With the right accessories you can transform
your hand-portable into a useful car-phone, we take a look at some of the
latest gadgets to help keep you in touch, when you're on the move
Nowadays we take it more or less for granted
that a hand-portables can be used inside a moving car, but the average family
saloon has to be one of the most hostile environments imaginable for a mobile
phone. The steel in the body work is a highly efficient screen that radio waves
cannot penetrate, there's perilously high-levels of vibration and electrical
interference, the temperature can swing from sub-zero to near boiling point in
a matter of minutes, plus, there's the ever-present risks of theft and
Fortunately there's quite a lot you can do to
make your pocket-phone comfortable and reasonably secure, when it's in the car.
The most effective option is normally the phone manufacturer's own car kit.
They're available for most hand-portables, though the specification varies from
make to make. Most of them come with a purpose-designed holder or cradle, with
a connecting lead that plugs into the 'phone's accessory socket. This is
normally attached to a booster circuit and external antenna, which gives a
hand-portable the same kind of performance as a regular car-phone; some or the
more elaborate car kits also include a hands-free feature and extra facilities,
like dedicated terminals for a fax or computer modem. However, the downside is
price; in some instances a full car kit, with installation, can cost upwards of
Hands-free kits, without the booster, are
usually a good deal cheaper, but the cost can still run to two or three hundred
pounds, depending on the make and model. Needless to say there's little or no
improvement in performance, though several manufacturers now market extension
aerials or passive repeater antennas which can help reduce the number of
dropped calls in marginal signal areas. It's well worth checking out the price
of car kits from the accessory companies, they're normally cheaper, though the
range is often limited to just the most popular hand-portables, and it can take
them a while to catch up with the latest models.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL...
The least expensive, and by far the most
popular option is to install a cradle or holder with an adaptor, to power the
phone and/or re-charge the battery from the car's electrical system, via the
cigar-lighter socket. Some, though by no means all hand-portable manufacturers
include purpose-designed holders in their list of optional extras, but it has
been left to the accessory companies to fill in the gaps. The problem, though,
is that it would be unrealistic for them to design a different holder for every
phone, which has resulted in the development of the so-called 'universal
cradle'; we've been looking at a selection of some of the most widely-available
A cradle does two things: it provides a
stable and secure means of support for a hand-portable; and, it holds the phone
in the optimum position, i.e., upright, within easy reach of the driving
position, and preferably with the antenna above the car's 'waistline' where it
won't be shielded by the car body. The four models we've been looking will fit
just about every phone on the market, though some are a better fit than others,
as we shall see...
AVANTÉ AVA UC
This US-made holder is designed to be used
with Avanté's pedestal mount (AVA-UP), though, as we discovered, the hole
spacing appears to be standard and other makes of mount can also be used. The
phone is held in place by two spring-loaded cushioned pads; when they are
pressed inwards they lock in place, gripping the phone. The pads are released
by pressing a red button on the left side. The release button has clearly been
positioned for the convenience of
owners of left-hand drive vehicles and it can be a little awkward to
use. The gripper pads are fairly widely-spaced, to accommodate as many
different sizes of handset as possible -- even the big old models -- but anyone
with small hands might find them difficult to close. The cut-out on the bottom
lip of the cradle is not sufficiently wide to allow access to the charger or
accessory sockets on the base of some phones.
The ratchet on our sample didn't always
engage first time and the plastic
internals didn't look terribly inspiring. Otherwise, reasonably phone-friendly
and the gripper pads won't scratch or damage your instrument. Easy to use, if
you've got biggish hands, and you can learn to live with the poorly-positioned
Ultra-simple 'cup' type design for slim
hand-portables. Avanté say it's an excellent fit for Nokia 101/2, Technophone
405 and People Phone; it's a good fit on the Samsung 310, Mitsubishi MT5 and
Oki 900, a fair or tight fit for the NEC P3, Cleartone 500, and Technophone
TP2/3. The NEC P4 is described as being loose fit. The cradle has it's own
mounting plate which joins to the cup by a locking ball and socket joint. The
cut-out in the base of the cup is a good size and won't obscure the accessory
and external power or adaptor sockets on most phones. On the phones we tried
there's little or no room to spare, we're doubtful if any of them would fit
when used with a thicker higher-capacity battery pack. The sides of the cup are
fairly smooth and shouldn't scratch most phones, though we suspect it might
eventually make rubbing marks on phones which are a very snug fit.
Phones which are tight can be quite awkward
to insert and remove, so it's important to make sure the cradle is firmly
anchored to the car's metalwork. A good sturdy design but try before you buy.
The most popular and widely distributed
universal cradle, designed to be used with one of Ora's mounting kits
(CTS302/3/4/5/6, CTS802 etc.). The phone is held in place by a pair of
retracting arms; there's a second gripper arm on the side, to hold a detachable
antenna. It requires a certain amount of dexterity to load and unload the
handset, using a sort of twisting action. Once again it appears to have been
designed to make it easier to use with the right hand, as would be the case in
a left-hand drive vehicle. The retaining springs are quite strong -- the phone
is never going to fall out -- but the
lack of cushioning on the grips leads us to suspect that with protracted use it
could scratch or mark the sides of the handset. Solid, secure and well-built
but not especially easy to use.
Very similar-looking design to the Avanté
AVA-UC, with the same twin gripper-arm construction. Vivanco market two
compatible mounts, the double-jointed TPM-15 and TGN-25 flexible 'swan-neck' .
We have the same concerns, about the longevity of this model, but the grip is
good and the cushioned pads will not mark of scratch the sides of the phone.
Enough adjustment to fit just about every phone on the market, so a good choice
for very new or very old handsets where purpose-designed cradles may be
difficult to obtain.
The price of cradles and mounting hardware
varies tremendously so our first piece of advice is to shop around, especially
if you plan to fit it yourself. Installation shouldn't be a problem for a
competent DIYer, but none of the kits we've seen include any instructions, so
unless you feel comfortable about drilling holes in the dashboard of your car,
and understand the importance of choosing the correct location for the phone,
we suggest you leave it to the professionals.
Finally, a few blindingly obvious words of
warning. It is both dangerous and illegal to use a mobile phone -- any mobile
phone -- whilst driving, unless of course it has a hands-free facility. If you
want to make or receive a call pull over and stop, providing of course it is
safe to do so. Never leave your phone rattling around on top of the dash-board,
rear parcel-shelf, glove compartment, or the bits-and-bobs tray between the
seats, at least not if you want to it to lead a long, useful and healthy life.
It almost goes without saying -- but we'll say it anyway -- that leaving a
hand-portable in a vehicle, in open view, is like putting a sign up, in ten
foot high letters, saying 'please smash my windows'!
© R.Maybury 1993 2610