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MOBILE EXTRAS

 

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Are you missing something? Rick Maybury sifts through this monthís selection of essential, and not so essential cellphone accessories

 

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ORA COMPACT CAR KIT, £47

The biggest problem with most car kits is the lack of provision for an external antenna. Whilst many hand-portables work quite happily without one in cities and on motorways, range is compromised. Out in the sticks this can make the difference between staying in contact and dropped or lost calls. Pocket phones operate at very low power levels to begin with and screening from a metal car body plays havoc with reception, mainly by increasing directionality. One minute the phoneís signal strength meter is showing a full set of bars, a hundred metres up the road and the reading can drop to nothing.

 

However, fitting an outside aerial to a cellphone is no easy matter, on some models itís not possible to make a direct connection, and many in-car adaptors have to rely on capacitive couplers, that only work when the phone is seated in a cradle. Thatís not a problem with phones like the Nokia 2110/2140, and the Sony CM-DX1000, both of which have aerial sockets next to their accessory connectors. Ora have seized upon this useful facility with a new DIY car kit, designed specifically for those phones; other models will follow.

 

The Compact car kit comes in three parts. The first is a standard charge cord, that plugs into the carís cigarette lighter socket. This has a curly lead with a push-fit accessory connector, that plugs into the base of the phone; out of that comes a second screened cable, terminated with a screw-fit RF connector. Part two is a miniature mag-mount antenna, with two whips (unity gain and 3dB gain). The aerial cable is around 3-metres long, thatís enough to route it under carpets or under the dash, so it doesnít get in the way. Itís also very thin and can safely pass between the car door and the body, without damage. The third and final part is a simple hang-up cup. Double sided fixing pads are included with the outfit, along with a cleaner wipe, to make sure it gets a good grip on the dashboard or centre console.  A second version is available without the antenna, for just under £30.   

 

Itís all very straightforward,  the brief instructions are reasonably easy to follow and an average handyperson should be able to install the kit in under an hour. A few points emerged during the course of our tests. First, the sticky pad fixing for the hang-up cup is not very satisfactory, unless the surface is perfectly clean it will almost certainly fall off. Weíre also mindful about what might happen if the carís interior heats up, the temperature can easily reach 30 degrees or more on a sunny day, and that could well weaken the adhesive. The solution is to fix it in place with screws, the holes are there, but not the screws. The second point concerns the phoneís accessory plug. The one on our sample came apart after a half dozen or so insertions, the grippers on the side are very tenacious and unless the release catch is pressed fully home, to release it, the connector block parts company with the rest of the plug. Lastly, the two cables emerging from the plug (the curly lead and the antenna cable) have a tendency to entwine themselves with each other and it quickly develops into an untidy looking tangle. If theyíre kept apart they can get themselves wrapped around knobs and switches, either way itís far from ideal.

 

The outside aerial has a marked effect on reception. A signal strength reading of three bars on our Nokia test phone increased to four or five when the aerial was connected. The 3dB antenna seemed to work marginally better than the unity gain whip. In both cases it managed to iron out the sometimes quite sudden fluctuations in signal strength whilst driving along, however, the most noticeable improvement was on one and two-bar signals, which are prone to break-up. The extra bar or two provided by the antenna made all the difference in poor signal conditions. It compares reasonably well with a full car kit -- in terms of contact reliability -- though it doesnít have any hands-free facilities so we have to add the usual rider about using mobile phones on the move. Donít do it!

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £47

Features           transportable car kit with power-cord,  hang-up cup and mag-mount antenna

To fit                 Nokia 2110.2140, Sony CM-DX100         

Contact Ora Electronics, telephone (01296) 415445

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   80%

 

HAMA 3-WAY POWER ADAPTOR, £19.99

Itís amazing to think that many modern cars have more computing power than the spacecraft that took the Americans to the moon, yet most of are singularly ill-equipped to deal with the plethora of electrical gadgets now available to the motorist. Cellphones are a case in point. Installing a car kit can involve ripping out the dashboard and huge chunks of interior trim, just to make a few simple electrical connections. Itís not so bad if you use a DIY hands-free kit, most of them plug into the carís cigarette lighter socket, but what happens if you have other appliances in the car, or youíre a smoker? One socket -- and often a pretty unreliable one at that -- simply isnít enough!

