SuperTooth HD Voice: Hands on the Wheel

SuperTooth-HD-Voice

On December 3, 2003, the UK government made it a criminal offence for motorists to drive a car whilst talking on a mobile phone. Since then no company has really come up with an inexpensive after-market solution that allows drivers to safely talk on their phone whilst driving.

At the moment almost all-new cars sold in the UK come with a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, but what about those of us who don’t have Bluetooth? Well SuperTooth, a leading manufacturer of portable audio accessories, believes their recently released HD-Voice Bluetooth hands-free system could be the ideal solution for drivers who want to add the Bluetooth connectivity to their cars, but don’t want to spend several hundred pounds.

SuperTooth’s HD-Voice is a small, inexpensive device that clips on to a car’s sun visor, once it’s securely in place you simply pair the device to your phone and bingo, you’ve got a fully functional voice-controlled hands-free kit.

A spokesperson from SuperTooth reckons that the call quality on the HD-Voice is so good, that many drivers will end up choosing their system over a car’s native hands-free phone system.

A bold claim, but under closer inspection they might actually have a point. The HD Voice comes with two built-in speakers, two microphones and clever voice recognition software. This means the system can pick up simple voice commands really well, especially impressive when it’s fighting against the noise of the engine or road.

SuperTooth-HD-solo

Once the driver has gone through the simple pairing procedure the system is ready to. When an incoming call comes through you simply says “OK” to start the call. The HD-VOICE also indicates the battery level of the device, the bluetooth connection status, and can even announce GPS instructions direct from your smartphone.

One of the reasons why the system is so robust is it comes equipped with voice recognition software which means a driver never actually needs take their hands off the wheel, which can’t be said of some systems, as they usually require a couple of button presses on the dashboard or on the steering wheel to answer or make a calls.

The HD-VOICE is compatible with all mobile phones and smartphones boasting Bluetooth technology. And there’s no need for a lengthy or complicated installations as once it is clipped to the sun visor it is pretty much ready to go.

The battery life is rated by SuperTooth at an impressive 20 hours talk time and 1,000 hours standby, so it can easily sit in a car for a long periods of time without the need of a recharge. To recharge the device it uses a simple USB charging cable, and it can also be plugged into a car’s 12-volt power point with the use of an adapter.

The HD-Voice also supports A2DP audio streaming over Bluetooth, which means it can play music in stereo over the devices’ two speakers. A nice touch, but in reality music playback isn’t its strongest suit especially compared to a car’s built-in audio system, and you can’t actually route the audio back through your car’s system via an audio-out, which is a bit disappointing.

The HD-Voice is capable of recognising 12 languages including – British English, American English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Polish.

For more info head to SuperTooth.

A2B Launch 6 New eBikes: “A Journey Redefined”

A2B-ebikes

I’m an avid cyclist. It’s my favourite way to traverse the capital and I can often been seen zipping in and out between cars, on a fixie, with a courier bag, braving the British winter with just a Rapha softshell jacket. I don’t wear one of those little cycling caps but that’s only because I have too much hair. So I was pleased when Hero Eco and A2B invited me down to the National Gallery to unveil their latest and greatest in ebiking technology.

I’ve always found eBikes to be curious beasts. When I first laid eyes on them they were slow, unwieldy and ugly. They also seemed a little pointless – why not just get a scooter? And maybe I’m masochistic but half the pleasure of cycling was the sense of independence and achievement. But the folks at A2B were keen to point out the many benefits of the ebiking lifestyle for everyone who wasn’t a hardcore cyclist. I love riding to work but I’m less keen on turning up to the office a sweaty mess, then having to dive into the shower and change clothes every day. And after a long day of staring at iPhone cases, and then a longer night at a press event staring at Bluetooth speakers it would be nice to cruise home with a bit of added support. And there have been many occasions when I’ve ridden back laden with shopping bags, or over a particularly steep set of hills and wish I’d been a little less stubborn.

A2B-bike-launch

Of course what also makes ebike easier to swallow is when they look and feel great. A2B unveiled 6 models for the UK market – Shima, Galvani, Ferber, Entz , Ørsted and Obree. Some of these really whizz along – the Shima can reach 28 mph which is pretty much as fast as you need to go for inner city transport. Some of the models look a little bit like funky bikes from the future but some look very conventional and reassuring – the Ferber or Galvani could quite easily pass for regular bikes. And the Ørsted and Obree have front suspension and much more of a hardcore mountain bike feel. One of the standout features for me was Entz, the first ebike in the world to incorporate AEG-Centredrive – which fits a drive motor the size of the front chain wheel by the cranks.

“We are seeing a rising appetite for high quality design and good performance e-bikes in theUK market, as consumers are increasingly looking towards pedal assist bikes to complement their journeys around town.”

