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HOLDING FORTH

 

INTRO

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

 

COPY

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 vandalism.

 

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 £1,000.

 

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 ones.

 

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 release button.

 

AVANTÉ AVA-CC

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.

 

ORA UCR-1

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.

 

 

 

VIVANCO TGC-3

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.

 

SUMMARY

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'!

 

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© R.Maybury 1993 2610

 


 

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