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MOBILE EXTRAS

 

INTRO

It’s Spring, and what better way to brush aside those winter blues than to go out and spend lots of money on things you never knew you needed. Here’s this month’s selection of weird, wacky, and sometimes quite useful cellphone accessories...

 

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SEL-BEL £26

Several products we’ve looked at in past issues have been concerned with countering growing public irritation with mobile phones. There’s few things more annoying -- for non-cellphone users at any rate -- than the sound of mobile phones ringing in meetings, restaurants, theatres or on public transport. So just for a change we’re looking at a device, aimed at people who reckon their phone (or pager) isn’t loud enough...

 

We’ve been trying out an interesting little gadget called the Sel-Bel. It’s about the size of a box of matches and it attaches to a mobile phone or pager. When Sel-Bel is triggered by the phone’s ringer it emits an even louder tone, that can be heard several tens of metres away. It was developed in South Africa; apparently missed calls are common occurrence over there, when cellphone users are in their swimming pools, or on the tennis court you know the kind of thing... Maybe that’s not such a big problem in the UK but there are plenty of situations where it could prove useful. People with impaired hearing are obvious candidates, but even those with fully working ears sometimes have difficulty hearing their phone ringing when it’s on the charger, and they’re in the bathroom, or the garden for instance. Most ringers cannot compete with a lot of background noise, in a factory, on a building site, or simply the hubbub of normal family life.

 

Sel-Bel comes with a set of Velcro fixing strips which have to be fixed to the phone. On the back of the unit there’s a tiny microphone, and this has to be placed close to the phone’s ringer. This is normally a small hole on the top or side of the casing, and not the earpiece, as the instructions seem to imply; the manufacturers tell us they’re in the process of changing them. Power is supplied by a small re-chargeable battery, that lasts for up to two weeks. It comes with a car power cord, though that’s not terribly convenient as it takes 12 hours to re-charge. The cigar lighter socket on many cars is isolated when the ignition is switched off  -- maybe South Africans spend a lot more time behind the wheel than we do -- a mains charger would be more appropriate for the UK.  

 

But does it work? Yes, is the simple answer. It’s not terrifically loud but it combines with the phones ringer to produce a very distinct combination of frequencies, that carries a good distance, improving the chances of it being heard.  There’s a few points to bear in mind. First, it can take a while to find the best position for the device on some phones, and if that happens to be on the front you will get an ear-full of Velcro every time you use it. Perhaps Velcro is not such a good idea, maybe an elasticated band would be better? The on/off switch on our sample unit was unmarked, we’ve since been told it was a prototype, hopefully production models will be okay. Now you want to know how much they cost, and where you can get one from? The bad news is that manufacturers were still setting up their UK distribution at the time of going to press, so they’re only available by mail order direct from the makers. It costs £26.00, though that includes shipping and insurance from South Africa, so all things considered it’s not bad value.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £26 (includes shipping and insurance)

Features           cellphone ringer amplifier, detachable Velcro strip fixing, re-chargeable battery operation, car charger cord supplied

To fit                 most phones, but ask first, if you’ve got an unusual one

Contact Medmechan (Pty) Ltd., PO Box 72541, Lynnwood Ridge, Pretoria 0040, South Africa. Telephone (from UK) 00 2712 471744, fax 00 2712 471262

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   85%

 

ORA HANDS-FREE KITS  £70 & £45

You shouldn’t need reminding about the benefits and safety implications of a hands-free car kit for your mobile telephone, however, there is a downside. They’re still quite expensive -- typically £200 to £300 -- and they normally have to be fitted by a specialist. So what if the car’s not yours, you don’t want holes drilled all over the place, or you only use it infrequently? In those circumstances a regular car kit could be difficult to justify, but there are alternatives, like these two hands-free kits from Ora. They’re the Travel Talk and Personal Hands-Free kits. They’re both relatively inexpensive, and can be fitted in minutes by almost anyone, without drilling any holes.

