal booster, the app would have to keep track of the signal in in a very small area, usually on the roof of a house. Unfortunately in my area, the satellite imagery isn’t detailed enough to really be able to see much of my house. In addition, while GPS is accurate enough for driving directions and tagging photos, it’s not usually accurate enough on a phone to do precise mapping. When you’re trying to find the ideal spot for an antenna, being off by 10 or 20 ft could be difference between a weak sign and no signal at all. The app also reports that signal in terms of “bars” which will certainly be familiar to anyone who has used a cell phone, but is far less accurate than displaying the signal strength in decibels. A signal in two places can have the same number of bars but be orders of magnitude different in strength which would be readily apparent if the signal strength was represented in decibels.
Unfortunately, the app doesn’t even have entertainment value for me since I couldn’t get it to work. As you can see by the screenshot from my iPhone 5 running iOS 6, the app reports that I have 0 Bars, even though you can see in the screenshot that I have 5 bars of 3G signal. The only review on the iTunes page lists the same problem of it always reporting 0 Bars. I’m sure Wi-Ex will be able to work out this bug, especially since it’s still the first version.
I wasn’t able to test the app on an Android phone. If anyone has used either app, please leave us a comment and let us know what you think!
The iOS version is available from the iTunes Store. The Android version is available from the Google Play Store. To learn more, you can check out the help page for the app or read the zBoost press release.
UPDATE 12/04/2012: Wi-Ex released a new version yesterday that correctly display my signal strength instead of always reporting 0 bars.