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Get a buzz, keep your hands free, protect your brain and play along with the Bash Street KidsÖ. It can only be this monthís round up of cellphone weird, wacky and wonderful cellphone accessories

 

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SILENT CATCHER KEYRING,

Have you noticed that when your mobile phone is close to a radio, from time to youíll hear a burst of low-pitched bleeps? Thatís your phone keeping in touch with the local cell site, or logging on to another site, if youíre on the move. Silent Catcher harnesses the same effect -- whereby a nearby receiver picks up signals emitted by your phone. Itís a small key ring sized device that gently vibrates whenever you receive an incoming call, so you can switch off the phoneís ringer, and not disturb others.

 

Inside the key fob thereís a small receiver circuit, tuned to GSM cellphone frequencies, that activates a tiny motor with a weight on the rotating shaft. A long-life lithium battery powers it and there are two sensitivity settings. The Ďloí position is used when the phone is no more than a foot or so from the Silent Catcher, the Ďhií position works up to three feet away. The only other control is a small button, to cancel the alert.

 

It works really well; vibrations travel easily through several layers of clothing. Occasionally went off for no good reason. Initially we suspected it was being triggered by other, nearby cellphones, though throughout our tests we never heard any other ringers. Maybe they were using silent ringers as well? Using the lo sensitivity setting didnít seem to affect the number of false alarms, so it may well have been some other kind of transmission. Nevertheless, they were rare enough not to be a big problem, and it doesnít take long to recognise a genuine call as it has the characteristic brrrm Ė brrrm pattern.

 

The really good thing about Silent Catcher is that it works with any GSM phone, so it not a problem when you change or upgrade your mobile. Itís also cheaper than most dedicated vibrating call alerts, and if you clip it on your key ring you wonít forget it, when you want to be discreet and stay in touch.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £20

Features            silent vibrating call alert, two sensitivity settings

To fit                 all GSM phones

Contact The Link mobile phone shops

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            85%

 

ALL-IN-1 HANDS-FREE CAR KIT

There really is no excuse for driving whilst using your mobile phone. Apart from anything else itís illegal, you risk causing an accident and if caught, the penalties can be severe. Itís not as though theyíre expensive any more, or difficult to fit. Take this one from Kondor for example, it costs £30, and thatís a lot less than a prang, or a fine, or worse!

 

The All-In-1 is a clever design; it plugs into the carís cigar lighter socket. The plug is attached to a small amplifier/speaker module, itís hinged, and can turn through 270 degrees, so the speaker can be easily positioned to face the driver. Thatís just as well because it is quite small, and not terribly loud, though the volume sufficient for most family saloons. The sound is quite tinny too but that doesnít matter too much with speech. In any event thereís also provision for an optional earphone or external speaker, which can be placed closer to the driving position. On the base of the module there are three sockets, the largest is an US-style phone socket, used by the curly lead that plugs into the accessory socket on the base of the phone. Our sample was designed to be used with Nokia 8110 models; variants are available for most other popular makes and type of mobile phone. The other two sockets, (mini and sub-min jacks) are for the aforementioned external speaker, and a microphone, which is supplied.

 

The mike cable is a couple of metres long, so it should be possible to route it behind the dash and up to the sun-visor on most cars; it comes with a clip, to hold it in place. On the side of the module thereís a tiny volume control, and on the front thereís a single green LED, to show the power is on, and the phone battery is being charged. Incidentally, the kit works on a 12 to 24 volt DC supply, so it can also be used in trucks and vans, as well as cars.  

 

Previous encounters with this kind of car kit have reduced our expectations, when it comes to audio volume and quality, but we have to admit this oneís not half bad. True, itís not going to win any prizes but speech is quite crisp, not terribly loud, but thereís always the option to add an external speaker. The microphone is reasonably directional. Callers reported fairly good sound quality Ė they can tell itís hands-free but at least youíre understandable -- with reasonably low levels of background noise.

 

The big plus points are simplicity of installation and price, it works quite well too. So next time youíre trying to change gear, steer and hold a conversation all at the same time think how much easier, and less dangerous it would be with one of these.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £30

Features            plug-in hands free car kit with external microphone and rotating neck

To fit                 most popular makes and models

Contact Kondor Ltd., telephone (01425) 474444

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            85%

 

TALKMAN COMBO 300

Owner of Ericsson 200 and 300 series phones pay attention; this oneís for you. Itís a combined hands-free kit and a vibrating call alert, in one small neat package. This is a great idea if you want to keep your calls personal, and not bother others. It comes in two parts, a small module that clips onto the base of the phone, and a combined earphone/microphone. The base module looks pretty much like a standard Ericsson adaptor, with a small jack socket on the side for the ear/mic cable but inside thereís a miniature vibrator, that buzzes in time with the ringer.

