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STANDFIRST

Weíre ranging far and wide again this month. Thereís a gadget for getting at the data on your SIM card, a specially formulated polish for handset displays, and a phone-shaped drinking bottle...

 

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CHIPY PROFESSIONAL SIM MANAGER

Beyond the fact that a digital mobile phone wonít work properly without one, subscriber identity modules or SIM cards are a bit of a mystery to many phone users. Itís actually quite straightforward. The card contains an embedded microchip, programmed with data and information relating to the userís subscription and the phone network. There are also security features, that prevent unauthorised use of the card in someone elseís phone, and a non-volatile memory, for storing phone numbers and SMS (short message service) text messages. 

 

Some, though not all, digital phone make use of the extra facilities and storage space on the SIM card, but there are other ways to access and modify the information card, like our friend Chipy here. Chipy Professional is a SIM card reader, it comes with PC software, that allows information held on the card to be downloaded, and if required, modified and saved back to the card.

 

Chipy is primarily aimed at mobile phone dealers and corporate users, doubtless a few phone owners will want one too, but its rather specialised nature does tend to limit the market. So what does it do? The main application is for reading and transferring SIM phone books. If youíre thinking of changing you phone and network a dealer equipped with a Chipy can suck the phone book out of your old SIM card, and squirt it into the new one in a matter of seconds. This is also an important facility for large organisations, with a lot of mobile phone users on the staff and a high turnover of handsets. 

 

Chipy runs on almost any IBM PC or compatible using Windows 3.x, Windows 95 and 0S/2 Warp operating system; a MAC version is under consideration. The card reader is powered by a plug-in mains adaptor module, a captive data cable plugs into a spare serial communication port on the PC (a 9 to 25 pin adaptor is supplied). Software is contained on one 3.5-inch diskette and takes just a few minutes to install, after which itís ready to go. Full size SIM cards fit into a slot on the side of the Chipy module; the outfit includes a mini SIM adaptor that fits in place of a full-size card. An LCD on the top panel confirms the card network and that it is readable. Data entries can be made on the unitís keypad, or via the PC keyboard.

 

Meanwhile on the PC screen, the Chipy desktop uses normal Windows conventions, with the three main options (Phone Book, Short Messages and Preferred Networks) presented as tabbed files. As soon as the program starts the card is read and the phone book opens to show the blank ADN (abbreviated dialling numbers) entry field. Clicking on the card read icon brings up a request for the userís PIN number, after which the contents of the SIM phone book are displayed. Entries can be added, deleted or modified, before theyíre saved back to the SIM. A second tab brings up the Multiple Subscriber-identification Numbers (MSN) entries, which are used to store the card holders alternative voicemail, fax and data numbers; these too can be modified and saved.

 

The SMS folder allows the user to compose and store a text message, along with the recipients phone number and network for downloading to the SIM card. The message can be sent when the card is put back in the phone. Received text messages stored on the SIM card can be uploaded into the PC and filed. The Preferred Networks folder contains an extensive list of countries and their local networks. From the list it is possible to nominate which networks the phone should first attempt to log onto, when roaming abroad.

 

Options for downloading or importing the phone book and backing up the entire contents of a SIM card are on the menu bar, along with facilities to verify and change the cardís PIN number, print out text messages, sort phone book entries, edit cut and paste entries and internationalise phone numbers. Chipy can also be used to unlock a blocked SIM card (where the incorrect PIN has been entered more than three times), though it is necessary to know the userís PUK (personal unblocking key) number.

 

Chipy is a powerful tool, for getting inside SIM cards and managing the information stored on the chip. If we had more space we could delve deeper into facilities like reading and filing data on Phase II cards (electronic cash cards such as Mondex and some types of telephone cards etc.). However, we have to say that clever though it is Chipy is not the sort of thing most mobile phone owners will ever want to own, but itís worth know mobile phone dealers has access to such devices, which can make life a little easier if and when the time comes to change cards.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £150

Features            SIM card reader with PC interface

To fit                 all digital phone SIM cards

Contact Bell Atlantic, telephone 0171-383 4447

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            %

 

KONDOR MINI HANDS FREE KIT

Recent concerns about using mobile phones in cars have spurred accessory manufacturers into action and simple DIY hands-free car kits are now coming out of the woodwork. Quite frankly a lot of them are poorly designed and not worth the bother, but occasionally one comes along -- like this model from Kondor --  thatís a cut above the rest. Weíre still of the opinion that thereís no substitute for a full car kit, but if you need to transfer a phone from one vehicle to another, or cannot -- for one reason or another -- have one permanently installed, then outfits like this one make a lot of sense.

 

As far as the layout and construction are concerned, itís not radically different to a lot of other simple kits, though a little more thought has been put into its design. The Mini Hands Free Kit is available to fit most popular makes and model of handset. Kondor have used the same kind of modular system seen on their car cords and adaptors. The cigar lighter module is a separate item, the curly lead that connects it to the phone fits into an American style phone socket on the back. Inside the module thereís a charger circuit, and like other models in the range it operates on a 12 to 24 volt DC supply, so it can be used in trucks and lorries, even boats, as well as cars. The module also contains a small amplifier and 25mm speaker; a 2.5mm minijack socket is provided for an optional external speaker. An LED indicator shows power on and charge in progress.

