Gadget Inspector: Fun Auto Style on a Budget

[Photo: Driving Emoticon]

 

Automotive gear used to be so

simple: radio, 8-track, fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror and a faux

leopard seat pad.

 

Nowadays, the choices are endless

– from the most high-tech gizmos to the neatest little gadgets.

 

In Part Three of our auto overview,

we’ll look at the most affordable items in the bunch—really made for those on a

budget.

 

Xtreme Mac’s InCharge Auto ($19.95) makes it possible for you to power and charge your iPhone

or iPod in practically any ride.

 

It’s compatible with any 12-volt

accessory outlet, you can use the detachable USB cable with your computer, and the

cable is long enough to also use with your phone.

 

InCharge Auto is user-friendly

with plenty of features. Its circuitry is designed to protect against power

spikes, the LED displays the regulated power supply, and you never have to

worry about replacing the self-resetting fuse. It also comes with a lifetime

guarantee, meaning that XtremeMac “will repair or replace covered product that

proves to be defective in material or workmanship.”

 

There’s no end to what you can

plug into your 12-volt cigarette lighter these days. Alpine’s eX-10 ($159) offers you in-auto plug-and-play iPod playback.

 Thanks to the full-color LCD and

wireless control, you can cruise to your destination while cruising your iPod,

picking out the songs you want to hear. Using the built-in FM transmitter,

stream your audio to your car stereo, or use an auxiliary-input jack. Enjoy

hands-free phone calls via built-in Bluetooth.

 

The Azentek Atlas CPC-1000 is billed as

“the world’s most complete in-dash double-din

computer ‘radio replacement’ package.” Utilizing an Intel 945GM

Express Chipset, 120 GB upgradeable hard drive, 1GB DDR2 533/667MHz DIMM

upgradeable memory and Microsoft OS (with Windows Vista), it provides

entertainment, business, telecommunications, navigation and automobile

diagnostics capabilities. 

 

The Atlas CPC-1000 is Bluetooth

enabled and also comes with a DVD-ROM and CD-RW drive, Super-Bright 6.5”

Touch-Screen LCD, PC-Card slot for optional accessories—for example, a

broadband wireless Internet card, internal SiRFstarIII GPS Navigation receiver,

external antenna, internal Wi-Fi 802.11b/g wireless connectivity, Dolby Digital

5.1 5-Volt preamp outputs, 50×4 Internal amplifier and AM/FM tuner. It’s also Satellite Radio and HD Radio ready.

If you think this is cool, you’re not alone! The CPC-1000 won the “Best of CES” Award for Hottest Tech & GPS Product this year  at the Consumer Electronics show too!

 

Here’s something way cool from ModooTronix: the Bluetooth Hands-Free Mirror with Parking System ($179). ModooTronix offers

a variety of these wireless car kits that run on Bluetooth technology. The system

features a high-quality, built-in loudspeaker and external high-sensitivity

microphone. Simply plug it into—what else?—your lighter socket, clip the

Bluetooth mirror over your rearview mirror, and you’re good to go.

 

Answer, end, reject, redial, voice

dial or audio transfer all your calls. Enjoy Bluetooth disconnection, place

calls, or adjust the loudspeaker volume with the push of a button, without even

touching your phone.

 

The parking sensor kit operates

via the mirror and displays the distance of rear objects via digits on the

mirror itself. Twinkling lights display left and right rear-object locations,

the reversing sensor only kicks into gear when you’re backing up, and the

warning system offers four stages of “beep” sounds according to object

distance. The kit comes with installation cables, mirror main body, two or four

sensors, controller box and user’s guide.

 

It’s never, ever too soon to think

about Christmas and those last-minute gifts or stocking stuffers. For just

under $10, the SmartPad ($8.99) is a

longtime favorite that anyone with car clutter should have. Smack that baby onto

your dashboard and watch your cell phone, pen, sunglasses and whatever else is

flying around the car suddenly affix itself in one place.

 The SmartPad works on horizontal,

vertical and slanted surfaces. Made of reusable rubber, it doesn’t scratch or

leave residue. When the sticking stops, wash and put it back on the dash. Or

frig. Or computer. Easy, practical and—best of all—CHEAP!

 

And finally, my favorite: the Driving LED Emoticon ($29.99). This battery-powered

(four AAs), wirelessly controlled message sign attaches to your vehicle’s rear

window courtesy of the included suction cup. 

Keep the remote control unit up front—on a window, in a storage

compartment, or on the dashboard (on your SmartPad!) so that you can press the

buttons and activate the Emoticon messages: smiling face, frowning face,

“Thanks,” “Back Off” and, most importantly for me,

“Idiot,” because my middle finger doesn’t reach all the way to the rear

window.

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