Pioneer AVH-3300BT in-car entertainment system: Busting the boredom of car journeys

“Mum are we there yet?”, “Dad I need the toilet!”, “I feel sick going round these windy bends!” It’s an unfortunate but well-known fact that children and long car journeys do not go well together, with the scenario of siblings starting to whinge, becoming restless and fighting, even before you have reached the motorway, being a common situation in most families embarking on a car journey. This relentless restlessness children feel obliged to execute when their exasperated parents are trying to drive and navigate is a toxic mix of excitement for the holiday and the boredom of sitting in a car for hours. Whilst we would never want to ease our little darlings’ pre-holiday excitement, the latter affliction can be seriously reduced, if not eliminated entirely, with the Pioneer AVH-3300BT in-car entertainment system.

Pioneer-AVH

Boasting an ample 5.8inch screen means that all your brood will be able to see the screen, immediately abolishing the “I can’t see the picture” quips that often occur when parents are desperately trying to pacify their kids on journeys by placing a portable DVD player in front of their noses with such a tiny screen, it invokes frustration and irritability instead of eliminating it, on both sides of the car.

In featuring iPhone/iPod connectivity, squabbling over what CD to put on is also diminished, as the whole family can enjoy listening to music via USB from any iPhone or iPod. This highly sophisticated in-car entertainment system, when put into ‘App mode’, enables you to listen and watch video content from your apps on the huge touch screen monitor. Games can also be played – a definite child nullifier – likewise YouTube footage can be watched.

In featuring Parrot Bluetooth technology means you will stay on the right side of the law by not grappling with a phone set whilst driving when the eagerly awaiting family or friends you are visiting make that inevitable “where are you now?” call.

With Easter and – thanks to the Royal Wedding – the additional bank holiday looming, many families, up and down the country, will be planning an Easter escape. With thoughts of in-car boredom perhaps determining how far you are willing to travel with your brood, Pioneer could not have got the launching of the AVH-3300BT more spot-on, as even the prospect of forking out £339.99 on this innovatory in-car entertainment system will not put off many desperate parents, who would do anything for a quiet drive.

Behind the wheel of the new Ford Focus

Latest Gadgets were invite to the picturesque banks of the Clyde last week to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the Ford Focus, and to get a sneak-peak and drive their latest model, the new Ford Focus is being touted as the most technologically advanced car in its class.

Although the range starts at a eye-watering £16,000 for the bog-standard, 1.6 petrol engine version, we were given free rein in the 1.6 EcoBoost turbo petrol car, powered by Ford’s Titanium X engine and it came fully-loaded with every gadget available.

Ford-Focus

While the car comes with a lot of tech as standard, the Driver Assistance Package, which cost £750 adds a host of notable additional options. You can expect to find active city stop, lane keeping aid, active park assist (yes it parks itself), traffic sign recognition, blind-spot warning system and auto high-beam system which automatically turns full beams off and on without any input from the driver.

From the outside it is clear that Ford’s boffins have spent a lot of time with the design – taking the look back to original shape. They have tweaked the outside of the car to give it a distinctly sporty look, slightly at odds with the eco name tag, but they explained that consumers are ditching their gas guzzling BMW’s and the like for cars that are more in keeping with today’s need to save on petrol and car tax. But most importantly according to Ford, customers still want their cars to have more gizmo’s than the Star Ship enterprise, hence why the latest Focus is a tech journalists wet dream.

As soon as you step into the new Ford your automatically cocooned into a cockpit that has more buttons and screens than the Star Ship Enterprise, at first there are a bewildering amount of buttons and switches, but after a few minutes we comfortable with 99% of them, and we easily managed to pair our phone for calls and begun to stream some music from our smartphone using the incredibly user friendly bluetooth system.

Ford-Focus-dashboard

Surprisingly, after a few minutes of driving, any initial thoughts about room in the front and back quickly turns to a rather cosy feeling, a bit like the cockpit of an fighter jet. There’s not much room to swing a cat, but you left with a car that has lovely solid feel to it through out. It’s not as roomy compared to last model, but we for one forgave this shortcoming, as the new look is simply stunning.

There are two screens on the Ford Focus, one in the central dash which looked to be a 8-inch LCD display – which controls entertainment, sat nav and host of other gizmos. It’s not so big that it dominates the dash nor does it light you up like a Christmas tree, it’s just the perfect size. The other is where you’d usually find the speedometer. This screen is where you’ll be updated with various pieces of information, including when to change gear for optimum fuel efficiency and it cleverly show realtime traffic sign that the on-board camera picks up when you go into new speed zones or even temporary speed limits. Pretty much all these functions can be controlled from controls on the steering wheel and after a while we really settled into our new car for the day.

