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HAMA SIMPLE HANDS-FREE KET, 'DELUXE'

The last Hama hands-free car kit we looked at, back in the August 98 issue of What Cellphone was, to be kind, a bit wacky. This new model is altogether more conventional, and all the better for it we say. The kit has three main components, there's a universal phone holder that can be screwed or stuck to the dashboard. It has a one-piece amplifier/power supply module that plugs into the car's cigarette lighter socket and it comes with a boom-mike headset, for making or taking private calls.

 

In normal hands-free use sound is routed through a small loudspeaker built into the amplifier module. The microphone is moulded into the plug that fits into the accessory socket on the base of the phone. Our sample has been designed to be used with the latest Ericsson models, but kits are available to fit most other popular handsets. The module operates on a 12 or 24 volt supply and has a single power-on LED; there's no volume control, this is handled by the one on the phone. We discovered a small flaw; the module draws power from the phone, even when it is switched off, so it could drain the battery if left connected for any length of time.

 

The holder is a familiar design and the phone is held in place by a spring-loaded gripper, this is released by pressing a red button on the side. The mounting pad is slightly unusual in that it's made from thin flexible plastic, so it should be a good snug fit on a curvy dashboard. It comes with a pad of double-sided sticky tape -- not our favourite method as the adhesive can soften in very hot weather -- but the outfit also includes a pack of screws, for a more permanent fixture. The boom mike headset is horrible! Maybe our tester's ears were an unusual shape, but no-one that tried it could manage to make the thing stay on for more than a few seconds. The rubbery bit that fits over the user's ears is too wobbly and the earpiece didn't get close enough to the ear canal for sound to get through.

 

Volume levels from the speaker are just about adequate for a quiet family saloon but it is easily swamped by road and background noise. The microphone on the base of the phone has to be fairly closer to the driver to be any use otherwise you have to shout to make yourself heard. This kit is an improvement on the previous one, and the price is a lot more realistic, but performance is nothing special and we wouldn't fancy its chances in noisier vehicles. If the headset had been better we might have been a little more enthusiastic but as it stands it looks and sounds a bit average, compared with rival kits.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £50

Features            One piece, plug-in amplifier and power supply module, boom microphone, universal dash-mount holder, 12/24 volt supply

To fit                 most popular makes and models

Contact Hama PVAC Ltd, telephone (01256) 374700

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            78%

 

SMARTEQ HANDSFREE PRO CAR KIT

Most hands-free car kits fall in to one of two categories. There are the simple DIY outfits that plug into the fag lighter socket, and the serious (and usually expensive) full-function outfits that have to be fitted by specialist installers. The Smarteq Handsfree Pro lies somewhere in between. It's not quite idiot-proof but it can be fitted by anyone with a modicum of screwdriver-wielding skills, it has all of the features of a full-spec unit, but best of all it costs only around £140.

 

What really sets this kit apart from the competition is flexibility and ease of use, it works really too, comparable with units costing significantly more. Some of the components may look familiar that's because it is an upgrade of the Smarteq Handsfree Lite kit that we looked at a few months ago. The phone fits into a holder that mates with the handset's accessory connectors, so it can be fitted and removed in a couple of seconds. The holder is suspended on a small clip that screws to the dashboard. A magnetic sensor built into the holder detects when the phone is picked up and automatically switches between hands-free and normal operation. A curly lead from the phone holder plugs into the control/charger unit using a PC-type 15-pin D-Sub connector; a short lead terminated in an F-connector, for an external antenna, emerges from the plug.

 

The control module is the heart of the system, it's a little larger than a pack of 20 cigarettes and small enough to be tucked away discretely out of sight, or bolted in a convenient position on the dashboard or centre-console. It's covered in sockets, and these are what make the system so versatile. There are three minijack connectors for the external speaker, microphone and an optional one-piece headset. The supplied wiring loom plugs into a four-pin socket; this handles DC power, ignition sense and radio mute.

 

On the end of the unit there are two RJ-11-style phone connectors. One is for a PC connection lead, used with phones that have a built-in modem, for Internet, e-mail and fax facilities. Allcoms can supply the kit and necessary software as an optional extra. The other socket is for a new type of radio speaker muting system that is currently being fitted to German vehicles and could become an EU standard. It links to a small external switchbox that mutes the car audio system's rear speakers, and pipes the sound from the phone through to the front speakers. Allcoms are currently road-testing the module, which should be available shortly.

