Category: Gizmos

By on April 6, 2017

Hopkins nVision Backup Sensor Kit

If you’re looking for some electronic assistance backing your car but don’t want to mess with installing a rearview camera, a backup sensor system might be the solution.

Consisting of ultrasonic sensors mounted at the rear of the vehicle and connected to an audible alarm inside the car, a sensor system gives you a warning when you’re getting close to something behind you, typically growing more urgent as you get closer.

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By on April 6, 2017

Pyle PLCM7500 Backup Camera Kit

There’s no question a rearview camera can add a measure of convenience to the business of backing up and increase your margin of safety. Studies have shown a rear camera makes it easier to see small children, pets, or obstacles behind your vehicle that might be otherwise invisible using just your mirrors or looking out the rear window. And that goes double for pickups and other tall vehicles, which can have a blind spot as long as 50 feet to the rear. Adding a rearview camera can also make it easier to see and hook up a trailer. 

Many new cars have backup cameras, and it’ll be mandatory equipment by the 2018 model year. For those of us without, the aftermarket offers plenty of choices. 

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By on March 30, 2017

Schumacher X114 Compact Inverter

If you’re looking for an inexpensive power inverter and don’t want to sacrifice a cup holder or other interior real estate, the Schumacher X114 might be just the ticket — as long as you don’t mind a bit of noise with your power. 

Capable of putting out 140 watts of continuous power, the X114 has more than enough juice to drive a laptop or other small electronic device. To that end, it comes equipped with one 120V receptacle, and a 2-amp USB outlet for charging a phone, music player, or most anything else that can be charged via USB. 

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By on March 20, 2017

Garmin HUD+

A windshield head-up display, or HUD, is a beautiful thing. Capable of displaying navigational guidance, vehicle speed, and other information on the lower part of the windshield and in the driver’s line of sight, HUD systems have become increasingly common on new cars since their first appearance a couple of decades ago.

More recently, a handful of aftermarket suppliers and startups have gotten on the bandwagon, offering devices that pair with a smartphone via Bluetooth to provide similar functionality, even if these devices lack the seamless integration of a factory system.

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By on March 17, 2017

Energizer EN180 Compact Power Inverter

Even if your car is equipped with a built-in power port or two, it may not have enough outlets to support all the electronic devices and habits of you and yours, or said ports may be inconveniently located or accessed. Maybe you want a configuration your car doesn’t have, like a 120V outlet to power a laptop or portable DVD player. Or maybe whatever ports your car has just haven’t been quite right since that last Big Gulp incident.

If any of these scenarios is the case, a power inverter can be the solution. Depending on the make and model you choose, an inverter can give you the versatility to power several devices at once, juice up your laptop or other electronic device, or provide more power and quicker charging than built-in ports in your car. And with prices starting at less than $50, inverters are affordable enough to make sense for almost any budget.

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By on March 13, 2017

Motorola Sonic Rider Bluetooth Speakerphone Kit

Safety experts generally agree that shutting off your phone altogether while behind the wheel is the safest way to travel, but the reality is that just isn’t going to happen for many drivers. In spite of thousands of deaths and close to a half million injuries chalked up to distracted driving every year, we are a society largely addicted to our phones.

But experts also agree going hands free is a safer option than handling a phone on the go, and most newer vehicles now have Bluetooth so drivers can keep their eyes on the road and use voice commands to make and receive calls. While arguably still distracting, hands-free calls are a better idea than punching keys at highway speeds, when a car travels the length of a football field in about five seconds — coincidentally, the average length of time it takes to read or send a text message.

For owners of vehicles without built-in Bluetooth, there are all kinds of aftermarket solutions available, from small units with a microphone and speaker that clip to a sun visor and cost as little as $20, to replacement head units that will set you back hundreds of dollars or more. For the purposes of this exercise, we looked at the former for their ease of installation and low cost.

