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C-THRU CELLULAR ANTENNA

Although digital cellphones are practically worthless to anyone but the owner and bill payer that doesn't stop them being pinched from cars with monotonous regularity. A cellphone antenna on your car might as well be a ten-foot banner proclaiming that this vehicle could have something worth nicking inside -- even if you always take your handset with you -- so anything that makes your phone ownership less obvious has to be worthwhile.

 

The C-Thru antenna is about as close to invisible as it is possible to get. It is a transparent film embossed with a thin copper strip and a small discreet connector. The film is adhesive and bonds to the car's windscreen or rear window, properly installed it simply can't be seen from more than a metre or so away, and then only if you know what you are looking for. For that reason DIY installation is not currently an option, Vehicle Solutions who market C-Thru in the UK, point out that it is not really suitable for home fitting, and we can see their point.

 

Positioning is very important -- behind the rear-view mirror is a good place -- but it must be at least 150mm from the glass surround and the instructions contain dire warnings that optimal performance depends on the glass being surgically clean and warmed before it is stuck on. The film must be smoothed absolutely flat with no air pockets and the clip-on connector is not designed to come off, once the antenna is in place. In short there's little or no opportunity for mistakes, so if you want one it's worth having it fitted professionally. That also means you'll have someone to blame, if it doesn't work properly.

 

Fortunately our sample fitted first time with no problems and performance was compared with our reference glass mount and body mount antennas.  The results were very encouraging, there was a small but barely noticeable reduction in signal strength in marginal reception areas; in any event it had no direct impact on the quality or reliability of the connection once you get past two bars on the signal strength meter.

 

It used to be that a cellphone antenna on your car was a bit of a status symbol, not any more, it just attracts undesirable attention. C-Thru is the most discrete antenna we've seen to date and in areas of good coverage there are no performance penalties. Out in the sticks in fringe areas we suspect it might lead to the odd dropped call -- compared with a normal glass-mount -- but that would be a small price to pay for keeping your car windows in one piece!

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price                 £30 to £40 (including installation)

Features                       near-invisible glass mount antenna

To fit                             any vehicle with windows…

Contact             Vehicle Solutions, telephone (01772) 699980

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            88%

 

XT UNIVERSAL VIBRA CLIP

The XT Vibra Clip is the result of a clever bit of lateral thinking, combining two genuinely useful cellphone gadgets into one sensibly priced package. Firstly it's a swivelling belt clip; that's the kind that prevents your phone poking you in the knadgers when you sit down, and secondly it's a silent vibrating alert, that stops you getting black looks when your phone rings in meetings or restaurants. It's more than a just phone accessory, it's a health aid…

 

The belt clip bit is pretty straightforward, the Vibra Clip comes with two 'hooks' that stick onto the back of the phone, (on the battery pack), this fits into a slot on the front of the unit, looks like a slim pager. The phone locks into place and can only be released by pressing a discrete button on the top. The vibrator is built into the body of the clip, which also contains an AAA battery (supplied). The unit is only activated when the phone is in position and it reacts whenever the phone is being called. Our sample also buzzed for a fraction of a second at random intervals, presumably when the phone was logging on or off to cell sites. On the front of the unit there's a test button, which is just as well as there's no other way of telling the state of the battery.

 

Our main concern was whether or not the vibrations would be strong enough to be felt through a belt, a thick pair of jeans and a shirt as well.  The vibrations are quite subtle and we doubt if they would be felt under such circumstances especially if the wearer was driving a car, or on a train, say. However, in quiet, stationary surroundings, and clad in ordinary clothing you almost certainly would notice the gentle tingle, at least get a feeling that something wasn't quite right in or around your middle regions. We like Vibra Clip because it solves two problems at once, maybe the vibes could do with being a bit stronger but unless you dress for warmth or protection, rather than comfort, it's unlikely to be a problem.  

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price                 £19.99

Features                       silent vibrating alert built into belt clip

To fit                             most handsets                      

Contact             Switch Electronics, telephone (01865) 400500

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            90%

 

MICRO ALARM

Where's your mobile phone right now? If someone pinched it how long would it be before you knew about it? If your phone is fitted with a Micro Alarm sender the moment it moves more than a few feet away from you an alarm in your pocket sounds.