 

On phones with an antenna socket, the connector that plugs into the base of the phone is fitted with an external aerial lead socket. On most cars an outside aerial will make a tremendous difference to range and reception quality, especially in rural areas. The outfit includes an external microphone on the end of a two-metre cable. Unfortunately it doesnít come with any sort of fixing. As it stands most users will probably end up taping it to the sun-visor, which is less than ideal. Itís a great pity Kondor didnít include a simple clip, it wouldnít add much to the price but it would make installation, and removal, a whole lot easier. We would also have liked to have seen the kit bundled with some kind of dashboard holder, though we accept that even so-called universal holders wonít fit in all cars.

 

It takes only a few minutes to install, most of that time is taken up with routing the microphone lead. The charger/speaker module was a good tight fit on three out of the four cars we tried it with. On the fourth, a Mitsubishi Shogun, it was a bit floppy. The contacts has to be slightly bent before the contact was secure. Our sample was designed for the Nokia 2110; this phone automatically senses the adaptor so thereís no need for any re-programming. The titchy speaker is surprisingly shrill, itís quite tinny though, but thereís sufficient volume to hear the caller in most modern family saloons. However, like a lot of simple kits, it struggles in noisy or badly soundproofed vehicles.

 

The microphone is not very sensitive, it needs to be within half a metre of the userís mouth, however, this means it doesnít suffer too badly from background noise and most callers report reasonably good voice quality.

 

The lack of any microphone fixings is a disappointment and the instructions are a bit thin. We would have liked some more detailed fitting advice and a mention of the advisability of using a dashboard holder. Nevertheless it is well built and in undemanding situations it works well. We particularly welcome the external aerial connection and the price is fair.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £60

Features            Compact hands-free car kit, with external microphone and aerial connector

To fit                 most popular makes and models      

Contact Kondor, telephone 01425 474444

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            80%

 

DISPLEX DISPLAY CLEANER

The plastic windows covering the display panels on most mobile phones quickly become covered in hundreds of tiny scratches. Plastic is easily marked, even slipping a phone in and out of a leather case adds to the wear and tear. Unfortunately thereís little you can do to prevent it happening. Most of the time it doesnít matter that much, but on heavily used phones the window can start to loose its transparency and the display may eventually become difficult to read, especially in poor light. Panels can be replaced though we suspect few service agents would be willing to carry out such a job at a sensible price.

 

Light scratching and scuffing can be removed though, using specialised polishing agents for plastic. Displex, distributed in the UK by Hama is a mild abrasive cream, that literally scours the surface of the plastic, at the same time removing ingrained dirt and debris.

 

All well and good, but does it work? An ancient Nokia Technophone and 1992 vintage Motorola Micro TAC were pressed into service as guinea pigs. Both phones have been in daily use for a number of years and the display panels were covered in scratches, some of them quite deep.  One corner of the Technophone display was very badly marked, where it had rubbed on the side of an ill-fitting dashboard holder.

 

A little goes a long way, only a tiny amount of cleaner is needed. Itís rubbed in using a soft cloth, with a circular polishing motion. The first application, which took a couple of minutes restored the shine, but deeper scratches were still visible, and it had almost no effect on the marked Technophone display. A second attempt brought the Motorola display back to almost showroom condition, there were still a few tiny scratches, but only if you looked really closely. Meanwhile, the abrasion on the Technophone had been significantly reduced, so it wasnít quite so noticeable. Displex is a quick and easy way to smarten up your phone, we also found it worked well on plastic watch faces and the display window on a CD player. Well worth keeping a tube around the house.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £TBA

Features            abrasive cleaning paste, for removing scratches from plastic display windows

To fit                 all popular makes and models

Contact Hama UK, telephone (01256) 708110

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            85%

 

FONE RANGE PORTABLE HANDS FREE KIT

Outwardly the Fone Range hands-free kit looks a lot like several other models on the market, but there are a few subtle differences. The most significant one concerns the combined earphone and microphone. For a change the earpiece is quite comfortable, and the sound quality isnít half bad. The microphone is also further down the cable, sitting just below shoulder height. Thereís a sliding clip on the cable, and this can be used to anchor the mike to a shirt or jack collar.

 

The earphone cable plugs into a jack socket on the small plastic module that fits on the bottom of the phone. Thereís another socket, probably for DC power, though the instructions make no mention of it. The model weíve been trying was designed for a Nokia 2110, itís a good fit and shouldnít work loose. The only point to bear in mind is that the added depth means the phone wonít fit into a normal carry case, though thereís nothing to prevent the use of other types of belt clip.

 

Microphone sensitivity is quite high, and itís not terribly directional, so some care needs to be taken, to avoid it scuffing on clothing. Earphone volume is adequate and itís noticeably less tinny than many of its rivals. Reasonably priced, worth considering.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £25

Features            simple hands-free kit with external earphone and microphone

To fit                 most popular makes and models

Contact Fone Range, telephone 0181-838 8888

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            83%

 

PHONIES OF THE MONTH

Two for the kids this month,  both based on Motorola Ďbrickieí phones. One is a cleverly disguised drinks bottle --  the ideal place for illicit alcopops -- just give the antenna a quick suck when youíre feeling thirsty. The other one is a pencil case. It is guaranteed to annoy teachers more than a bucketful of Tamagochi, the built-in bleeper brings forth a succession of irritating tones and tunes whenever one of the keys are pressed.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £1.00 each

Features            phone shaped containers for drinks and pencils, built-in bleeper

To fit                 most Christmas stockings

Contact pound shops and markets everywhere

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            75%

 

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R. Maybury 1997 0509

 


 

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