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Old 08-04-2010, 03:00 PM
Don Tolson
Thoughts Media Review Team
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 749
Default HTC Universal Car Kit including Handsfree

Product Category: Phone Accessories
Manufacturer: WirelessGround
Where to Buy: WirelessGround
Price: Starts at $49.95USD regular price (but it may be on sale!)
Specifications: The car kit as provided was specific to the HTC line of phones.  A full list of compatible models is available at WirelessGround.  Car kits for other manufacturers are available.

Pros:

  • Good snug fit for the HTC Touch Pro 2 and Touch Diamond 2 tested;
  • Having the speakerphone built into the lighter charger unit is a good solution;
  • Easy to install and use.

Cons:

  • No instructions provided on how to hook up and/or use the speakerphone;
  • Microphone is either located too far away or not sensitive enough;
  • Flexible arm mount allows too much sideways movement.

Summary: By now, car kits for mobile devices are becoming pretty ubiquitous and seem to have roughly the same construction features: suction cup, (slightly) flexible arm, power unit, and an adjustable cradle for the unit. WirelessGround has introduced a Universal Car Kit for the HTC line of phones with an interesting extra -- a speakerphone built into the cigarette lighter charger unit!  With the advent of new cellphone use laws for drivers here, I was looking for some sort of speakerphone option for the van, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Introduction

Recently my province (BC) instituted new cellphone use laws for drivers, which effectively bans the use of any handheld device while driving.  So, since my 2006 Toyota van doesn't include Bluetooth, I was looking around for some way to be able to use the phone, without having to hand it over to my 14 or 16 year old sons sitting next to me. :-0  Of course, getting one of the Bluetooth speakerphones was an option, since they are getting pretty cheap these days, and I still have the one from Helium Digital that I reviewed a couple of years ago.  But it's no longer sold, and I really wanted to get a proper cradle for my Tilt2 as well.  Coincidentally, along came a request from WirelessGround for us to do reviews of their products, and lo-and-behold, they have a universal HTC car kit with speakerphone!  Couldn't have been better timing.

What's in the Package

OK, for those of you who have read my other recent reviews of products from WirelessGround, I apologize.  I promise this is the last time I'll show you a white cardboard box and tell you how 'green' the packaging is. :-)

Figure 1: Does this look familiar?  Check out the other reviews of WirelessGround products!

Figure 2:  The box contains a flexible mounting arm, adjustable cradle, and a charger module which plugs into the cigarette lighter (or 'external power socket' as it's now known :-))

The flexible arm mount is typical for attaching to the windshield (or other window, if you want) in the car, with a suction cup at one end and a gimbal-jointed mount at the other.  After placing the suction cup on the glass, you 'attach' it by rotating a lever at the same end about a quarter turn.  The bond is extremely tight.  I needed to really pull on the cup to remove it, even after rotating the lever back.  The cradle slides onto the gimbal-jointed mount at the other end of the arm.  Again, this is a really solid connection, requiring a bit of force to get it to slide on completely.  I'm not complaining though.  It means that when assembled, the arm and cradle will form a very sturdy mount for the phone.

Figure 3: A shot of the other end of the arm, showing the gimbal joint and cradle attached.  The gimbal joint is pretty hefty, so there's little chance of the unit coming off the arm.

Figure 4: Here's the cradle set up in landscape mode.  The foam rubber pads at the top and bottom ratchet in and out to hold the unit firmly.  Note the foam rubber pads at the back of the unit at the left, centre, and in the support at the right (bottom if it were in portrait mode).  These make sure the unit doesn't slide around in the cradle.

Figure 5: A shot of the power/speakerphone module as it's installed in my van. There's a charger on/off switch on the left side.  On top, going from left to right, you can just see the pickup button at the back on the left, then the holes for the speaker, and the mode LED at the front.

The charger/speakerphone module looks like a normal plug-in charger adapter except that it comes with two plugs.  One is the HTC-proprietary mini-USB with the diagonal corner, and the other is a standard 3.5mm stereo phone plug.  Unfortunately, the car kit doesn't come with any instructions so it wasn't immediately apparent to me what the stereo phone plug was for.  (I thought it was possibly for other HTC units).  After a quick contact back to WirelessGround, I found out that the stereo phone plug goes into a jack in the left side of the cradle and must be there in order for the speakerphone to work.

Figure 6:  Here's the unit in portrait mode with my AT&T Tilt2 (HTC Touch Pro 2) installed.  Note the 3.5mm phone plug from the power/speakerphone unit is plugged into the left side, and the mini-USB power/sync cable is plugged into the bottom.  Just to the left of the clear plastic guard in the front is a set of holes.  I suspect this is for the microphone.

After a closer look at the cradle, I noticed a series of small holes -- similar to those used for the speaker in the power module -- in the left side of the cradle, next to the clear plastic guard where the USB cable inserts.  My suspicion is that the microphone is located here and that the stereo phone plug is needed to connect that into the unit.

Driving around town

Well, with every thing hooked up, it was time to give it a try.  The first time a call came in, I didn't have the 3.5mm phone plug inserted, and I thought the call pickup button on the top of the charger/speaker unit would automatically switch the unit into speakerphone mode.  Unfortunately, I was wrong on both accounts. Nothing worked.  As I mentioned earlier, a quick email to WirelessGround got everything straightened out.  I located the jack for the stereo phone plug in the side of the cradle, connected it up and tried again.

In discussions with WirelessGround, I also found out that the switch on the side of the charger unit (marked On/Off) actually switches between charger and speakerphone modes.  So, when you want to pick up a call, there is actually a two-step process involved.  First, you have to switch the charger to the 'Off' position to put it into speakerphone mode (the LED will change from orange to green), then you need to press the Call Pickup button on the top to answer the call.  A little involved, but workable.  It would have been better if the unit could recognize that the phone was in 'phone' mode, and automatically switch on its own, or use the Call Pickup button to switch modes.

During the call, I could hear my caller quite well (there's a Volume control on the right side of the charger/speakerphone unit), but they said my voice was very weak -- they could barely hear me, even though I was speaking up in my 'presentation voice' rather than normal speaking volume.  This was confirmed over a couple of other calls as well.  I think they need to increase the sensitivity of the mic a bit.  Increasing the volume on the speakerphone portion didn't seem to have any effect (as I would expect).

If you press the call pickup button while in a call, it will put the call 'on hold', and you can do other things, talk to the officer who just pulled you over, etc. (Just kidding!).  Pressing the button again, places you back in your call.  A double press will hang up the call.  You can also accomplish the same thing by switching the charger unit back to 'Charge' mode (orange LED).

Conclusions

All in all, this is an OK solution to my problem.  It provides a good secure cradle for my Tilt2 and includes a speakerphone capability as well, without having to go through the Bluetooth tethering each time I enter the car.  Plus, I can keep the phone on external power.  I did notice though, that the joint at the back of the flexible arm, near the suction cup, is a little looser than it should be, so the phone tends to swing from side to side as you drive around.  And they really need to do something about the microphone sensitivity to make this truly useful.

Don is a Solution Architect with Fujitsu Consulting, specializing in Security and Project Value Management.  He's been working with PDAs and Smartphones since the early days of the Sharp Wizard, iPAQ and Jornadas.  As the Enterprise Mobility lead for North America, he works with clients who want to take their applications that one step further into 'mobility' by putting them right on the corporate phones.

Do you enjoy using new hardware, software and accessories, then sharing your experience with others? Then join us on the Thoughts Media Review Team! We're looking for individuals who find it fun to test new gear and give their honest opinions about the experience. It's a volunteer role with some great perks. Interested? Then click here for more information.

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/drt
 
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