7 Apps That Improve Smartphone Reception

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If mediocre cellphone coverage plagues your smartphone, there is, of course, an app to fix that.

A plethora of apps, actually. Some good, some not so good (beware of the prank apps). Apps are much cheaper than investing in a pricey signal booster and messing with a directional antenna.

Some of the better apps offer a paid version with the same features but strips out the ads -- consider it a thank you to the developer. I've highlighted the better apps below to help give you an idea of how much better service can be, even if it means switching carriers. (Also see this article on improving cellphone reception indoors.)

Fresh Network by MCStealth: Cluttered but informative, the Fresh Network app searches for the strongest signal and connects the phone automatically. I like how it tells the user what's happening: Resetting network, searching for the best cell site, connecting to mobile carrier and calibrating radio.

When it does find a better signal, it lets you know there's been an improvement (based on the dBm with the added explanation that lower dBm is better). Available on Google Play, free.

OpenSignal by Staircase 3: Straightforward app that visually shows you the direction of the cell tower the phone is connected to plus the signal strength by percentage. You can also open a map to see where the nearest towers are located, which could help you determine where to live, eat or set a signal booster inside your house.

OpenSignal does require GPS to be turned on for best results. Available on Google Play, free.

Coverage? by Two Steps Beyond: This handy map app takes the four major carriers' own coverage maps and overlays them so you can see who offers the best service where. It also lets users view coverage by 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE to help pinpoint cafes, campsites or other travel itineraries.

Best of all, developers are constantly updating the app with the latest data - the most recent update was Sept. 25, 2012. Available at iTunes, $2.99.

Cell Phone Coverage Map by RootMetrics: This multi-purpose app checks your signal strength, download and upload speeds. More importantly, it offers a comparison of how your service compares with the competition based on other user reports. You can also dig a little deeper for details.

At my home, AT&T ( T), Cricket, Sprint ( S), T-Mobile, Verizon ( VZ) and Virgin Mobile all scored four bars. But looking at precise signal strength, Verizon, at 78 dBm, offered the best signal, while Virgin had the worst, at 90 dBm. Available at Google Play and iTunes, free.

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