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XT PLUG-IN HANDS-FREE KIT

Over the past few years we've seen some small hands-free kits, but this XT model from Switch Electronics is going to take some beating, it's not much larger than a regular car charger adaptor!

 

The kit actually comes in three parts. All of the electronic gubbins -- that's the power adaptor, amplifier and loudspeaker - -are housed in the module that plugs into the car's cigar lighter plug. A curly cable emerges from the unit, it's terminated in an accessory plugs that fits into the base of the handset; a microphone is mounted in line with the cord, a few centimetres downstream from the phone plug. The second part is a dashboard holder for the phone, it's pretty basic in that there's no adjustments; it's held in place with screws of a small pad of double-sided adhesive tape that's included in the package. When we say small, we mean small, in fact we doubt whether is of any use whatsoever. The third component is a plug in headset with boom mike. It's on of those fiddly hang-on-the-ear jobbies that take ages to fit but once it's in place it seems to stay there.

 

Inadequate sticky tape aside installation is fairly straightforward. The phone sets the speaker volume; the electronics module is mounted on a pivot, so the speaker can be angled to face the driver. It's a good idea to mount the holder fairly high up on the dash as this will improve reception (there is no aerial connection), and raise the height of the microphone. Two LED indicators on the unit show power connected (red), and charge in progress (green), and that's all you really need to know about the operational side of things.

 

You don't need to be an expert in acoustics to instinctively know that titchy speakers are not very loud. This one in the XT kit is just 4cm (1.5 inches) across and it does its best but we have to say it can be quite difficult to hear a caller above normal road noise. The trouble with the microphone is that itís a bit too sensitive and not very directional so it picks up a lot of background noise, callers will ask you to speak up, so you end up shouting. Things improve dramatically with the headset, sound is crisp and callers can hear what you are saying.

 

The holder is about the least the manufacturers could get away with but it does the job. Sound quality through the speaker is not that wonderful, it's okay if you do as you are supposed to do and pull over when the phone rings. The headset makes up for lost ground and means you will be able to take calls when on the move or you drive a noisy car. Fair value and it is very small and easy to install so it is the sort of kit you can take with you. Worth considering.

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £40

Features           Compact hands-free kit with dashboard holder & plug-in headset

To fit                 selected Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia & Panasonic models

Contact Switch Electronics, telephone (01865) 400500

 

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            88%

 

FONE RANGE SAVER-CHARGER

Car cords may not be the most glamorous cell phone accessories but if you and your mobile are going to spend any time on the road away from home, you can't get by with without one. The one we're looking at here comes from Fone Range and it has two things going for it, it's cheap -- circa £15 on the street -- and its simple, just plug it in and away it goes with a single red LED to let you know it's up and running. One other thing, the curly cable is unusually thin, which also means it's light and doesn't get tangled so easily.

 

Inside the cigar lighter modules there's a standard microchip regulated charging module, build quality is satisfactory and it fitted (and stayed in) all of the ciggy lighter sockets we tried it with. The electrical characteristics checked out and it runs cool. The only concern on our sample was the design of the phone plug, which was designed for the Ericsson 628, 688 and 788. It's a cut-down version of the usual full-width accessory connector used on Ericsson models and it is held in place by the thinnest of plastic grippers. Quite honestly we don't rate its chances in a fall, even if it's only a few inches on to the carpeted floor of a vehicle interior, it will almost certainly snap off, possibly damaging the Ericsson's connector plate into the bargain. It's also stiff and difficult to fit and remove; in short we don't like it! The connectors we've seen on other Fone Range car cords for other models of phone seem perfectly adequate; it's just this one, so we reckon you should give it a wide berth if you've got an Ericsson handset.   

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £15

Features            power on indicator, fuse

To fit                 most popular makes/models

Contact Fone Range UK, telephone 0181-838 8888

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            75%

 

TWIN CHARGER/DISCHARGER

Although lithium batteries are fast taking over from nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries on new phones a lot of people are still using these types of power packs. They are going to be around for a good while yet and a lot of mobile phone users will continue to suffer from the problems of reduced capacity and short working life due to the so-called 'memory' effect. Nicad memory is often caused by the cells inside the battery pack becoming unbalanced, with varying degrees of charge, often caused by repeated top-up charging. Chargers are not very smart and will charge a nicad pack until one or more cells read full charge, but if other cells are only partially charged the pack as a whole will be at less than full strength. The solution is to carefully discharge the pack, so all he cells inside are on an equal footing and receive a full charge.

 

That's what this smart little desktop twin charger does though only the rear batter-only slot has the discharge facility. The front slot is for the phone and the battery together and is charge only. The instruction book suggests it can charge nicad, NiMh and lithium battery packs, we'd be a little cautious about using it with the latter as they have slightly different charging characteristics, and shouldn't be fully discharged. It's simple to use the dual colour LED at the front lights up green to show power on and charging, and red for full charge. The indicator also doubles up as a switch, press it once and a pack in the rear slot goes through a discharge-charge cycle to erase any cell imbalance or memory.

 

The discharge switch is rather stiff, which isn't surprising when you open it up as the mechanics of the switch are a bit awkward, to say the least, but once you get the hang of it, it's not too bad. Our test sample, designed for Ericsson models worked well charging the standard pack in under 70 minutes and taking a little over 2.5 hours to go through a complete charge-discharge cycle. Charge voltages and currents were within limits and the mains adaptor got only slightly warm to the touch. Stylish and discreet, fine for keeping nicad packs in condition.    

 

THE FACTS

Typical Price            £35

Features            desktop charger with separate charge/discharge slot, suitable for NiCad, Ni-Mh & lithium packs

To fit                 most popular makes & models

Contact Kondor, telephone (01425) 474444

WHAT CELLPHONE VERDICT            83%

 

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R. Maybury 1999 1503

 


 

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