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By on March 9, 2017

iOttie Easy One Touch 2

With the average age of cars on the road now on the far side of 11 years, the latest electronic safety and convenience systems don’t do most drivers much good. But the good news is that any car can be upgraded with many of these features, from blind spot warning to Bluetooth for streaming music and hands free phone calls. You can easily install most of them yourself, and for a lot less than making payments on a new car.

Our new series of articles detailing some of these features will take you through what products are available, how they work, and what they cost. We’re starting with nine products available from the automotive aftermarket provided by our sponsor eBay, who has also graciously offered up three $500 gift cards. We’ve independently made our product choices based on ease of DIY installation, popularity, favorable reviews from other sources and users, and brand recognition with websites and readily available customer support.

Oh, and we’re installing all these upgrades on a 1999 Acura TL with 152,000 miles.

First up, let’s keep it simple: a trick phone mount from iOttie, the Easy One Touch 2.

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By on January 20, 2012

Don’t you sometimes want more attention? Aching to simply blow people away? The people at Banshee Horn LLC might just have the thing for people who want to be noticed. It is called the Banshee Horn, and it does what the name says. The folks promise in an email to TTAC that the gadget helps you “warn motorists up to 3 blocks away” with a pain-inducing 139 decibel horn. Read More >

By on October 8, 2009

(courtesy blueunplugged.com)

The latest advancements in communication imply a great future for the automobile. And yet, like my former manager in Corporate America once said, “I can’t wait to go to a place where my BlackBerry doesn’t work.”  Like most BlackBerry addicts, I doubt she really meant it. Mostly because these handheld email magnets are legalized crack, for better or worse. Now BlackBerry makes a self-branded, visor mount speakerphone: traffic jams en route to work and business travel in sub-par rental cars shall never be the same. And its name is the VM-605.

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By on July 28, 2009

Rear view cameras are becoming commonplace on SUVs, CUVs and luxury cars but only as part of very expensive option packages. If you prefer spending your money on things like groceries and house payments, or have an older vehicle, you’re pretty much out of luck. But not entirely. Peak (yes, the antifreeze people) offer the Peak Wireless Back-up Camera System. To see if it passes muster, I installed one on my 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe.

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By on June 22, 2009

The Microsoft Zune prides itself in being the only significant alternative to Apple’s wildly popular iPod and iTunes duo. But there’s a problem: Zune distances itself from the industry standard software and hardware systems. Considering Microsoft’s dominance stemming from the personal computer revolution, the Zune’s unique value proposition is less like the corporate mothership and more like the original Apple Macintosh: isolating and challenging. Which, considering their fashionably late entrance, makes the Microsoft Zune a tough sell.

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Product Review: Microsoft Zune Product Review Rating

By on May 13, 2009

Ford seems to be the only part of the big 3/2.5/1.8 that’s embracing technology as a way to win customers. Their SYNC system got massive airplay in the Blue Oval’s ads. Down at the dealer level, FoMoCo’s been pushing SYNC like crazy. Strange, then, that I’ve noticed a distinct lack of reviews on the SYNC. So I hopped into a Ford Fusion for a week to answer a simple question: it is any good?

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By on April 9, 2009

One of my long-standing disagreements with the editor: the Porsche Cayenne is a dangerous diffusion of the Porsche brand. I never believed that. I’d call Robert up and tell him— if I could dial this new Porsche Design P’9522 phone with its razor thin buttons. Or use it stateside for that matter. Perhaps I’ll e-mail my review. Nope. The gorgeous new touch screen gizmo lacks that feature. It does have a 911 GT3 ring tone, though.

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By on November 2, 2008

When my esteemed editor suggested I review the RallyCam, I envisioned a simple one camera with a small recording device. Instead. the edgecameras.com people sent me their RallyCam 3000, a three-camera system with a sophisticated control unit integrated with a multi-use video recording device. The devices came packed tightly in their container. I was quickly overwhelmed by cables, clamps, remotes and plastic bags. The numerous instruction sheets were not very helpful. But TTAC’s Best and Brightest are persistent bastards, as are their legally-trained representatives. So away we go…

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Product Review: RallyCam 3000 Product Review Rating

By on January 11, 2008

0071412993911_500×5002222.jpgLooking at last year’s Black Friday ads made it clear that a portable GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) satellite navigation device was the season’s most popular loss leader. Even department stores like Macys were offering a GPS device on the cheap. This strategy continues; last week our local Walgreen’s had a Nextar GPS device at the front counter for under $200, right there next to mints and quit smoking gum. I wanted to see if a cheap GPS unit could compete with the big boys. So I contacted Nextar, and they provided us with a Snap3. 