 

Itís just over 1cm thick, and weighs next to nothing, so it doesnít add much to the bulk of the phone, though youíll probably find it wonít fit into a standard carry case any longer. A pair of spring-loaded grippers on the side clip onto notches on the underside of the phone, and a row of contacts mate with the phoneís accessory connector. Set up is simple, just turn down the ringer volume and thatís all there is to it. Ericsson phones automatically switch over to the external microphone and earphone.

 

The vibrator isnít exactly silent; it makes a fairly high-pitched buzzing sound, though itís barely audible from inside a jacket pocket. The level of vibration is quite high, enough to make itself felt in suit or trouser pocket. Audio quality in the earphone is good and loud enough to be able to hold a conversation in a busy office, or in a car. It might be a little difficult to hear in the street though, against the hubbub of traffic. The microphone is around 15 cm downstream from the earphone putting it fairly close tot he userís mouth so it picks up speech without any difficulty. Audio quality at the other end is reported to be clear and intelligible. Thereís a sliding clip on the lead, to stop it moving around.

 

Combining two such useful features in one accessory is a great idea, and the price is fair. Well worth considering if you have a suitable Ericsson phone, itís just a shame that itís not available for other makes and models of phone.  

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £40

Features            combined hands-free kit and vibrating call alert

To fit                 Ericsson 200/300 series

Contact Digital Images, telephone 0171-636 7127

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            88%

 

RADIATION FREE LEATHER CASE

The debate over whether or not cellular telephones emit dangerously high levels of ionising radiation continues to surface in the media from time to time. Itís not an argument weíre about to enter into here. Suffice it to say that the evidence on both sides is inconclusive but if you are worried there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk. In recent months several phone manufacturers have cottoned onto public concern, developing phones that, it is claimed, redirect the electromagnetic radiation away from the userís head. A number of accessory companies have also launched cases that incorporate protective shielding. One of the latest arrivals is this one from Cell-Kit.

 

From the outside it looks pretty much like any other carry case. It has a leather finish, with a large transparent window at the front, for the keypad and display. Our sample, designed to fit a Motorola Flare, was very well made, with neat stitching and piping around the edges, the top flap is held in place by a Velcro strip. On the back thereís a strong spring steel belt clip and a detachable wrist strap. The sides are elasticated, so it can accommodate phones with larger high capacity battery packs, the inside is lined, with no protrusions or rough edges to scratch your phone.

 

The shielding is made from materials developed in Japan, that the manufacturers claim will reduce emissions by over 99%. There are some poorly translated explanations on the back of the packaging, and a warning on the front that says ĎElectomagnetic Waves of Cellular phone invade your brainíÖ The gist of it seems to be that it uses a polyester fabric, impregnated with copper-nickel conductor, that is impervious to mobile phone operating frequencies in the 800MHz to 1.5GHz range. This includes the transparent panel on the front, and if you look closely, though a magnifying glass, itís just possible to make out a fine mesh pattern.

 

Testing its efficacy proved to be rather difficult. We considered strapping a phone to someoneís head for several months, calling them up a lot, subjecting them to regular brain scans and intelligence tests but no one volunteered. But seriously, until thereís clearer scientific evidence, one way or another, itís very difficult to make meaningful judgements. In the end we took the easy way out and sought to establish whether or not the case impaired the phoneís performance.   

 

We decided the best way to do that is use the phone in a marginal signal area, with and without the case, to see if it makes a difference. The short answer is that it does, but not by much. We noticed a slight drop in signal level with the phone in the case. It was just enough to increase line echo and on one occasion, drop the line, however in a good signal area the case had no noticeable effect.

 

There is a very small drop in phone performance, though our tests indicate itís only a problem when the signal is already weak. This does suggest that there is a shielding effect, though clearly most of the radiation is still being emitted through the antenna and since this is no more than a centimetre or two from the userís head, itís still being absorbed by the old grey matter. We cannot say if this represents a worthwhile reduction or lessening of risk, but if you are worried, every little helps. The case is well made, and not dramatically dearer than a plain leather case, so if you want to hedge your bets, give it a try.  

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £25

Features            claims to reduce harmful emissions by more than 99%

To fit                 most makes and types

Contact Cell-Kit, telephone (01323) 731100

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            83%

 

PHONEY OF THE MONTH

THE BASH STREET KIDS PHONE GAME

Nokia is being pretty smug about their new high-tech game-playing cellphone, but hereís one that doesnít need batteries, there are no monthly call charges and it costs less than £2.00. Beano fans will love it. Open the flip at the front and thereís a water-powered hoop-la game. Pressing the buttons squirts a load of little rings that you have to manoeuvre onto a couple of hooks. Very challenging! On the back thereís a ball game, with a spring-loaded trigger on the side, to ping the balls. Terrific fun and a great way to while away those long boring meetingsÖ 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £1.99

Features            mini pin-ball and hoop-la games

To fit                 most pocket money budgets

Contact your local toy Ďn novelty store

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            80%

 

 

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R. Maybury 1998 1302


 

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