 

First the MTHF5 Travel Talk which is designed to work with Motorola Mirco TACs, clones and related flip-phones. (More models are in the pipeline). It costs £70, and for that you get a simple dashboard phone holder clip, that fixes in place using a pad of double-sided sticky tape (supplied) or screws (not supplied), plus the adaptor module, that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter socket. The adaptor is actually three devices in one: inside there’s a charger, an amplifier and loudspeaker, and close to the phone’s accessory plug, a microphone. Installation is virtually idiot-proof, provided you follow the instructions on the box. Ora are usually pretty good with their instructions but we felt they could have gone into a bit more detail, especially about positioning the holder in the drivers reach and field of view.

 

The cigarette lighter plug is hinged, so the speaker module can be set to the best angle, there’s an LED indicator which comes on when the power is on. Ora warn about not plugging it in until the engine is running as harmful voltage spikes, generated by the starter motor, could destroy the electronics in the adaptor, and your phone! The microphone module also has an LED indicator, it has a miniature jack socket on the side of the module, which we presume is for an external mic, though we couldn’t find any mention of it anywhere in the instructions.

 

Once the phone has been programmed for hands-free operation it’s ready to go. Our sample worked well, though it could do with some form of volume control. It’s reasonably loud and the trebly output suits speech,  though it struggles a bit to make itself heard when there’s a lot of road or engine noise, or a couple of raucous kids in the back. The microphone is reasonably sensitive but not very directional. In most cars it will be at waist height, a metre or more from the users mouth and not necessarily pointing in the right direction. If there’s a lot of background noise you may have to speak directly at it, repeat yourself, or shout to be heard at the other end. Generally though it’s well thought out, and it performs at least as well as some of the more average full-spec/cost car kits.

 

The second of the two is the CTM5, ‘Personal’ hands-free kit. Like the MTHF5 it comes with a dashboard phone holder and sticky pad, but instead of the speaker module it has what looks like a conventional talk-and-charge card cord. There’s a bit more to it than that though, and on the back of the charger unit there’s a jack socket into which plugs a lead with an earphone and microphone. Just below the microphone there’s a small tie-clip, to prevent it from waving around. It’s as easy to use as it looks, just pop in the earphone and plug everything in. The cord disables the phone’s own earpiece and microphone, and the ringer is diverted to the earphone, so you need to keep it in whilst you’re driving. Calls are sent or answered in the normal way, so you need to be able to access the phone, bear that in mind when fixing the holder, after that just talk and listen, like any other hands-free system.

 

The ear/mic lead is around a metre long, it could do with being just a little longer, it was close to full stretch one of our test cars, and turning the head sideways quickly, to look out of the window -- overtaking or parking etc. -- it would sometimes pull. The earphone is a fairly ordinary design, and not especially comfortable to wear for long periods.

 

Audio quality at both ends of the connection is good, there’s plenty of volume, and the microphone is very directional, so there’s no problem with background noise. It works well though it seems a touch expensive for what it is.

 

THE FACTS

ORA MTH F5

Typical price      £70

Features           simple to fit hands-free car kit with integrated speaker/power supply unit and microphone

To fit                 Motorola phones including: Micro TAC MkII, Classic, Flip-Phone, Cuo, Pro, BT Pearl, Ford, Blaupunkt 582, Pioneer 740, Bosch Cartel S/SC/SL

Contact Ora Electronics Ltd, telephone (01296) 415445

 

ORA CTM5

Typical price      £45

Features           plug-in hands-free car kit with earphone, microphone and charger

To fit                 Motorola Micro TAC MkII, Classic, Flip-Phone, Cuo, Pro 5200/7200/7500 series, BT Pearl, Ford, Blaupunkt 582, Pioneer 740, Bosch Cartel S/SC/SL

Contact Ora Electronics Ltd, telephone (01296) 415445

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT 85% & 75%

 

VIVANCO ACC1035, £15

We’re always on the lookout for interesting or unusual cellphone aerials, this one from Vivanco definitely fits the bill. It’s designed to clip onto a door window -- nothing very unusual about that -- but  it is incredibly elaborate, and unexpectedly cheap at only £15.00. The actual radiating element is a short base-loaded 17cm whip, it screws onto a jointed arm poking out of a bulbous base module, from which two horizontal ground-plane elements also protrude. They’re not just there to make it look weird, they make up for the lack of the ground-plane effect -- essentially the other half of an aerial -- which would normally be the metal in the car body. The whole assembly is bonded to a padded metal clip, that fits over the glass. On the backside there’s a large locking screw, that clamps the aerial to the window. The aerial lead is a generous 2.3 metres long, and it’s terminated with a standard FME connector, that plugs into an adaptor or cradle.