 

The wiring loom is a generous length and comes with a set of fused snap-lock connectors. All you have to do is locate the right cables behind the dashboard, fit the snap connector around it, pop in the appropriate wire and press the two halves together using a pair of pliers. The microphone can be screwed or stuck to the sun-visor or door pillar and the speaker comes with a screw fixing kit. The instructions are clear and easy to follow but they do assume the user has some familiarity with their vehicles electrical system, and common sense, when it comes to installing car electrical equipment, so it's not a kit for absolute beginners.  

 

Speech from the external speaker is crisp and intelligible, and sufficiently loud to be heard over normal road and engine noise. The mike is quite directional with just the right amount of sensitivity so callers should have no difficulty hearing you; all in all it works very well indeed. The bonus is the extra facilities, like radio mute and clean full duplex operation -- no annoying echoes either -- and the potential for PC connectivity which is normally only found on up-market car kits. Recommended.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £140

Features            full duplex operation, radio mute, PC connectivity (see text), 12/24 volt supply, headset function, optional car audio mute module (see text)

To fit                 most makes and models

Contact Allcoms Ltd, telephone (01235) 811119

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            93%

 

 

MOBILE MARK DUAL-BAND CELLULAR/GPS ANTENNA

No GPS isn't some new cellular phone network, it stands for the Global Positioning System. This is a fleet of low Earth orbit satellites, transmitting precise data and timing signals that specialised receivers can use to provide a very accurate locational fix -- almost anywhere on the planet -- usually to within a few metres. GPS receivers used to be horrendously expensive and only of interest to sailors, pilots and well-heeled ramblers but the cost has fallen dramatically in the past year or so. (One hand-held model now costs less than £100). They're starting to appear in cars; navigation systems linked into GPS receivers will become an increasingly common sight in the future. Car phones already are, and they both benefit from an external antenna, so Mobile Mark are getting in early with a dual band GSM/GPS antenna.

 

The GPS antenna module is mounted inside a small box that attaches to the car windscreen or rear window using an adhesive pad. Two thin coaxial cables emerge from the box, one goes to the GPS receiver (this is fitted with a miniature RF connector), the other, for the phone is unterminated. The cellphone antenna sticks to the other side of the glass, it's a 1/4-wave design and fitted in a simple ball and socket mount, so it can be oriented to point upwards, the internal antenna element -- also for the phone -- points downwards.

 

It is simple to fit -- at least as easy as any other glass mount antenna -- and the instructions contain some helpful advice about cable routing. We tried it with an Ericsson GA628 phone and a Garmin Pilot GPS receiver. The phone antenna compared well with a similar glassmount design, in fact there was no detectable difference in coverage or the quality of the connection. It's difficult to say what impact the GPS antenna was having as the Garmin receiver's own aerial is very effective. However there's no doubt that it would improve reception in a difficult location or when coverage was poor; unfortunately it remained good throughout the period of our checks. We can verify that the sticky stuff used to mount the coupler/GPS antenna and cellphone antenna is very good indeed, it was a real swine to get off…

 

To be honest this is a bit of a specialist product. There can't be too many people with both GPS and cellphones in their cars at the moment but for those that have, this provides a simple one-box solution. 

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £75

Features            dual-band (GSM/GPS) glass-mount antenna, 3-metre cables (GPS cable terminated with mini connector), cleaning swabs

To fit                 most phones and GPS units

Contact Mobile Mark, telephone (01543) 878343

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            85%

 

AQUAPACK PROTECTIVE WATERPROOF CASE

You don't have to be a technology expert to know that cellphones do not like getting wet, salt-water means instant death, but living in such a damp climate it can be very difficult to keep your mobile dry. It's even worse for those working outdoors and the risk factor flies off the scale when you take your phone on a beach holiday. Aquapac specialise in making waterproof cases for all kinds of electronic equipment, including cameras and two-way radios, so you won't be surprised to learn that their range includes a selection of cases for cellphones and pagers.

 

Aquapac make three cases for cellphones -- small medium and large -- that sell for around £12 each. They're all fully waterproof, to a depth of 10 metres we are reliably informed, and the case is airtight. The manufacturers say it will keep out mud, sand, snow, dust, dirt, oil, paint and grease, and the one we like best, germs as well; we're still trying to work out which particular diseases mobile phones can catch, maybe it’s the millennium bug…? The case is effectively a plastic bag. At one end there's a moulded eyelet for a wrist strap, at the other there's an impressive looking sealing device, opened with two large orange coloured levers. The material is thin enough to allow you to use the phone more or less normally; it muffles the sound slightly, but not enough to restrict normal conversation.

