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INTRO

Computerise your handset's address book, make and take calls whilst driving and assemble your own phone holder -- just some of this month's wild, wacky and sometimes even useful cell phone accessories

 

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FONE BOOK PLUS

Most cell phones can store scores of names and phone numbers yet a surprisingly large number of users rarely get beyond a dozen or so entries. In a lot of instances it has nothing to do with the size of the phone owner's social circle or number of business contacts, and everything to do with the effort of entering the information into the phone in the first place. It can be a very tedious business, even on phones with user-friendly displays and menu systems, and then there's the problem of changing or editing data. On many handset it is nigh on impossible without recourse to the instruction book -- when did you last see yours?

 

Fone Book Plus from Paragon Software makes phone-book set-up and management a breeze by taking it out of the hands of the phone's keypad and putting it on to your PC or laptop. Fone Book downloads the contents of the phone's memory onto the PC, or you can start from scratch and create an address book on your PC, then upload it to the phone. The master address file created on the PC can import and export information to other applications, such as Microsoft Word, and it can be used to set up E-mail and fax entries on MS Exchange. Paragon has also produced a SMS messaging program, called FoneNote that can be used in conjunction with Fone Book. This is not included in the supplied software however; a trial version -- limited to 25 uses -- can be downloaded from their Internet web site (see below).

 

The package includes two 3.5-inch floppies containing the programs, and a serial communications cable, tailored to suit the phone being used. Installation follows normal Windows 95 conventions and an icon is placed on the desktop, for easy access. When Fone Book is opened it asks the user if they want to create an entry, however the first step should be to set up the comms link. This is easy, simply select the make and model of your phone from the list; the software automatically tests the line then reads and displays your phone's internal and SIMM card memories.

 

A word of warning. The list of  phone drivers covers models made by Ericsson, Nokia and Philips, plus a sprinkling of handsets from other manufacturers but there are many, many gaps. Only one Sony phone was listed, nothing from Motorola and none of the secondary brands. Paragon say they're continually updating the list but we recommend that you check with them first, that your phone is covered, before you part with the plastic!

 

Our sample had no problems hooking up to a Nokia 2110 test phone and we managed to read and update the onboard address book and SIMM memories without any fuss. The facility to export a phone list to a word processor, where it can be printed out is handy too. Some of the menus could have been a little more intuitive but overall it is well-presented and easy to use, certainly a darn sight easier than struggling with the keypad on your phone. If you would like to make more of one of your phone's most useful features, Fone Book is well worth trying. 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £30

Features            PC-based cell phone address book manager

Min. sys. req 486 or higher, Windows 95 or NT

To fit                 mostly Ericsson, Nokia and Philips phones

Contact Paragon Software, (01635) 524909,

http://www.paragonsoftware.com/download

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            88%

 

TAG ORIGINAL TWIN PACK

TAG  (it stands for The Accessory Group -- nothing to do with watchmakers with similar sounding names…), have correctly reasoned that first and most useful accessories most new cell phone owners buy are a case, and a car charger cord. That's the thinking behind the Twin Pack, which is now available for most phones sold in the UK.

 

The package we've been looking at is intended for the Ericsson 688. The case is made from leather with elasticated sides, to accommodate fatter heavy-duty batteries. Quality of manufacture is good and all of the holes and windows line up. The phone is held in place with a Velcro-fastening flap on the underside. The case is lined inside, to protect the phone and there's a steel belt-clip on the back.

 

It's a similar story with the car charger cord. The design is straightforward if not a little basic with the microchip-controlled charger circuitry built into a cigarette lighter plug. On the rear there's a single red LED, that shows power is connected and the battery is charging. A full charge typically takes around 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the phone and battery capacity.

 

Both products are quite well made and on their own would probably cost a little more than the £25 being asked for the Twin Pack. However what you're really paying for is convenience, if you've just brought a new phone, and can't be bothered to shop around for accessories, look out for this sensibly-priced one-stop solution.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £25

Features            includes in-car charger and leather case

To fit                 most popular makes

Contact The Accessory Group, telephone (0990) 388355

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            85%

 

HAMA QUICK CHANGE SYSTEM, HANDS-FREE CAR KIT

Weird! There's no other way to describe this hands-free car kit from Hama… The concept is straightforward enough, it's a DIY design, that can be quickly installed and removed but that's where the similarity with the dozen or more kits on the market begins and ends.

 

We'd better begin with the price, which at £100 is quite a lot for a 'simple' hands-free kit, more so when you consider that it doesn't come with any sort of holder or cradle for the phone, that's extra (Hama recommend their 'Passive Base Unit'). The design is very unusual; the main component is a small U-shaped module, called the 'Diskus' electronic box. It has a hole in the middle for a round mounting pin, that screws or sticks to the car's dashboard or centre console using a pad of double sided sticky tape. This allows the system to be quickly dismounted, and fitted into another vehicle, for example, though you will need a second mounting clip.