 

This 3-way adaptor from Hama should solve the problem. It plugs into the adaptor socket, providing two spare outlets, plus one other, thatís used for a cigarette lighter. The adaptor is supplied with a quick-fix slide mount, that can be screwed to any reasonably rigid surface using the two self-tapping screws supplied. The connecting cable is around a metre long, so it can be tucked away under the dash, or on a centre console. Thereís no need to worry about the original cigar lighter, it comes with itís own one. The supply plug has a 10 amp fuse, more than enough to cope with a couple of power-hungry accessories; an indicator LED shows the power is on.

 

Itís simply and solidly built and we found the sockets were a good tight fit for the half-dozen or so charge-cords we tried it with. Considering it comes with its own lighter plug, £20 doesnít seem like a bad price and it could save a lot of messing around. 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £19.99

Features           3-way cigar-lighter adaptor

To fit                 most cars

Contact Hama UK, telephone (01256) 708110

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   85%

 

 

OPTRONIX UPB-8000 BATTERY PACK, £180

Nokia are rightly proud of their new 1610 phone which can run for up to 100 hours on standby, but those of us with normal handsets can only dream of getting a full dayís from a standard battery packs. Normally itís not a problem, heavy users can always carry a spare pack, and putting the phone on an overnight charge is no big deal. But what happens if you canít get to a charger or power source for a day or two? Then thereís heavy-duty users, who might need to use their phone for hours, rather than minutes each day?

 

All things are possible, but if you need serious power carrying a pocket-full of clip-on battery packs can seriously ruin the line of your suit. Optronix -- purveyors of high-capacity packs for things like camcorders and laptop computers -- have turned their attention to cellphones and come up with a range of belt-worn batteries, culminating in the UPB-8000 (weíll be looking at a couple of other models next month). Itís a little smaller than a fat paperback book, and it weighs in at just under 1.2 kg, but it packs one helluva punch. The 6 volt lead acid battery is rated at 8 ampere-hours, thatís ten times as much as most higher-capacity phone batteries! Itís enough to keep some phones running for up to 220 hours --  more than 9 days  -- on standby, or around 18 hours of talkative!

 

The pack connects to the phone using a dummy battery or adaptor lead, a range is available that covers most makes and models; they cost between £11 and £14 each. The battery pack is fitted inside a black leather case, with a belt loop on the back, a shoulder strap loop on the top and some rather over-the-top labelling on the front. The single DC connector socket is also used for charging, a mains adaptor is not supplied but -- depending on the model of phone -- the dummy battery may fit on to a phoneís standard charger (check first, not all chargers will be suitable).

 

Our sample came without instructions but it doesnít take a genius to figure out how to use it. It took over 20 hours to charge first time; we hooked it up to Motorola 7500, switched it on and noted the time. Actually a calendar would have been more appropriate, five days later the battery meter was still showing full, and that was after an hour or soís worth of calls. At that point, with deadlines looming we had to call it a day,  suffice it to say there was probably at least another day or twoís worth of power left. It is rather heavy -- a real trouser dropper -- and we could have done with the curly lead being a few centimetres longer; the power plug came out a couple of times, some sort of restraining clip might be a good idea, but the power is certainly there, in abundance, for even the most demanding user. It looks quite pricey but if you reckon that an ordinary battery pack costs around £30 to £40, this one starts to look like quite good value, especially if youíre not going to be able to get to a mains socket for several days.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £108 plus £11 to £14 for phone adaptor

Features           8Ah battery pack

To fit                 most popular makes and models

Contact Optronic, telephone 0181-953 1688

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   88%

 

PAMA PREMIERE BATTERY PACK, £40

Nickel metal hydride battery packs have been falling in price over the past year or so, to the point where in some cases theyíre only marginally more expensive than conventional nicad batteries. The two main advantages are smaller size, for a given capacity, and a high degree of immunity from the dreaded memory effect. This new battery from Pama score well on all points, itís rated at 1100mA, yet the one weíve been evaluating -- designed for Motorola Micro TACs and Flips -- itís smaller and lighter than some 800mA nicads. The price is fair, just £40 or thereabouts. The styling is a little softer too, so it sits a little more comfortably in the hand. An internal examination revealed top-quality Toshiba cells.

 

Performance rates as average to good. After running the battery in, we submitted the pack to our standard test routine. This consists of two cycles, one simulating light to medium duty (two five minute calls an hour), the other heavy use (four five minute calls an hour). Our sample gave times of 4 hours 10 minutes and 7 hours respectively, which compares well with the competition. Worth considering. 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £40

Features           lightweight high-capacity NiMh battery

To fit                 most popular makes and models

Contact Pama, telephone (0161) 224 4444

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   80%

 

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R. Maybury 1996 0306

 


 

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