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Technology Today Ė May 2011
by Robert Sanborn

I love traveling and sometimes there is nothing better than hitting the open road in a car or camper which we have done many times in the past. A long time owner of Volkswagen Campers, they are often the best way to travel the USA.  In the not too distant past, we would take our compass and the Rand McNally travel books as we journey around the country.  In the recent past, moving up the tTechToday 1105.htmechnology ladder, I graduated to a radar detector and a GPS. Because I often travel with a PDA, rather than a window mounted GPS, I would often use the one that I had as an add on to the PDA built by Pharos, www.pharosgps.com, but it seems that they havenít been updating their software of late and so it was time to maybe upgrade the whole package.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is of course, the best place in the world to go looking for new devices and they had a ton of them and the GPS market is exciting with all the changes coming along but one that caught my eye was from Escort, www.escortinc.com, a maker of radar detectors for the auto industry that has been highly regarded for years. They have what they call the ďUltimate Driving CompanionĒ in a single unit that combines both the best of radar detection and GPS traveling system.

The PASSPORT iQ comes packaged in a very nice small sturdy box with everything you need to get rolling. In the package comes the iQ unit which was surprisingly heavy, an industrial strength windshield mounting bracket (which is illegal in CA and MN), a smart car charging unit (the SmartCord) that connects to the iQ via a telephone cable style modular plug, a cable for connecting the iQ to your computer for the updates and charging, a quick reference guide, and a CD with the full userís manual.  You will also find a catalog of Escortís current offerings.

To get started, you need to charge the internal lithium ion battery and you do that by plugging the iQ into the USB cable and to your computer to charge it. That takes several hours.  You can also charge it via the SmartCord while it is in your car. What is cool about the SmartCord is that it has indicator LED lights to tell you the charging status of the unit and whether you are closing in on a radar system. It also has a mute button which will be handy depending on where your power connector is plugged into your car.  While the iQ has an internal battery, you must run it connected to the carís power in order to use the radar detection features. 

Once charged up, the unit is pretty much ready to go out of the box with the GPS software and radar mapping information pre-loaded. The unit has a ton of features no matter which part of the system you are using. In detector mode, it captures and alerts you to all of the known radar bands including X, K, Superwide Ka, Ku, and instant-on Pop modes and checks for both front and rear laser signals and it will show you your current speed and the posted speed limit. There is a data base of known speed traps, red light cameras, and safety camera locations and will alert you as you approach them. See one that wasnít in the database? You can mark it for the next time you travel that direction and speaking of directions, it will also tell you what direction you are heading with the built in compass.  One of the most annoying features with my current radar detector is that when I drive by my favorite grocery, the radar unit goes off and I drive by it a lot. With the iQ, if you know of a false signal, you can tell it to ignore it from now on. All of this is done with a five inch diagonal touch LCD screen with a 480x272 pixel screen resolution. With multiple screen options, you can pick and choose what you want displayed on the screen for even more detailed information. And for the really techno geeks out there, you can even see such things as the frequency of the radar that it detected. There is even an auto sensitivity mode for real time data from the alerts.  But for those of us wanting a simple and easy to understand screen, this has it.

The Mapping and GPS portion of the PASSPORT iQ is powered by Navteq so it will be familiar to a lot of current GPS users. What Escort has done though is to do a neat job of integrating radar information onto the map page so it you are using the system in GPS mode, you still have access to all of the information you need from the detector side. If you have used a GPS before, you will also find some neat new features that you may not have seen before such as a button to repeat the turn directions, and an easy zoom in and out function for the map.

The online connection part of the system is probably the most appealing to those that travel a lot. Escort updates information on their online databases weekly and when your iQ is connected to the computer, you can download all those updates. To go beyond the initial 90 days that they give you, you need a subscription to their Defender system which costs a paltry $40 for a three year subscription. To connect, you go online with your computer and register your PASSPORT iQ unit. They then take you a download page where you download the program that connects your iQ to the internet for updating its software. They also will notify you via email when updates are available for downloading.

Odd thoughts while looking over the details. When storing the PASSPORT iQ for an extended time, they recommend a temperature range of 32 to 77 degrees.  That tends to leave out a lot of places you might want to store it including garages, storage units, and attics.  They also donít recommend operating the unit if the temperature is less than -4 or greater than 131 degrees.  Hate to say it but I have seen both extremes many times getting into a cold car in the winter and on really hot summer days when the car has been parked outside in the direct sun. You are also supposed to disconnect the iQ from the SmartCord when you are starting your car. So a carrying case for it would have been nice as would tips on cleaning the screen.

Radar Detectors are illegal to use in Virginia and Washington DC and when you entered Virginia, it told you immediately that you should not be using it but I didnít see how I was supposed to turn that feature off and keep my GPS guiding me along other than unplugging it and running on battery but for the few days we were in Virginia, I didnít want to take the chance of the battery running down.

The true test is on the road.

