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Good vibrations and low-cost car kits, theyíre all here in this monthís accessory roundup, compiled as usual by Rick Maybury

 

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CYMONTEL HANDS-FREE CAR KIT

Once you get beyond the porky-pies, gobbledegook instructions, and occasional odd-ball features, this hands-free car kit from Cymontel for Motorola 7200ís and Micro TACs, is not half bad...

 

But first the bad news. Page one of the instructions blatantly proclaims Ďall functions of our product are controlled by the microprocessor to make top-rating performanceí. What microprocessor is that? There definitely wasnít one inside our sample. How about this. ĎWith the circuit which controls temperature, voltage, current & time, overcharge of the battery is protected by recharging as much of the minimum current discharged naturally after battery is fully chargedí. Come again...

 

Fortunately for anyone able to tell one end of a screwdriver from another, this kit should be reasonably easy to install, itís mostly common-sense. Everything is included, right down to the fixing screws and cable tidies. The core component is the (microprocessor-less...) cradle and control unit. This is fixed to the carís dashboard or centre console using a standard hinged bracket. The instructions contain rudimentary advice about where to put it, that much at least is easy to follow. Three cables emerge from the cradle, a curly lead plugs into the phoneís accessory socket; thereís a terminated lead for the aerial connection, and the third lead -- a good metre and a half long -- splits off into three idiot-proof sockets. One is for the visor-clip microphone, the second goes to the loudspeaker and the third carries DC power from the battery. All the leads are of a very generous length so there should be no problems with long cable runs, even in the largest cars.

 

The kit is a relatively conventional design but there are a couple of unusual features. The best is an earphone facility -- one is supplied -- for hands-free privacy. Thatís a good idea because on most other car kits the only way to have a private conversation is to remove the handset from its cradle, which means itís no longer hands-free. The other one,  is an on/off switch for the charger. This seems to be intended as a means of overcoming deficiencies in the relatively unsophisticated charging system. The multi-colour LED indicators shows red for charging in progress, flashing red for battery problems, green for full charge, and yellow for overcharge, at which point it would appear advisable to switch the charger off. The instructions are none too clear on this matter. Why doesnít it go into trickle-charge mode automatically, maybe it does, who knows, and what happens if youíre not watching the light, will it be bye-bye battery?

 

In use the kit performs reasonably well. The phone clicks securely into place on the cradle, and is released by a button on the side. Speaker volume is controlled by the volume buttons on the phone; audio output is good and loud, enough for even the noisiest cars. Hands-free functions are controlled by the phone, calls are made and answered by flipping the lid. The microphone is not very sensitive but it is quite directional, striking a fair compromise between picking up the driverís voice and ignoring background noise. Received audio quality is a little soft -- you may have to speak up -- but it is intelligible.

 

Itís a bit of mixed bag. The actual product is basically well made, the kit includes all the necessary hardware for a straightforward DIY installation, it works well and the price is competitive. The instructions are dreadful, no help whatsoever to a novice, so if youíre at all wary about fitting electrical gadgetry to your car either give it a wide berth, or get someone competent to fit for you. Weíre unhappy about the charging system and the potential for damaging expensive batteries, but if youíre prepared to be vigilant and keep an eye on the light, then itís quite a good deal, costing around half as much as some similarly specified car kits.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £130

Features           outfit includes complete fixing kit, multi-colour LED charge indicator

To fit                 Motorola 7200 and Micro TAC family

Contact Cymontel, telephone 0171-328 2843

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   85%

 

 

HAMA VIBRATING POCKET PAGER

Most of the time you want to be able to hear your phoneís ringer but there are occasions when it can be a nuisance, in meetings, restaurants or the cinema for example. All phones have a ringer mute, but usually the only way to tell if thereís an incoming call is to keep an eye on the display. Not very convenient.

 

The alternative is a silent ringer, usually a little device built into the phone or battery which vibrates in response to a call, but phones which have this facility as standard are few and far between. The Hama 41140 is one of a growing number of accessory silent ringers. This one is designed to work with GSM phones. Itís a small self-contained unit, powered by a single AAA sized pen cell, not much larger than a disposable cigarette lighter. Thereís a small spring metal clip on the back, so it can be attached to a belt, or pocket. On the side thereís a small 3-position slide switch, for turning it on and off, and setting the sensitivity (high or low), which determines how far it will operate from the phone. In the low setting it needs to be within 20 to 30 cms, the high setting extends the range to 90 cm.

 

It is incredibly simple to use. The phoneís ringer has to be switched off, when a call comes in,  it starts vibrating, and continues to do so until the reset button is pressed. The vibrations come from a tiny electric motor inside the unit, this has an unbalanced weight on the shaft. When itís operating it also makes a soft buzzing sound, though this wouldnít normally penetrate more than a layer or two of clothing. The vibration is quite strong and can be felt, even in a jacket pocket.

 

Although itís not designed to work with analogue phones we found that it functioned with several models we tried it with, albeit with greatly reduced range. The best we got was around 10 cm on a Motorola Micro TAC, on most of the others it had to be almost touching the case.