 

The big advantage of an aerial of this type is that there’s no need to drill any holes in your dream machine, assuming of course it belongs to you; if it doesn’t then that’s another good reason not to get out the Black and Decker. It can be fitted, and removed  in moments, without leaving a mark -- unlike glass-mount aerials -- in fact the biggest problem is tucking the cable out of the way, under carpets or behind trim, and making sure there’s enough slack so the window can be opened. Be extra careful with windows that have electric winders, if it’s fixed too tightly it could damage the motor, or the glass, or possibly both if its wound down too far, otherwise it just comes off. For that reason it may be a good idea to put it on one of the passenger door windows as they’re normally used less often.

 

We tried it out using our normal aerial test routine. It did quite well, a few notches down on a typical glass-mount aerial. That’s almost certainly because it’s not as high up, the tip of the radiator only just clears the car’s roof-line, nevertheless it easily outperformed a hand portable inside the car using just its built-in aerial, managing to hold on to calls that without the aerial would have been dropped. Definitely worth considering as a hassle-free alternative to a glass or body mount.

 

THE FACTS

Typical price      £15

Features           window mount car antenna with built-in ground-plane

To fit                 most car kits

Contact             VIVANCO, UK, telephone  (01442) 231616

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT 85%

 

DANIEL DESIGN ‘IQ MASTER’ BATTERY

It’s no good beating about the bush, cellphone batteries are about as interesting as Marmite jars. For those who even bother to think about them -- batteries, not Marmite jars -- they come somewhere between watching paint dry and party political broadcasts, on their list of interesting things. Hold on to your seats for a bit of a surprise,  batteries just got interesting! Well, this new one from Daniel Design is. It’s called the IQ Master, one to fit Micro TAC phones costs around £50, it’s the first outing of  ZMS or the Zaptronic Monitoring System battery capacity indicator and it lights up! The glow comes from a circle of 10 green, yellow and red LEDs, built into the back of the pack. They come on when you press one of two buttons on the back of the box. The top one is marked ‘test’, this shows the relative state of charge, if they’re all lit up it’s full, if just the yellow and red ones are on there’s less than 50% charge, and just the red LEDs, or no LEDs at all means it’s time to re-charge.

 

This is where it gets clever, the second button is marked ‘Disch’, that’s right, this battery has a built-in discharger or conditioner circuit. Press the button and all the LEDs come on, and go out one by one as the cells inside the battery are carefully drained. This has the effect of removing any imbalance between the cells, so that when they’re recharged, they all start on an equal footing. That’s important because over time the cells in a normal battery achieve differing states of charge, and it can get to the point where some cells reach full charge well before the others. At that point most nicad chargers switch off, leaving the pack as a whole only partially charged, this is a major cause of the so-called ‘memory’ effect. Discharging the battery on a regular basis eliminates cell imbalance, the battery gets a full charge, it needs recharging less often and ultimately leads a longer and healthier life, at least that’s the theory.

 

IQ Master is off to a good start, this 1700mA high capacity packs for both the Micro TAC and a second version for the Ericsson 237/238/337, are filled with matched high-grade Panasonic cells, which should help reduce the incidence of imbalance even further. Pretty lights and clever dischargers are all very well but the proof of the pudding is in the What Cellphone battery test. To cut a long story short we cycle a battery through a series of high and low current discharges, designed to reflect various patterns of use. On the high use cycle our sample managed a very healthy 6.5 hours, the low demand cycle lasted for an impressive 10 hours 40 minutes. Both sets of results were well above average for a pack of this type. The capacity display is a great idea, not especially accurate but it’s a good way of quickly checking the condition of a battery. The discharger is a genuine benefit; chargers with built in conditioners are fine, if you remember to use them, this way is far more convenient. The price is fair, performance is good, so it gets our vote!

 

Typical price      £50

Features           ‘ZMS’ capacity display, built-in discharger

Voltage 6 volts

Capacity           1700mA

To fit                 Motorola Micro TAC, clones and family, Ericsson 237/238/337

Contact Small Talk Communications, telephone (01923) 218753

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT 95%

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Ó R. Maybury 1996 1601

 

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1996 1501

 


 

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