We are a society that prides itself on always being connected and there is nothing more frustrating that having weak WIFI or 3G that causes intermittent connectivity flickering. I experience this most often when using hotel WIFI. Sometimes my room is just at the edge of the reception range and I have to walk around trying to find the best spot to get a signal.
Absolute (link) developed its Linkase (for iPhone 5 and 5s) specifically to help you get a signal when you might otherwise not. It does this using an Electromagnetic Wave Guide to direct more of that signal goodness directly into your devices internal antenna.
Anytime I do a review, the question I want to answer is: "Is the device worth the $39 asking price?" Read on to find out...
Let's get physical
The case itself is made from a hard solid feeling plastic. It has a slightly graining feeling which makes the (normally) slippery iPhone much easier to grip. It measures 126.4mm x 61.2mm x 10.8 mm, which means it is extremely thin and doesn't add bulk to your phone. It is smaller and more compact that the original Apple brand leather iPhone 5s case.
It has 2 EMV antennas:
- Top one for WIFI boosting
- Bottom one for 3G boosting (LTE versions available by region)
As you can see, there is a cutout for the camera and there is a cutout for the side control buttons and the bottom (speaker, microphone and lightning connector).
The EMW sensor is a special material that traps the WIFI or 3G signal and forces it towards you devices internal antenna (without requiting any plugs, cables or device modification). When the antennas are not in use (you can use 1 or both at any given time), they cleanly slide into the case and disappear.
I used the case with a ZAGG InvisibleShield screen protector and it worked perfectly together.
All of the original iphone controls work very well and are easily accessible. The only difficulty is getting the hard shell on and off.
Unlike the "real" protective cases, this devices primary job is boosting your WIFI /3G signal and therefore it doesn't offer much protection if your phone is dropped. It will prevent scratches but don't expect real dependable drop protection. You give up drop protection in exchange for sleekness.
Does the Linkase Pro work?
I tested the WIFI portion at home, at work and in a coffee shop. Each time I tested network performance using the IOS Speedtest.net app and performed at least 4 pairs of tests (1 pair = with case then without the case). I ensured that for each pair, the phone didn't move and that the same Speedtest.net endpoint server was being used. I performed 4 pairs of tests to ensure the results where one-off issues.
I discovered that when I was in a good WIFI zone, the case actually seemed to slightly negatively impact WIFI performance. Standing about 10 feet from my Asus 801.11n router, I was downloading around 26.5Mbps without the case and 23.2-24.9 with the case. Surprisingly upload speeds seemed not affected.
But the case is built for low signal boosting so I walked far enough to where the WIFI signal was at 1 bar without the EMW antenna deployed. I then performed the tests again and the case didn't improve download or upload speeds. At this distance, the case had no performance impact on download/upload speeds.
For each test, I also loaded popular websites CNN, Kiledjian.com, Yahoo, Google (clearing cache between each test) and performance wasn't materially different (with or without the case).
My final test was WIFI boosting capabilities in a dead spot. I walked just to the point where my iPhone lost the wifi signal (walking a couple of feet back would bring the signal back). I deployed the WIFI EMV and then checked the network settings app to see if the iPhone could see the WIFI network beacon (with and without the case) and it couldn't.
What about the 3G boosting capabilities?
I performed similar tests on the 3G boosting capabilities which was easy because I work in a building and area with bad cell reception. The 3G boosting capabilities were just as bad as the WIFI ones.
For the purpose of comparison, I also tested signal boosting ability of my Wilson Electronics 3G/LTE Active powered booster and this one made a difference to reception quality and strength. Of course I expected the Wilson to perform better since it is powered and has active electronics.
This was one of those products that I really really wanted to work. I loved its promise of signal boosting and could imagine dozens of different uses for me (especially when travelling). Unfortunately (in my tests), it didn't provide any benefit WIFI or 3G.
For the purpose of completeness of testing, I installed the case on a non-technical friends iphone 5s and asked him to give me his feedback. A couple of days later he said he didn't notice any change (positive or negative). His exact comment was "With the case, I have the exact same reception as without the case. Dead spots are dead and when I'm in the basement, I get the same abysmal wifi I have always had".