 

Itís a useful little gadget that could help avoid embarrassing situations, definitely worth considering if youíve got a GSM phone, and possibly worth a try with some analogue models.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £30.00

Features                       silent call ringer with two sensitivity settings, powered by AAA type battery, 30-90 cm range

Compatible with GSM phones, some ETACs (see text)    

Contact             Hama UK, telephone (01256) 708110

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   88%

 

KONDOR TRAVEL PACK

You might have been one of the lucky ones when you brought your phone, but with most outfits you get the phone, a battery -- two if the manufacturer is feeling generous -- a mains charger and instruction book. Some dealers throw in a cheap case, but thatís usually about it. This has meant good business for the accessory companies, some of them have put together starter packs with a few basic items but the quality can be quite variable. However, this one from Kondor is well worth investigating. Apart from being very attractively packaged, the contents of their Travel Pack includes a couple of top-notch items that brought separately would cost you considerably more than the £25 asking price.

 

The pack contains a smart leather case and a talk and charge power cord. The package weíve been looking at is designed for Nokia 2110 phones and clones. The case is made from supple dark-green leather, with a flexible transparent front panel and elasticated sides, to accommodate fatter, higher-capacity batteries. On the back thereís a detachable wrist strap and a spring metal belt clip. The phone is held in place by a flap, with Velcro pads. The detail and quality of manufacture are both very good; the stitching is neat and even, no loose ends, and all of the holes and apertures line up accurately with the phone inside. Itís the sort of case youíd happily pay £15 to £20 for, so weíre off to a good start.

 

The power cord is an advanced microchip-controlled type, suitable for both Nicad and NiMh batteries, designed to plug into a carís cigarette-lighter socket. All of the contacts are plated, to resist corrosion and it has an internal 3 amp fuse. The operating range is 12 to 24 volts and it has built in surge-protection, so it can be safely left plugged in when starting the engine.  There are two LEDs on the back of the module, to indicate charging in progress and full charge. The curly lead that connects the charger module to the phone is detachable, for quick release and easy stowage. The module was a good fit in the lighter sockets of all of the vehicles we tried it with. The charging current is relatively low, not much more than a trickle charge in fact, which means a 600mAh pack takes around 4 hours to charge from flat. This is better for the battery, and should minimise the build-up of any memory effect, that can occur with repeated fast charging.

 

Chargers of this type and quality generally sell for between £20 to £25, so if youíve just brought a mobile phone and youíre in the market for some basic accessories, this would be a very good place to start.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £25

Features           soft leather case with transparent front panel, talk and charge adaptor

To fit                 most popular models

Contact Kondor, telephone 01425 276644

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   93%

 

PENGUIN PORTABLE HANDSFREE

If you donít want to go the whole hog and fit a fully-fledged hands-free kit in your car then there are a number of alternatives, that donít involve drilling holes and threading cables. Hereís one of them, itís the Penguin Portable Handsfree. This particular model is designed for Ericsson phones, but others are -- or soon will be -- available. The price is a good place to begin, just £35, and thatís a good deal less than similar kits weíve seen, so how does it match up? The kit comprises a plug-in car adaptor lead, a clip-fit module that attaches to the base of the phone, and an earphone lead, with an integrated microphone module, about a foot from the earpiece.

 

Both the charger lead and earphone cables plug into the adaptor module, the plugs are different sizes, so thereís no chance of mixing them up. That all seems fairly straightforward, but there is a problem. The charger lead is terminated with a 3.5mm jack plug, and thatís just asking for trouble. The point is, unless itís plugged in, itís basically a live bare wire floating around inside the car, just waiting to short-circuit  on any exposed metal. At best it will blow the cartridge-type fuse in the regulator module, at worst it could take out one of the carís fuses, which may also be used for other vital functions. Furthermore, a sparking wire could get hot, possibly burn.  This is a potential safety hazard!

 

That aside the components are generally well made. The earphone is quite comfortable, and the microphone has a small clip, so it can be attached to the wearerís tie or shirt. The charger is a microchip-controlled design, it has a dual-colour LED indicator but thereís no instructions, so no way of knowing what it means. We assume red means power on and charging, green probably indicates full charge. The module clips easily into place, once in position the phoneís microphone and earpiece functions are transferred to the external earpiece and microphone. That includes the ringer, so the earpiece needs to be worn all the time, or you might miss an incoming call.

 

Audio performance is good, the earphone is just the right side of tinny, which helps with speech. The microphone is not too sensitive but sufficiently directional to pick up the userís voice. Received and transmitted calls are clear and intelligible. Apart from our misgivings about the plug, and the complete lack of instructions we quite like this little kit, it works okay and the price is realistic.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price     £35

Features           clip-on hands-free adaptor and car power cord

To fit                 Ericsson 238/337

Contact Cymontel, telephone 0171-328 2843

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT   85%

 

 

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R. Maybury 1996 2902

 


 

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