 

All of the other parts plug into the Diskus. There are two curly leads; one goes to a hinged cigarette lighter plug with a green power-on LED indicator. The other one goes to a microphone module and plug that fits into the phone's accessory connector socket. There's another LED indicator on the microphone module and a switch that toggles between loudspeaker and normal hand-held operation, when you want the call to be private. An aerial coupler emerges from the phone accessory plug; this clips to the phone antenna or plugs into an aerial socket, depending on the type of phone. A lead with an in-line FME aerial socket comes out of the plug that fits into the Diskus box.

 

The really odd bit is the supplied loudspeaker; it's contained in a curvy case that plugs into the sides of the Diskus. It's a peculiar arrangement, and fiddly to fit, but the strange thing is the loudspeaker literally 'dangles' from the electronic box. It looks as though it should be adjustable, so it could be tilted to point in the driver's direction, but it doesn't, it just hangs there, and bounces up and down, when you drive over a bump in the road. At other times it simply rattles. An optional dash mountable speaker is also available and we suspect this will be a much better bet for most users.

 

The loudspeaker, though small, is quite shrill and penetrating; unfortunately it's let down by the microphone on the connecting lead, which on our sample was sensitive but not very directional. Unless it was fairly close to the driver -- difficult unless the cradle is mounted on top of the dashboard -- background noises compete with wanted sounds, prompting a lot of callers to ask the user to speak up, or shout, to make themselves heard.

 

The designers have tried just a little too hard to be different. It's a smart and eye-catching product, and the basic concept -- a quick-fit mounting system -- is a good idea, the trouble is, rival systems, are just as easy to install and the performance of this unit is really nothing to write home about. The biggest problem, though, is the price, and with several similar kits on the market selling for less than £60, it's going to take more than fancy cosmetics to sell this outfit. 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £100

Features            hands-free car kit with flexible mount, aerial coupler and privacy function

To fit                 most popular makes and models

Contact Hama UK, telephone (01256) 374700

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            73%

 

AUTOHOUSE UNIVERSAL MOBILE PHONE HOLDER

A phone holder for less than three quid!  What's the catch? The catch is you have to assemble it yourself, and as an added bonus you get to find out how just strong your fingers and fingernails are… The holder is designed to hang on the car door; it comes with a mounting clip that fits down the gap between the door and the window

 

The holder is formed from a thin sheet of black polypropylene. That's the incredibly tough plastic that can be folded repeatedly, without ever breaking. The sheet has cutouts and holes, and pre-scored fold-lines. The trick is to get four tabs through slots in the fold lines, it looks easy but believe us, it's not. The tabs have to go all the way through, to fully engage, and this requires a fair amount of strength, and it's murder on fingernails. If the tabs are not fully through the thing springs apart and you have to start all over again. It's the sort of job that needs three hands at least, plus a lot of patience.

 

Once you got the tabs to stay put the next job is to fit the mounting clip. This also takes ages, until you get the hang of it. The end result is not what you'd call pretty, in fact it looks a touch tacky, in a cheap and cheerful sort of way, a bit like it's made from thin cardboard, but it is surprisingly strong, and polypropylene is just about indestructible! It works well enough, though having the phone mounted on the door takes a bit of getting used to. It's not a natural position for the driver and it can get in the way. It's also long way from the cigarette lighter socket, so it would be difficult to use it with a car power cord or hands-free kit.

 

MBC Innovations who market the holder tell us they're working on an 'Executive' version, made out of leather, that should be with us later in the year. MBC also say they can be printed to order (bulk quantities only), and it would certainly make an interesting promotional item but do bear in mind that it is only a holder, not a substitute for a proper hands-free car kit. If the phone rings when you're driving, pull over!

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £2.79 (ex P&P)

Features            self-assembly polypropylene phone holder and door window kit

To fit                 most makes and models

Contact MBC Innovations, telephone 0181-351 6456

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            83%

 

THAMESMEAD TELEPHONE AND VDU WIPES

We must have some of the cleanest, healthiest phones in captivity here at What Cellphone. They smell lemony fresh too, after getting the once over from these cleanup wipes from Thamesmead Ltd. They're packed in tubs of 150 and soaked in a cocktail of chemicals that clean, sterilise and disperse static charge, so they're pretty good at sprucing up your VDU as well. The cleaning action is impressive, it cuts through the gunge that accumulates around a handset's buttons, and it did a bang-up job on greasy slime that coats heavily used keys on computer keyboard. We'll have to take its anti-bacterial properties as read, though any bugs would have to be pretty tough to survive the smell which is strong, though not unpleasant.

 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £3.50

Features            anti bactericidal and anti-static cleaner wipes

To fit                 any dirty phone

Contact            Thamesmead Ltd., telephone 0171-639 0348

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            87%

 

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1998 1106


 

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