On the open road, you’ll notice the gear change indicator which tells you exactly when to shift up or down the six -speed manual box for optimum fuel efficiency, which, we completely ignored, not least because Ford had invited us to try out the cars on the outskirts of Glasgow, which had the least speed camera of anywhere we had ever driven in the UK.

Traffic Sign Recognition was notable feature, it recognises within a instant traffic signs ahead of you and displays them for you on the screen next to the rev counter, it just another way technology can help drivers stay within speed limits and we found it to work pretty much perfectly. And we’re not talking out-of-date GPS tracking here. The car actually takes video of the road in front of you and recognises a variety of standard signs including speed limits, and even those that have been set up temporarily so you’ll never get caught out again by the temporary speed limits.
When out onto the motorway more clever piece of tech became apparent – drift into another lane without indicating and the Lane Departure Warning will let you know you’re going off the straight and narrow. Persist with your inconsiderate lane changing and the computer will grabs the steering wheel and put you back on the right track using the Lane Departure Aid. This is quite an achievement and un-nerving at that the same time. The thought of a car taking control off the driver on a motorway at 70mph does seem quite frightening, but imagine, god forbid, if you fell asleep at the wheel. The system in theory could save you life. Importantly if you use your indicators like every decent driver should the system will not interfere so it also teaches you to be better driver, meaning safer, more stress-free journeys.

Changing lane on a motorway while someone is sitting in your blind spot and a little orange light flashes in your wing mirror to warn you that you’re about to merge into another car, the system is sure to save countless lives and crashes, and is just another example of Ford thinking of everything.

Auto High Beam will stop you dazzling other motorists as it dips the headlights automatically, Active City Stop will operate the brakes automatically under a speed limit of 10 mph, and the Active Grille Shutter cuts the car’s emissions by two per cent by closing the radiator grill at certain times to reduce drag and increase full economy.

We were blown away by the new Focus, it’s without a doubt Ford’s finest C class car, we are concerned how long all this tech will last after 5-10years of hard driving, but this is something that can’t be tested after a few hours of driving. Only time will tell, it’s without a doubt the safest car we’ve ever driven, and with all this tech your likely to see a decent resale value, which is a major plus. It would seem that Volkswagen and its Golf range finally has something to be worried about, Expect to see the new Focus on forecourts in May.

Pioneer’s new MVH-7300 and MVH-8300 BT join app bandwagon

Pioneer has jumped on the App bandwagon with a pair of state of the art in-car digital media receivers that make in car movie watching a breeze. The MVH- 7300 and MVH- 8300 BT have been designed to combine the best of today’s new technology by offering dedicated support for iPhone, iPod, USB and SD media. The 3 inch TFT colour screens provide album artwork, video and a fully customised display to match your dash, whilst Pioneer’s highly rated seven-way rotary commander will let you get to where you want to get to in a flash.

Pioneer-EW5

Both units offer MP3, WMA and iTunes AAC music, whilst the MVH-7300 will play back DivX video from a 32GB SDHC card and via the front loading USB slot.

A new App mode will let you experience music and video from iPhone apps such as games, video and internet radio, providing your Apps support analogue audio and video output.

There’s more good news too, because Pioneer has also included an 8 band graphic equalizer and an advanced sound retriever with pre-amp outputs for front, rear and subwoofer to really squeeze the best out of your compressed digital library.

Both units offer exactly the same specs, but the MVH 8300 BT has an additional integrated Parrot Bluetooth module for hands freedom communications using the included external microphone and your cars own speakers.

Both units will available from February 2011

By Andy Mossack

Ford Focus Electric at CES 2011

It seems Ford is turning greener by the second. Not only has it announced that its first ever zero emission all electric passenger car will be available in Europe and the US by 2013, but it will be produced for the US market at its Michigan plant, itself part powered using one of the largest solar energy generators in the western world.

Ford-Focus-Electric

This is all good news of course. Even better news for those critics of electric power, is that this new car will have a top speed of 84 mph and countering one of the biggest drawbacks on electric vehicles – the 10 hour charge – a much reduced charging time of around 3-4 hours.

Until battery technology improves, extending the range between charges (it’s currently around 130 miles) interest in electric cars will remain with technology enthusiasts and conservationists. There is however a marked improvement in the number of UK public charging points (which can cost around £120 for annual use, although some boroughs offer them free), so, long distance driving is certainly becoming a reality.