Connecting it to the windshield is pretty straight forward. First thing I noticed was that I need to turn the ac adapter plug around but unfortunately in my car, the plug is not easy to get to monitor the lights and use the mute button but you can blame that on British Engineering.  Before I left the driveway, I went to the map section and placed my home as the ďhomeĒ location to make navigating home easier as I wander around. The second thing I noticed was that in a bright sunny environment, it is difficult to see the screen. It really needs a boost in contrast. While the default volume might be great for a noisy camper, in my car it was too loud but that was an easy adjustment to make. My old radar unit was a Cobra and so the sounds that it makes for different systems will naturally be different but the audio prompts are clear and easy to understand.

Using it on a trip was very easy to do if you have had any experience with another GPS unit. It was able to plot the trips very efficiently, was able to search different states for destinations, and had no trouble locating the places I wanted to stop. One thing I really appreciated was the ability to put in occasional way stops along the trip as I looked for a particular hotel or attraction. The databases included seem quite well populated with everything from hotels to gas stations.  One neat feature I hadnít seen before was the quick popup that shows which lane of the highway goes where you need to go when there is a split in the roads. Another was that the database was quite good at keeping track of the posted speed limits and shows them on the GPS screen. If you go over the limit, the voice tells you so.  If there was a complicated turn, the voice instructed you to look for the second turn as well when it gave the turn directions for the first one.  If you get off track, the GPS is quick to reprogram the route and does a great job of recognizing the access roads just off the highway. Like nearly all other units, it shows you how many miles to your next turn and how many to your destination and whether your next turn will be right or left. You can also easily adjust the scale of the map on the screen with a simple plus or minus icon.

There is no doubt that the PASSPORT iQ is an expensive unit at $649 and I do wish that the screen was a bit brighter and easier to read on the bright sunny days. The good news there is that the voice prompts pretty much cover everything you need while driving and so I found I didnít really need to pay that much attention to the screen. Having the all in one unit is also the way to go. I donít need to worry about multiple plug connections for one power socket and since both the GPS and Radar database are updated together for a silly low price for a three year subscription, you donít need to worry about the updates, take it in, plug it in to your computer and away you go. After traveling over 2,000 miles on this last trip with it, I found it was definitely easier to use and manage than what I had been using. When I want to stash it away after parking someplace, the quick release clip works like a charm. You do get both a high end radar detector and a high end GPS unit all in one package, and with the three years of updates all combine to make it a worthwhile investment and I think, sets the standard going forward.

Jabra Extreme Noise Cancelling Blue Tooth phone set

I am a traditionalist when it comes to my cell phone. I donít do texting, and I donít have a smart phone. Mine is an old reliable Motorola Razr and while it has a camera, I never use it because the pictures are so terrible. One reason that I never upgraded it was that several CES shows ago, one of the enterprising phone accessory guys was convinced that he could find me an accessory that I couldnít live without and I was about to prove him wrong till he came up with the hard plastic cover with the Red Sox logo on it. We have been friends since.  So when the phone nearly gave up the ghost, my first question was did the new phone fit the same case and when they said no, I said, fix this one and they did. So I have lived happily with it except for the times I would go to a trade show and the noise on the floor was so bad I could never hear the phone ring or carry on a decent conversation.  Since my phone has a Blue Tooth connection, I tried a remote ear set but they were just not comfortable for me to use with the ear pieces and the ones with the pieces that go around your ear (the ear hook) got in the way of my eye glasses.

So visiting CES this year, ran into the Jabra booth and they tell me they have just what I need so decided to give it a try. I didnít have a trade show to go to test it out but I was heading to SC on a road trip and thought the car would be a great place to give it a try.  Having to deal with the noise at CES, the noise cancelling feature is one of the high points of this unit and in fact, the headset has two microphones to help deal with the noise outside.

The packaging is complete and the unit is in a presentation style plastic box that was pretty neat to look at. It comes with an AC power adapter and a car charger as well. It also comes with three sizes of ear inserts and two different hear hooks.  Like most of these devices, you need to charge it up first and pair it with your cell phone through the Blue Tooth connection on your cell phone. This set is smart enough to pair with multiple cell phones at the same time so if you have more than one, you just set up the pairing and are ready to go.  Pretty cool.

Most cell and smart phones have Blue Tooth built into them and so it is a matter of knowing how your phone turns its Blue Tooth on and pairs with the device. Pairing is pretty straight forward as you tell your cell phone to look for the device and soon it finds the Jabra Extreme. Once you enter the pin code, it is ready to go. The answer button is easy to feel on the Jabra and the first phone call I tried with it worked just fine. The sound was clear, a quick adjustment of the volume to what was comfortable for me, and I was ready to go.   The Jabra Extreme comes with replaceable medium and large ear hooks and also the ďUltimate-fit EargelĒ for the left or right side but they donít tell you which is which and the instructions on installing them is pretty vague.  Looking at the user manual on the website and guides on the web were equally worthless. There is one diagram to look at in the small instruction guide that comes with it and you work it out from there.  Once I got it figured out, it seems pretty comfortable to wear.  Depending on your phone, you have all sorts of options regarding making and receiving calls but it worked very well for me. The acid test of course is how well it does outside or while driving and with this unit, it worked great.  The calls were clear and easy to understand and that is what it is all about. Highly recommended.

About $79 directly from Jabra, www.jabra.com but you can also find it at many other dealers.

Robert Sanborn



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