 

Micro Alarm is an ingenious radio-activated alarm system, a kind of DIY 'tagging' system for valuable objects and personal items. It comes in two parts, the sender unit which is a about the size of a couple of pound coins, sticks to whatever you want to protect with an adhesive pad. The keychain receiver is about the size of a car alarm remote control and is fitted with a keyring and belt clip.

 

The sender is battery powered, it transmits a pulsed radio signal and blinks reassuringly about once a second to show it is active. Providing the receiver picks up the signal all is well, and it blinks in sympathy, but if contact is lost it starts to bleep. The maximum range is around 12 feet or 4 metres though in practice it may be much less, a couple of metres or so is a good average, but that is more than enough if your phone is about to go walkies. Such an early warning will give you sporting chance of apprehending the felon before they get too far away. The receiver unit has a volume control for the bleeper, so it can be quite discrete, and it tells you what it's up to with coded bleed signals (one bleep means logging on, two bleeps means it has been armed, etc.).

 

Lithium batteries power both units and our sample was still functioning after several days of continuous operation. Micro Alarm isn't confined to protecting mobile phones, anything that you want to keep tabs on can be 'tagged', from your wallet to a small child, as long as the object or person has somewhere you can stick the sender. It's the sort of gadget you'll hopefully never need but it only has to be used in anger once to more than pay for itself!   

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price                 £30 (plus 99p post and packing)

Features                       radio alarm 'tagging' system

To fit                             any nickable object

Contact             Challinor International, telephone (01753) 687677

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            90%

 

WALLEN DUO-COM

Mobile phone antennas on cars can be a damn nuisance!  You have to take it off when you go through a car-wash, that's if it's still there and some little hoodlum has torn it off or bent it. Badly fitted aerials can actually inhibit mobile phone performance, they fall off in hot weather and body-mount models can lead to an increased risk of corrosion if they're not installed properly.

 

The Wallen Duo Com isn't a universal panacea for all cellphone antenna ills but it solves quite a few of them. To begin with it fits inside the car, on the windscreen, tailgate or back window, so there's nothing on the outside to fall off or be pulled off. That also means simpler wiring, no drilling through bodywork or bulkheads and it can be easily fitted by almost anyone in an hour or two, with most of that time spent running the cable to the hands-free unit or holder.

 

It is a dual band (GSM/PCN) design comprising a 3-metre cable, terminated at one end with a standard FME connector and at the other end there's a small thin plastic box that Wallen refer to as a 'transducer'. Inside there is a thin glassfibre printed circuit board with radiating element patterns etched on the surface. The transducer is fixed to the glass by a pad of double-sided adhesive tape. The instructions only mention in passing that glass has to clean, in fact it needs to be degreased and scrupulously clean otherwise it will drop off. Wallen really should include an alcohol cleaning swab in with the outfit, the cost is negligible! The instructions recommend fitting the antenna behind the rear view mirror and point out that it needs to be at least 35mm from the edge of the windscreen.

 

We noticed a small drop in signal strength on our sample -- compared with our reference glass mount and mag-mount antennas -- but this was only in fringe reception areas with one or two bars showing. In and around town or when the meter was showing three or more bars it made no difference whatsoever. Duo Com is not quite as discreet as some of the other internal antennas we've reviewed recently but it is still a hundred times less obvious than a normal car cellphone antenna and it has the added advantage of being easy to fit. Under most conditions it is unlikely there will be any reduction in performance and the price is reasonable. Worth considering.

  

THE FACTS

Typical Price                 £20

Features                       internal glass-mount antenna

To fit                             any vehicle

Contact             Wallen Manufacturing Ltd., telephone (01843) 582864

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            88%

 

INFLATA PHONE

Normally taking a mobile phone into the bath with your is a bad idea but Inflata Phone is specially designed for the job. Comfort and ease of use are both very good indeed, though if not set up properly it will make quite a loud hissing noise. The keypad is large and easy to find, the display is a good size too. Battery life is not an issue and when not in use it slips easily into a dressing gown pocket...

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price                 £3.99

Features                       unidirectional valve and escape retarder (stopper)

To fit                             any bath

Contact             Bear Bear & Bear Ltd., (01572) 812180

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            67%

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1999 0502

 


 

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