The stylish 5 door hatchback Focus Electric we are assured, will ‘lose none of the dynamics and quality of driving a fuel driven car’  and it will contain one or two very clever tricks too, including off board remote access via Ford’s mobile app. So, you can check on your car’s charging status while making a cup of tea, pre set air conditioning so the car is nice and cool in summer when you first get in and snug and warm in winter and even remotely start the car and unlock the doors. The 15 spoke 17 inch alloys and nine speaker satellite radio and voice activated navigation system will appease those who pour scorn on EV’s as being dull and unstylish.

Another menace of electric cars is the loss of battery life in extreme weather conditions. This too had been addressed, with an active liquid cooling system that regulates the battery temperature, so on hot days the battery is cooled and warmed on cold days. The result is a much more consistent charge life which will make it a lot easier to drive between charging points. You also get some lovely electronic blue butterflies in your cluster display to represent your surplus range, so the more butterflies there are, the greater the range you have left. Combine these lovely creatures with the My Touch navigation system where you will be told where the nearest charging station is on your route and your bases are pretty much all covered.

So hopefully, no more electric driving at 10 miles an hour with the heater and radio turned off in order to reach your next charging point then. We live in hope.

By Andy Mossack

Pioneer CD Tuner DEH-9300SD

When bad really means good and dope means cool, it’s no surprise that we seem to have adapted to using things that are labelled for one thing but do something entirely different. It’s a funny thing this world we live in. Pioneer, no slouch when it comes to innovation, has launched a flagship version of its new in car CD tuner, the DEH-9300SD and positively revels in telling us about all the other things this CD tuner does other than playing CDs.

Pioneer-CD

There’s an SD card port (which is also SDHC compatible) discreetly hidden behind the front panel which will play a host of file formats including WAV, WMA, AAC and of course MP3, a front loading USB input which will, once it is connected via an optional CD-IW cable, play your iPod/iPhone music and charge it at the same time. Marvellous.

And the good stuff just keeps on coming. The DEH-9300SD’s built in software has a music browser function which will automatically read the music from all the connected media and list it alphabetically by artist, album, track or genre. Not only that, it will also let you tag music on your iPod or iPhone as you listen to FM, so you can buy your tagged tune and download it when you’re next online. To take this cutting edge technology even further, you can use the ‘App’ mode to listen to sounds and music from your apps including internet radio, as long as the app supports analogue radio output.

The DEH-9300SD with its built in MOSFET 50×4 amp, 5 band graphic equalizer and full dot OEL display is a generous piece of kit for any car audio devotee, but what of the humble CD? Fear not, for buried deep in the bowels of the DEH-9300SD, behind the flip-open front panel (so no one will spot you being so retro), the CD slot lies waiting for its disc. Sadly, I fear it is for a long wait.

The DEH-9300SD and the smaller DEH-8300SD are available from January at Pioneer Car Audio Dealerships.

Jabra’s CRUISER2 in-car speakerphone

Holding a mobile in one hand and the steering wheel in another is a definite no-no for obvious reasons. Whilst contemporary society has become so au fait with being ‘connected and contactable’, whist on the go, innovative ‘hands-free’ mobile devices are almost an obligatory requirement of modern living. Recognising the demand for safer forms of conversation whilst driving, Jabra – a world leader in innovative hands-free solutions – has launched the CRUISER2 in-car speakerphone.

Jabra-Cruiser

Following from the success of the critically acclaimed CRUISER, the CRUISER2 boasts similar features as it predecessor and more besides. The essence of the CRUISER2 is to allow drivers to remain compliant with hands-free driving regulations. By including a caller ID, which alerts users of who is making contact, enables drivers to choose to answer or ignore a phone call at their leisure.

Voice guidance talks users through the initial set-up, whilst informing them when the battery is low and connectivity status. Although before you start to worry than a highly annoying robotic-toned voice will interrupt your journey every 20 minutes, the CRUISER2 offers a relatively lengthy 14 hours talk time and up to 20 days of standby time.

It is extremely rare nowadays that any new gadget is made unilateral of other uses other than its primary function, and the CRUISER2 certainly excels as being a multi-functioning in-car speaker phone. Incorporating an FM transmitter, users can transmit MP3 music from a mobile to the CRUISER2 and blast the tunes out on the car’s stereo system. Whilst its Multiuse technology enables users to simultaneously connect up to two Bluetooth gadgets to the CRUISER2 and switch between users to their heart’s content.

For superb sound quality the speakerphone contains Noise Blackout technology, which, by using tactically positioned microphones, distinguishes between caller’s voices and ambient sound, blacking-out exterior sound without compromising voice quality.

