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Pocket power, a new look for old cellphones, continental charging and a phone that warbles when you light up...

 

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POCKET CHARGER

Whilst phone batteries and power management systems have improved enormously over the past couple of years, Sodís Law says the low-battery alarm will always go off in the middle of an important conversation, on the one day you forgot to pack a spare battery, and left the car power cord at home. Pocket Charger is designed to get you out of trouble; itís a portable battery charger, about the size of a box of Swan matches. Slide open the compartment on the back and inside thereís pair of magnetic pads on the end of a short wire, and space for two alkaline AA batteries. The pads, marked Ď+í and Ď-í, have spring-loaded probes, to touch the contact strips on a phone battery pack. The magnets are attracted by the steel cases of the cells inside the pack.  

 

Youíre probably wondering how two small 1.5 volt cells can charge a 6-volt battery pack? Well, itís not the voltage, but the current thatís important. A single alkaline AA cell packs quite a punch, for example, a Duracell AA cell is rated at over 2Ah! Inside Pocket Charger thereís a charge control microchip, with switchable fast or normal charge rate. A single red LED on the top of the silvery case shows charge in progress.

 

The instructions optimistically claim it can deliver enough power for a flat phone battery to give up to 15 minutes talk time after a 40 minute charge  -- the time it takes to suck all the power out of a pair of AAs. We tried it on a range of phone batteries in the office and quickly discovered that it wonít work on some types of battery pack. The magnetic pads repel each other, when the battery contacts are close together the pads simply wonít stay put. For the record it does work on most Ericsson packs, Nokia 1610 batteries are okay, but it wonít have anything to do with Nokia 2110 packs; Motorola TAC and Flip batteries required some fiddling but it does work.

 

Using discharged batteries (standard capacity), on the point of power cut-off, the best results was with a standard Ericsson 318 pack. Pocket Charger managed a partial charge, which gave around 10 minutes talk time. The worst result was a Motorola 7500 battery with a talk time of just over 2 minutes. It works, and it could come in handy in an emergency -- providing you can wait 40 minutes or so -- but we reckon if youíre absent-minded enough to forget to carry a spare battery, why should you remember to carry one of these, plus a set of AA batteries?

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £18

Features            magnetic contact pads, battery box for two alkaline AA cells

To fit                 various makes of battery, but check first!       

Contact Ball Ltd., 0181-574 0003

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            72%

 

NEW FACE REPLACEMENT CASES

Mobile phones stopped being just another business tool a long time ago, so why do most of them still look so dull? One or two manufacturers have tried to be trendy, giving their phones a splash of colour or by selling coloured stickers to put over key pads but itís all a bit half-hearted. You could give your phone the once-over with a can of spray paint, though on second thoughts thatís probably not a good idea, or you could swap the outer case for something a bit more individual, like these replacement cases from New Face Communications.

 

DIY case replacement is not a good idea, besides, you need special tools, nerves of steel, and technical knowledge. In any case an expert can do the job in just a few minutes, and youíve got someone to blame if it goes wrong. Be warned, you can kiss goodbye to your original manufacturerís guarantee if you go ahead with a case transplant!

 

New Face cases are built to the same tolerances and specifications as the originals and the oneís we tried fitted first time, without any problems. Thereís a wide variety of designs and colours, all of them hand finished and unique. The ones we tried included a subdued city skyline at night, planet Earth from space, and the wacky Mr ĎCrafty Condomí, striding across the sliding mouthpiece of a Nokia 8110... They can also produce individual designs to order, just call for a quote. All the necessary fixtures and fittings are in place, which makes the case replacers job a lot easier. Moving parts, like the 8110 sliding cover, feel as smooth as the original, and the finish is generally very good,  protected by a tough gloss lacquer. Yes, forty quid is probably more than you paid for the phone, but hey, this is art...

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £40

Features            replacement cellphone cases, various designs

To fit                 most popular makes and models

Contact New Face Communications, 0181-205 2200

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            85%

 

CELL-KIT INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL CHARGER

Digital cellphones can be used in almost 100 other countries, unfortunately the same cannot be said of their battery chargers. The trouble begins with the good old British 3-pin plug, which, as far as weíre aware, no-one else in the world uses. Ironically most supplied chargers are very adaptable and will work on any mains voltage, between 120 to 230 VAC 50/60 Hz, but they can be quite bulky, and for some reason, a constant source interest to airport security staff. Travel plug adapters get around the plug problem but itís something else to carry, and loose.

 

The International Travel Charger from Cell-Kit is a compact mains charger, that comes with three different plug attachments, between them covering the UK, most of Europe, America and Asia. Chargers are configured to a particular make or type of phone, and come with a dedicated charger connector, that plugs into an American-style phone socket on the front of the charger module. This lead will also plug into Cell-Kitís 12 volt cigar-lighter charger module. A red LED on the front of the module shows charging is taking place, though not when it has been completed. The mains plugs are mounted on small rounded plates, that slot into the front of the charger module and lock into position. The contacts are fairly well protected, and you (or the kids), would have to be quite determined to get a shock from a naked adaptor plate, shoved into a mains socket.