 

There's only one way to test a product like this and that's to get it wet. Loaded with our trusty Nokia 2110 it spend two and a half hours floating in a bath, then another half hour under water (it had to be weighted down as the air inside the bag makes it difficult to sink, another useful bonus…). The ringer can still be heard quite plainly underwater, though we resisted the temptation to get in the bath with it, to answer the call. The phone emerged bone dry, none the worse for its experience.  Phones and water don't mix and this is a very good way of keeping them apart, it looks quite smart too, and you can rest assured that if it falls overboard whilst you're on your yacht it won't sink. Well worth considering if you're likely to get wet.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £12

Features            waterproof case for cellphones

To fit                 most makes and models

Contact            Aquaman UK, telephone 0171-738 4466

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            88%

 

SWITCH UNIVERSAL WALLET

Every now and again handbags are touted as fashion accessories for blokes. Keeping all your man-stuff (string, conkers, you know the sort of thing…) in one convenient easy to carry container makes a lot of sense, but handbags for men have a somewhat unfortunate image and are certainly off-limits for macho-types. Well, here's a tough, mean-struttin' alternative that you can carry with pride. It's the Switch Universal wallet. From the outside it looks like a largish cellphone case, inside there's a row of little pockets for credit cards, money and even a pen or two.

 

It's made from high-grade leather and on the back there's a belt-clip and wrist strap. The phone fits into a capacious pouch at the back -- one size fits all -- and is kept in place by a flap, with cut-outs on either side for the aerial. There's a strip of Velcro, to keep it shut. Build quality is very good, no loose bits, and the sides are stretchy, so it can take phones with fat battery packs. Definitely worth considering if you're troubled by unsightly trouser bulges.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £

Features            belt clip & wrist strap, pockets for credit cards, cash and pens

To fit                 Most phones and belts

Contact Switch Electronics, telephone (01865) 400500

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            85%

 

HOLDAN GV-D300 SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM

Mobile phones come in all shapes and sizes, with many and varied uses but here's one that may surprise you. This slightly aged Nokia 2146 is actually a dummy, inside there's a sub-miniature colour video camera and microphone, it's used to make undercover or 'covert' recordings. The only give-away is a grey cable coming out of the base of the handset, though this would normally remain unseen when the phone is sitting in the user's jacket breast pocket.

 

On the other end of the grey cable there's a Sony GV-D300 digital video cassette (DVC) video recorder. This battery-power VCR is only a little larger than Walkman-type personal tape player, yet it is capable of close to broadcast quality video and sound recording on a tape not much larger than a box of matches. The unit is small enough to slip into a coat pocket, or it can be carried using the supplied shoulder strap. The outfit, complete with mains charger, leads and battery is supplied in an aluminium case; 'Q' would be proud…

 

Holdan have got around the problem of how to work the VCR when it's in a pocket by fitting it with a custom-designed remote control unit. The really clever bit is how it tells the user when the deck is in the recording mode. The cylindrical remote unit has a single button, to start recording press it once, and it gently vibrates for as long as the deck is recording. Press it again and the deck goes into standby, it's that simple. The vibrations are quite discrete, though it's a good idea to keep the unit away from keys or loose change… The remote control system on our well-used demo sample was a little unreliable and once or twice the deck started making a loud clicking sound that would almost certainly be heard by anyone within a metre or two.  

 

The camera is fitted with a tiny pinhole lens that looks through one of the earphone holes, it is virtually invisible more than a few inches away; the microphone sits behind the phone's mouthpiece grille. The lens gives a semi-fisheye image with a wide angle of view; the CCD image sensor works well in a wide range of lighting conditions, though it struggles a bit indoors, in normal room lighting. Video quality is very good indeed, not quite up to the standard achievable on a DVC camcorder, but in good light there's plenty of fine detail and bright, accurate colours. Sound quality is good too, though care needs to be taken when the phone is in a packet, to avoid scuffing noises.

 

Obviously this is a somewhat specialist product and of little use to those outside the surveillance industry or television production companies and it goes to show that mobile phones are not always what they seem…

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price                 £2445

Features                       covert video recording system

To fit                             most jacket top pockets

Contact             Holdan Ltd., telephone (0161) 3679000

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            84%

 

 

 

PHONEY OF THE MONTH

EXECUTIVE STRESS RELEIVER

The next time you feel like throwing your phone against the wall, calmly put it down, pick up the British Home Stores Executive Stress Reliever and give it hell! This squashy rubber Ericsson 688 lookalike can take it. Amaze and impress friends and associates by taking a bite out of it, well it might make you feel a bit better…

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £2.50

Features            squashy and black                      

To fit                 most fists

Contact your local British Home Stores

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            90%

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1998 1211


 

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