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A windscreen holder for your handset, a grown-up car kit, smart suede cases, a PC data card and a finger-singing Nokia phoney cloneÖ Itís time once again for our monthly accessory round up 

 

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LONGMILL HANDS-FREE CAR KIT, from £120

Virtually all of the hands-free car kits weíve seen recently have been the Ďsimpleí kind, mostly compact all-in-one designs that plug into the carís cigarette lighter socket and can be fitted in a matter of minutes, so this one from Longmill makes a bit of a change. Itís a full car kit, with a proper cradle, designed to fit a specific make or model of phone. Thereís a separate speaker and microphone, and everything connects up to an interface box, containing the amplifier, switching and charge regulation circuitry.  

 

The kit is unusually comprehensive; in fact the only thing you might want to add is an external antenna. Our review sample was designed for Motorola Micro TACs and 6200 series phones. The cradle features a pair of quick release buttons, antenna coupler and contacts that charge the battery pack directly. The connection to the phoneís accessory socket is made via a plug on the end of a curly lead, so the phone can be hand-held, for private conversations. The other end of the connector lead plugs into a socket on the underside of the cradle. Mounting hardware is supplied in the shape of a simple hinged bracket that bolts onto the back of the cradle.

 

Two leads emerge from the holder, one is terminated in a standard antenna coupler, and the other goes to the interface box. This is small enough to be tucked away behind the dashboard or in the centre console. The box has five sockets; it should be impossible to mix them up, as only two are alike. From left to right thereís a jack for the microphone, next to that thereís two 2-pin sockets, the first is for radio mute and ignition sense, the second is for the speaker. An US-style socket is used to connect the interface box to the cradle, and on the far right thereís a two-pin power socket for the 12-volt DC feed.

 

Ample cable is supplied for the power connection, microphone and cradle lead, only the speaker lead is likely to cause problems. Itís around 1.5 metres long, which might not be enough in some cars, where the wire has to take an indirect route, under the dash and around trim, to stay out of sight. The speaker is a fairly conventional design and itís mounted on a swivel bracket. The microphone on the other hand is unusually large. Thatís because all of the pre-amp circuitry is built into the module, a spring clip on he back attaches it to the sun visor.

 

The supplied instructions are reasonably concise and shouldnít pose any problems for an averagely competent DIYer or anyone who has fitted a car radio.  Once it is connected up there are no preliminaries to worry about. An indicator on the cradle glows red to show charge in progress, it changes to green when the charge cycle is complete. There are no controls, volume is adjusted from the handset and in the case of Motorola phones, hands free operation is selected automatically. Getting the phone in and out of the cradle proved to be a little tricky at first, thereís a bit of a knack to it, but you soon get used to it. It should also get easier as the retaining clips loose their stiffness and ease up with use.

 

Speaker volume is best described as adequate, itís loud enough for most modern family saloons but you may find yourself asking callers to speak up if your car is not very well soundproofed. The microphone on the other hand is very sensitive, which is good and bad. It means you donít have to shout to make yourself heard, but it also picks up a fair amount of road noise, which also counts against it, if itís going to be used in a noisy vehicle. Sound quality, at both ends of the line is good; audio output is a touch shrill maybe, but thatís no bad thing when it comes to hearing speech in a noisy environment.

 

The kit has plenty to commend it. The performance isnít about to set any new records but it should be fine for most cars. A definite notch up on most simple car kits, and not that much more difficult to fit. 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            from £120 (excluding installation)

Features            full-function hands-free car kit, integral charger, cradle, ignition sense, radio mute, separate speaker and microphone, antenna connection

To fit                 most popular makes and models

Contact Longmill Ice, telephone 0181-451 6461

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            87%

 

ON GLASS UNIVERSAL HOLDER, £20

Itís difficult to know what to make of this one. Itís clearly designed for anyone who wants a phone holder for their car, but for whatever reason, doesnít want to drill any holes or make any kind of permanent or semi-permanent attachment. The On Glass Universal Holder is a strange-looking contraption. Itís made up of a pair of hinged feet, with suction pads on the ends; these are connected to a telescopic arm with a mounting bracket.

 

The idea is the two suckers attach to the car windscreen and the phone clips on to the end of the telescopic arm, or a second fixing bracket on one of the legs. The arm extends outwards, to put the phone within easy reach of the driver. Thereís three ways of attaching the phone. The outfit includes a pair of stick-on mounting studs, which slip into a notch on the top of the holder. If the holder is turned upside down it can be used to hold phones in carry cases with belt clips. Lastly it can be used with an optional dedicated cradle; at the time of writing one was available for the Nokia 8110, costing a further £8.00.

 

It fits easily enough, and thereís plenty of adjustment, so it can be set to the most comfortable position but it looks very ungainly, and not at all secure. Only gravity keeps a phone with a mounting stud in place and it looks a bit perilous, especially on bumpy roads, where the phone jogs around in the holder. To be fair the suckers grip tenaciously and the phone never once came out during our road test, but it looked as it mightÖ Depending on the make and type of car the holder could also interfere with the vehicleís controls or instruments, we suspect it may also be unsuitable for cars with steeply sloping windscreens, so try it for size before you buy.