 

Our sample, designed for a Nokia 2110, checked out electrically; the maximum current of 850mA puts it into medium-fast charger territory, it managed to take a standard battery pack from flat to full in just over an hour, after which it reverts to trickle charge mode. Worth considering if the charger supplied with your phone is too bulky to take on your travels. Itís reasonably well designed and put together, though somewhere to store the spare adapters would have been a good idea, theyíre bound to get lost.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £20

Features            mains charger with interchangeable mains plugs

To fit                 most popular makes and types

Contact Cell-Kit, telephone (01323) 731100

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            83%

 

CLIFFMANOR TT-NOK-2C LITHIUM BATTERY

Owners of older phones, using tired old nicad and nickel metal hydride (NiMh) batteries, can be forgiven for being a little bit envious of those with newer phones, powered by high-capacity lithium and lithium-ion power packs. Lithium batteries have a significantly better power-to-weight ratio than older types of rechargeable battery, and they donít suffer from cell imbalance, otherwise known as the Ďmemoryí effect. Their discharge curve is a lot flatter too, so battery meters actually tell the truth and they can be given top-up charges, without affecting the long-term capacity. There is a downside, theyíre more expensive, and itís still to early to say how their longevity will compare with nicad and NiMh. The other problem is they need specialised charge and regulation circuitry, which is why it hasnít been practical, until now, to use them on phones designed for nicad batteries.

 

Cliffmanor have brought out a range of rechargeable lithium batteries for cellphones; weíve been trying one designed for the Nokia 2110 range. The TT-NOK-2C is rated at 680mAh, which is a slightly higher capacity than the standard slim-line pack, supplied with the phone. Itís lighter but quite a bit thicker; the Ďbulgeí on the back accommodates two Tadiran 3-volt AA-sized lithium cells, but the real surprise is the circuit board theyíre attached to. It is smothered in microchips, regulators and a dual-colour LED, that changes from red to green, when charging is complete. The battery works with the standard charger, via a small plug-in adaptor.

 

Lithium batteries are not for the impatient, they like to be charged long and slow, the manufacturers recommend an 11-hour initial charge, subsequent charges take around 9 hours from flat. The instructions warn that the phoneís battery-level indicator may give misleadingly low readings, which can be safely ignored. We gave our sample the full 11-hour charge and one 9-hour charge and carried out a side by side comparison with a standard NiMh slim-line pack. The Cliffmanor pack managed 11 hours with 2 five minute calls, compared with 8.5 hours and 10 minutes of calls on the standard battery. Taking into account the capacity difference there are some performance gains, and freedom from the memory effect, but we reckon itís a rather expensive alternative, nicad packs for the 2110, batteries -- with a similar capacity -- can be found for around half the price ...

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £55

Features            lightweight Lithium battery with built-in charging circuit and LED indicator

To fit                 Nokia 2110/2110i/2140           

Contact            Cliffmanor Ltd., telephone 0800 594 4433

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            70%

 

XIRCOM GLOBAL ACCESS GSM PC CARD

Despite the fact that weíve had GSM networks in this country for more than six years, mobile data communications, using a cellphone connected to a PC, is still a messy, complicated and expensive business. It is getting easier, though, and the arrival of the Xircom GSM card may prove helpful to technophobic owners of GSM data compatible phones. 

 

The card is a standard type II PCMCIA card, that fits most recent laptops, it comes with a connecting cable specific to the type of phone being used, and bundled software. This includes drivers and utilities and Trio Wireless Office suite. Data and fax transmission speeds of up to 9600bps are possible over the GSM network.  It is painfully slow by current land-line standard, but if all you want to do is send and receive E-mails and faxes, itís not too bad. Speed only becomes an issue when surfing the internet, not only is it very slow, you can almost hear the money meter whizzing around.

 

Straightforward installation is one of the cardís main strengths. It was recognised by our Digital laptop first time, and was up and running in just a few minutes. Trio Wireless Office proved more difficult and one of the three installation discs was corrupted. However, once installed it provides a range of easy to use comms facilities, including fax and SMS. The Windows interface is clear and mostly intuitive.

 

Apart from that one small difficulty the card worked well with other comms applications when used with an Ericsson phone. Reliable connections were made with four and five bars on the signal strength meter, compared with a normal modem it does seem quite slow but it only went into spasms once, most of the time it proved quite reliable. Xircom are towards the top end of the price scale for this kind of PC card but the package is generally well thought out, you donít need to be a rocket scientist to use it, and although itís not as fast or versatile as some of its rivals, itís a reliable plodder, that gets there. 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £190

Features            Type II PCMCIA card, 9600 bps send/receive data and fax, SMS, bundled software includes SMS and Trio Wireless Office, terminal program and phone-book utility

To fit                 most popular data compatible phones             

Contact Xircom UK, (01256) 332552

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            80%

 

PHONEY OF THE MONTH

YIN YUE HUO MUSICAL WINDPROOF LIGHTER

Thereís hours of fun to be had with this one... The lighter clicker -- the aerial -- positions the userís thumb directly over the flame hole. Itís fast and furiously hot, the trick is get it out of the way before it gets toasted! As an added bonus the phone Ďringsí when you press the button; have a good laugh as your friends burn their ears, when they try to answer it!

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £4.99

Features            detachable belt-clip holder, LED indicator

To fit                 most pockets

Contact the lighter stall in your local street market

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            70%

 

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R. Maybury 1997 0812

 


 

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