The Jabra CRUISER2 is priced at £99 and is now available from all of the major online and retail stores. Comprising safety for the sake of not pulling over to answer a phone call is now an infliction of the past, as driver’s can now cruise along safe in the knowledge they have the CRUISE2 in tow.

Parrot MINIKIT Smart: Making smartphones even smarter

Parrot, a leading company of wireless peripherals for mobile phones, has announced its latest creative product to hit the market, the MINIKIT Smart. The MINIKIT Smart is the first Bluetooth hands-free, multifunctional kit with docking bay, which is compatible with all Smartphones and operating systems.

Parrot-Minikit

This innovative creation may prove to be particularly advantageous to men, who, being notoriously bad at multitasking will wholly benefit from the multifunctional capabilities of the MINIKIT Smart, which can simultaneously manage hands-free conversation and the navigation apps available on Smartphones. Although on the other hand men may argue that their ‘no sense of direction’ other half, will now not have an excuse about losing their way because they were chatting to their friends, as both telephone conversations and GPS guidance will go through the 2Watt speaker integrated in the MINIKIT Smart.

Smartphone’s batteries running out of life, particularly on long journeys, will also no longer be an excuse for ending up in Edinburgh instead of Ealing, Tewkesbury instead of Tunbridge Wells, and not answering the phone to the missus’ endless bombardment of ‘where the hell are you’ calls. As thanks to a USB cable being included with the MINIKIT Smart, this smart device can also recharge Smartphone’s batteries.

The MINIKIT Smart can be positioned easily and quickly with a suction cup that swivels from either portrait or landscape maximizing its visibility to the driver. The docking bay can be positioned with similar ease with a magnet.

Earlier this year Parrot launched the MINIKIT Slim, a portable Bluetooth hands-free car kit, which has been commended for its neatness, precision and capabilities. With today’s busy lifestyles, in which time is of the essence, multi-functioning gadgets are now becoming imperative as opposed to solely superfluous. In this sense, when Parrot’s MINIKIT Smart hits the market in November, it is likely to be met with the same, and if not more, admiration and praise as the MINIKIT Slim.

TWIG: Sony s750 WALKMAN and Theory Test iPhone app

The Week in Gadgets

As ever, it was a busy week in the gadget world with the quietly brilliant team at HTC unleashing a slew of new European handsets at a London launch. Meanwhile, over at Nokia World the Finnish giant outlined its vision of the mobile telecommunications based future, with a number of new low- mid- and high-end handsets. We’ll be looking at both the Nokia and HTC releases in detail over the next week.

Twitter gave itself a brisk birdbath and launched a shiny new version of its web interface, modelled very much on the recent proliferation of desktop and phone-based apps – in particular the excellent Twitter for iPad app. Whilst the old Twitter interface was a curiously downbeat and simple affair, the new Twitter has a swanky 2 column layout and has much better photo, link and video sharing options built in. They’ve also attempted to shift the focus of the site to consumption – it’s a fantastic resource for people into news, music, film or comedy to dip into for real time content and the new layout emphasises this, reducing some of the pressure for you to “join in” as it were.

Sony-s750-WALKMAN

Hot on the heels of Apple’s revamp of its iPod range, Sony have released the s750 WALKMAN. Ultra thin – 7.2 mm to be exact, the s750 manages to squeeze a Digital Noise Cancelling system into the aluminium body. They claim this can cancel up to 98% of background noise and coupled with other Clear Audio technologies, should provide a decent listening experience. DRM-free music and video can be transferred via drag-and-drop and there is also some DoubleTwist-esque software that converts your DIVX and AVCHD files into s750-compatible files. Handy if you miss the video playback stripped from the new iPod nanos. With 50 hours of music playback or 10 hours of video, a built in karaoke mode, a lyrics app and something that automatically generates mood-based playlists, the s750 should be worth checking out when it lands in October.

The-Theory-Test

If you’re learning to drive, you should probably take a gander at the new, feature-packed Theory Test iPhone app from the people behind LowPriceLessons.com. Using geolocation software, the app finds Approved Driving Instructors near you, shows you prices and reviews from other users and allows you to call them, direct from the app. As the name suggests, it also comes with Theory and Hazard Perception tests and even includes a multiplayer-social element where you can compete with friends. Not bad for £1.19 – especially when rival apps such as the £1.79 AA Theory Test application simply have theory tests and lack the instructor booking, multiplayer elements or Hazard Perception tests. Out now in the App store.