 

Itís an interesting and unusual idea, not the prettiest accessory weíve seen, but it is functional and if you absolutely cannot fit a conventional holder in your car, or you need to be able to move your phone from one vehicle to another quickly, then itís worth considering. 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £20

Features            multi-function holder, suction cup fixing, mounting clips supplied

To fit                 any pocket-size cellphone

Contact Ball Ltd, telephone 0181-574 0003

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            85%

 

BTG SUEDE AND LEATHER CASES, £20

We donít seem to see all that many new cellphone cases these days. Itís not altogether surprising; they have become commodity items, basic cases are now absurdly cheap, so cheap in fact that some dealers literally give them away, and to honest, most of them are not that interesting.

 

We thought these new suede cases from BTG merited our attention for a couple of reasons. Theyíre made from coloured suede, which is quite unusual, and theyíre tailored specifically for the Ericsson 638/688 series. Weíve also included a new leather case for the Ericsson 768, for good measure.

 

The suede is very soft and supple, it smells nice and is available in a range of five colours (blue, mauve, red, green and brown). The colours are quite restrained, just enough to get your phone noticed but without going over the topÖ Elasticated sides allow for higher capacity batteries; the transparent panel at the front is not so stiff as to make button-pushing a chore and a Velcro flap keeps the phone securely in place. Thereís a sturdy spring steel belt clip on the back; the inner surfaces are all lined and all of the holes are in the right place. The leather case for the 768 is made to a similar high standard, the stitching is neat and there were no loose ends on our samples

 

Okay, so itís not the most exciting accessory weíve seen this year but suede and the splash of colour makes a welcome change, they are very well made and the price seems fair. If you didnít get a freebie case with your new Ericsson, or if you did and itís a load of rubbish, then these BTG cases will provide smart-looking protection for your handset.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £20

Features            elasticated sides, Velcro fixings, lined interiors

To fit                 Ericsson 628/688/768

Contact BTG Ltd., telephone (01992) 825825

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            80%

 

COM 1 MOBILE DATA CARD,  £205.62

Mobile data communications Ė the ability to send and receive faxes, e-mail or surf the Internet -- was touted as one of the big advantages of digital cellphone technology from day one. It has taken a while for affordable reality to catch up with those early promises, and it is still the case that not all phones are data compatible. Nevertheless, the means for laptop and handheld computers to communicate with digital mobile phones, and the wider world, has become a lot more accessible recently.

 

Weíre talking about PCMCIA cards, or PC Cards, as theyíre known these days, and in particular mobile data cards, which are the cellphone equivalent of a modem, (okay, theyíre not modems really, but you know what we mean). The Com One DC2110 is one such card. Itís a straightforward, fuss-free design, intended specifically for GSM and PCN digital phones, (and DCS mobiles, used in other countries, including the US), it is capable of operating at speeds up to 9600 bps, the current network maximum. It supports all currently used transmission and error correction modes for data, fax and SMS. The card is capable of working with most data compatible phones, though at the moment connection cables are only available for the Nokia 2110 and clones.

 

Thereís not much to see on the outside, itís a standard Type II card, with a detachable connection port on the end. The plug has a pair of teeth that latch on to the card when it is pushed into place. The only small point to watch out for is the connecting lead to the phone, which at just 30cm, is on the rather side.

 

Installation software and utilities are supplied on two 3.5-inch floppy discs. One is for PCs using DOS, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95; the other is for Mac users. Windows 95 automatically recognises the card as soon as it is plugged in and configuration is fairly painless. It takes a little longer with Windows 3.1, and we didnít bother with DOS, life is too shortÖ

 

A suite of software called Fax Tools is included in the outfit; this also comes on two 3.5-inch floppies. They contain various utilities for creating and sending faxes, address book management and data communications. All worthy stuff though we suspect a lot of Windows 95 laptop owners will prefer to stick with their own applications.

 

Our sample card was slightly touchy at first, this may or may not have had something to do with the well-used PC Card contacts on our trusty Digital laptop, however, following a few light taps on the case it appeared to settle down and behaved itself thereafter.

 

Itís difficult to say too much about performance, a lot depends on the phone it is used with, and the quality of the connection, which can vary wildly. Suffice it to say, it worked fine in 5-bar signal conditions, 3 and 4 bars sometimes caused problems, below that contacts are simply too unreliable. Com One isnít especially cheap nor does it have any particularly unusual features but it is easy to set up and it does the job; take a look if youíre not interested in any frills.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £205.62

Features            PC card, data, fax, SMS, GSM/PCN compatible, supplied with installation discs for DOS, Win 3.1/95 & Mac, plus Fax Tools software for Windows 3.1 & 95

To fit                 Nokia data compatible digital phones

Contact PPCP Ltd., telephone

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            80%

 

PHONEY OF THE MONTH

SEE-THROUGH NOKIA LIGHTER

This one has us slightly puzzled. Itís a miniature Nokia-shaped lighter, the sort thatís designed to burn your fingers. Itís transparent, so you can see the works, but hereís the really weird bit. Inside thereís a battery, microcircuit and a series of tiny red and green LEDs, that flash in sequence for several seconds after the aerial/trigger is pressed. Figure that one outÖ

 

THE FACTS

Typical price            £2.50

Features            phone-shaped lighter with red and green winky lights

To fit                 your trouser pocket

Contact             Brighton Station Sunday market

WHAT CELLPHONE  VERDICT 80%

 

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R. Maybury 1998 0603

 


 

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