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Many Phones Can Easily Adapt To Law

By Alex L. Goldfayn
Special to the Tribune
Published May 12, 2005

There are many choices for drivers who need a hands-free option to comply with Chicago's new ordinance.

There is even a good chance a hands-free attachment, such as a plug-in headset, came with the phone. Or drivers can just turn on the speakerphone.

Most phones have a speaker feature, which lets you set the phone down and talk away.

"It acts as a speakerphone just like the speaker on your desk phone," said Carolyn Schamberger, spokeswoman for Bedminster, N.J.-based Verizon Wireless. "It's a pretty common feature, even if a phone is 2 years old."

So is voice-recognition technology built into newer phones. "It's as simple as programming your speed-dial," she said.

Wired headsets that plug into a phone are plentiful and available at mobile phone dealers and electronics retailers.

"It's a $20 item," said Mike Abt, president of Glenview-based Abt Electronics. "But I like the Bluetooth headsets. They're neat and they work well."

Bluetooth is a technology used predominantly with phones to wirelessly connect to headsets over short distances. Bluetooth-enabled headsets have plummeted in price and are now widely available for between $50 and $100, Abt said.

Until recently, a Bluetooth-enabled phone was required to use a Bluetooth headset. Now an adapter is available from Jabra, whose North American headquarters are in Oak Brook, to convert most phones with a headset-jack for use.

Bryan Weinstein, 36, is using another Bluetooth option--a factory-installed kit in his 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser that turns his car into a hands-free zone with voice-activated dialing.

"I push a button on my rear-view mirror and speak the name of the person I want to call," Weinstein said. His phone can be in his pocket, on the back seat or even in the trunk. As long as it's within 30 feet, the system works.


"Bluetooth devices sometimes lose their connection to each other," Weinstein explained, adding that the connection between his phone and his hands-free system drops one out of every five conversations.

And setting up a Bluetooth device is not always easy.

"I have to tell you, it's pretty difficult to set some of these devices up out of the box," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the San Jose, Calif.-based Enderle Group. "Setting up Bluetooth is not easy."

Another drawback: "They use a lot of extra battery power on your phone," Abt said. "That's one of the biggest things we need to tell consumers."

More than 30 vehicle models offer factory-installed Bluetooth hands-free kits, according to Overland Park, Kan.-based Bluetooth SIG Inc., a group that represents manufacturers.

A number of Bluetooth-enabled automobile accessories are also available. Schaumburg-based Motorola Inc. makes several car kits that can be installed by consumers. And Jabra has a Bluetooth speaker-microphone unit that mounts to your car's visor. Prices on these devices range from $70 to $120.

Jeff Greaves, 36, estimates he talks on the phone about half the time he's in his car. He gave up using wired headsets because he had to replace them every several months.

"Those ear pieces are extremely fragile," he said. "If they're in your pocket they break. Or I'd lose them."

So Greaves, who is opening a restaurant this summer, had a Bluetooth hands-free system put in for about $400. Now he can see his phone's address book on the navigation system's screen and simply speak the name of the person he wants to call. He hears the other party over his car's stereo speakers.

Even though hands-free calling will be required in Chicago, will it make the roads any safer?

"No," said Enderle. "We're trying to legislate human behavior. Regardless of whether you're holding a headset or not, the action of talking is a distraction."

Joe Farren, director of public affairs for a Washington-based industry group called CTIA-The Wireless Association, agrees.

"What about the coffee drinkers and the hamburger eaters and the people who are reading newspapers and maps?" he said. "Studies have found that wireless phone bans have no significant impact on accidents."

But Greaves feels safer now that he has both hands on the wheel. "This allows me to talk on the phone and still be 100 percent focused on what's going on around me," he said. "My eyes are focused on the road, and my hands are free."

Some hands-free phone options for driving

A look at three attachments that allow for hands-free use of cell phones in the car. The city's ban on driving without such a device takes effect July 8:

Jabra SP100 Bluetooth headset; about $150

This device is a wireless speaker accessory that can be positioned securely in the car and communicates with a cell phone via Bluetooth, making the car a wireless environment. There is a choice of mounting accessories. For non-Bluetooth phones, Jabra's A210 (about $60) converts standard phones into a Bluetooth-enabled device.

Motorola Easy Install Car Kit HF800; about $120

A wireless speaker phone, this device clips onto a car's visor. When leaving the car, take the device and plug a wired earbud into it to continue the conversation.

Motorola also makes the IHF1000 Bluetooth Car Kit (about $300), which must be installed professionally. It features integration with your stereo system and voice-recognition support.

Shure QSH-3 QuietSpot Headset with Adjustable Mic Boom; about $40

A wired headset from Niles-based microphone maker Shure Inc., this device fits snugly into your ear, and the boom microphone can be adjusted as needed.

Also: A range of wired headsets are available from a number of manufacturers and can be found on the Web or at retail outlets of mobile phone carriers. Prices from $20 to $40.

© 2005, Chicago Tribune

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