On paper, the Snap3 sat nav looks like a winner. It comes complete with a 3.5” touch screen, Navteq on Board® maps, super-slim design, mp3 player, photo viewer and mini-SD memory slot. In person, the packaging is very professional, especially for a GPS product sitting on the lowest wrung of the consumer ladder. Included in the deal: the unit, a USB/DC charger, car mount, detailed manuals and a carry bag. The Snap3 is very small, measuring three by four and less than an inch thick. The front is all screen all the time, with all the necessary buttons positioned on the sides and bottom.

I always measure a gizmo’s user friendliness with a simple test: try and use without reading the manual. (Let’s face it, the vast majority of consumers at the bottom end of the market won’t read any user’s manual, ever, and the rest probably can’t.) The Snap3 flunked. The unit has to be booted before the main power switch can be used. Granted this requires about ten seconds; less time than it takes to call India– I mean, customer service. But who knew?

Once booted, you’re looking a main screen with choices of navigation, photo, mp3, Bluetooth, calculator and settings.

Selecting navigation takes you to the main map screen. Accessing the Navteq supplied software and maps is no different than most other GPS devices. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with this mapping software. The Snap3 offered more of the same– at least initially. And right from the git-go, at the main screen, you have to sit and wait while the Snap3 tries to acquire a signal. The search took all of 45 seconds, which indicates an older GPS chipset. 

On the road, the Snap3 failed to update our ETA (estimate time of arrival) as we drove. It clung to original estimate like grim death, despite the fact that we eventually arrived an hour earlier than the machine’s ETA. On the positive side, our car’s onboard sat nav system frequently lost the satellite signal in the mountains, while the Snap3 maintained a lock at all times– after the painfully slow signal acquisition.

We also took the unit hiking in the Carolina Mountains (better than going with some guides I know). In this application, the Snap3’s size is a definite plus, easily fitting in a pocket.

The Snap3 is touted as a multi-function device. However, once in the navigation mode, you can only access the other features by rebooting the device to go back to the main screen. The other functions are crude and basic. The mp3 player was too quiet even with the volume turned all the way up (fixed by going to settings, turning-up the volume and returning to the mp3 player). The photo viewer displayed jpegs but was slow and awkward.

The Bluetooth function never worked; my iPhone could not discover the Snap3. This may have been an iPhone issue, but my test Magellan sat nav device always paired quickly with the iPhone.

By the same token, the Windows CE spinning beach ball of death was a frequent sight. This means that the Snap3 is running some form of the embedded Windows Mobile software. This also means that the device should easily connect to a PC to allow data uploads for new maps and firmware. No such software was included with the Snap3, and nothing in the supplied box shows this capability. When I connected the Snap3 to my PC, the device was never found (even though the Snap3 was powered over a standard USB cable).

The Snap3 has sixty-four megs of internal RAM and one gigabyte flash RAM for map storage. Without the ability to connect to a PC, it can’t be upgraded; it’s only a matter of time before the maps will become “stale.” The inability to update the firmware is more worrying. In the settings menu, I noted that the system software was version 0.97. This indicates that I tested a pre-production version, so this capability could well be on its way.

After several days of use, one lock-up and several reboots, the Snap3’s mapping function eventually died, displaying a “can’t find navigation software” warning. It was a fitting end to an inexpensive device that proves that “value” and “price” are not always synonymous. 

[NEXTAR provided the unit tested.] 

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NEXTAR Snap3 3.5″ Navigation System Review Product Review Rating

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