Fernando Küefer Hero Eco, General Manager

I spent quite a bit of time riding the Obree. It works using pedal assist rather than a throttle (so it feels more like a bicycle than a moped) and is shockingly light to ride. I even managed to pop a wheelie along the South Bank. Whilst riding, it is pretty easy to hit high speeds without even thinking about it, but at the same time you are definitely cycling. You just get the illusion that you are great of cycling without taking into account all the amazing technology that is helping you cheat passed everyone else. I imagine this is what Lance Armstrong felt like. You can toggle the level of assistance and you can even set it in the other direction for some quite heavy levels of resistance. Not only does this give your thighs a pretty spectacular workout, it also helps charge your battery (which you can also remove and charge at your desk).

Shima (£2,450 – Spring 2013)
Galvani – Male and Female (£1,450 – Spring 2013)
Ferber (£1400 – Spring 2013)
Entz (from £2699 – Autumn 2013)
Ørsted (£1899 – Autumn 2013)
Obree (£2199 – Autumn 2013)

For more information on the range head to A2B

Image courtesy of Twitter user @each1teach1

Geneva Motorshow: Best In-Car Entertainment Systems

MWC-Spotify

It’s the Geneva Motorshow this week and rather than bore you with power-to-weight ratios and torque figures of the new cars, we thought we’d round up some of the best in-car entertainment systems that are on show this week. We’ve got cloud streaming from Ford, iPad Minis in Ferraris, and the world’s most over engineered soundsystem in the all-new Rolls-Royce Wraith.

Ford SYNC AppLink

Ford’s SYNC AppLink is the American motor manufacturer’s new futuristic in-car entertainment system, and this week they announced it is making its way to Europe, with 3.5 million Fords expected to get the system by 2015.

Ford announced that their EcoSport compact SUV will be among the first Ford vehicles in Europe to offer their clever SYNC AppLink technology, which sees the car manufacturer partnering up music streaming service Spotify.

Basically Ford, and almost every other car manufacture, is betting that when 4G becomes widely adopted motorist’s will want to use their phone’s mobile broadband to stream music, radio, podcast, and maybe even one day: TV and film.

The Ford SYNC AppLink integration of Spotify is the first proper collaboration with an automotive manufacturer, and will see all future Fords streaming music via the Swedish music streaming service.

By leveraging a smartphone’s capacity to receive a high-speed internet, Ford drivers will be able to control Spotify via either voice-control or physical controls which are located on the steering wheel.

In addition, Ford announced partnerships with Kaliki, Glympse, and Aha who will offer various content services to Ford drivers in Europe.
Kaliki Audio Newsstand provides audible playback of newspaper and magazine articles with radio-talent voices. They’re expanding into European languages with content from news sources like Agence France-Presse and entertainment titles such as: Public and Première.

Glympse will allow Ford drivers to share their location and estimated time of arrival with friends and family, all in real-time on a dynamic map, directly from their vehicle using simple voice commands.

Finally, Aha will deliver more than 30,000 stations of audio entertainment and information to the car, allowing drivers to safely access web-based music, news, their Facebook and Twitter feeds, personalised restaurant recommendations, hotels, weather reports and much more.

LaFerrari

Ferrari

Ferrari wowed the world with their new LaFerrari (yes, the name is terrible, but just look at it). It’s the Italian’s new 6.3 litre V12, 950 horsepower supercar (sorry, but 950 is just too bigger a number not mention). As well as the car the Italian sports car maker announced that they’ve teamed up with the Ferrari of the tech world: Apple, to bring their products to a range of sports cars.

Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo said the company is now “in talks with Apple about broadening a partnership on in-car entertainment.” Whilst that might not sound too concrete just yet, Ferrari also confirmed that its new four seater FF coupe will come with iPad minis for backseat passengers, so they can presumably play Angry Birds whilst traveling sideways in a plume of burning rubber.

Rollys-Royce-Wraith

Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce unveiled a brand-new car at the Geneva Motorshow. The Wraith is Rolls’ answer to the Bentley Continental GT. Priced at a sensible £200,000 the credit crunch Rolls is obviously very fast, but we quite like the sound of it’s incredibly over engineered sound system, and something Rolls is calling “the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller”.
Audio experts in stereo and multi-channel audio have specially optimised the bespoke audio system. So – naturally – this means you can enjoy the Dark Knight in 18.1, or you could listen to the Arches in a way you’ve never experienced before.

As well as the usual stuff, the Wraith houses a couple hundred gigs worth of storage for music. Passengers, or the driver, can make music searches via what Rolls is calling “the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller” (you just can’t make this stuff up) where you can search by artists, album, genre, or use the car’s in-built recommendation engine.

But it’s the sound quality itself that places the Rolls-Royce Wraith at the pinnacle of in-car audio. The fully active 18-channel amplifier delivers surround sound through 18 speakers, including two bass speakers in the boot, seven tweeters, seven mid-range and two “exciter” speakers.

Overall the Wraith is chucking out 1,300 watts. But that’s not all: Rolls has included a microphone that measures the ambient exterior noise, then with a digital processing unit uses the information to adjust volume and tone settings, ensuring the system is always perfectly set-up.

Then there’s a system called DIRAC that uses frequency and phase correction for individual speakers to eliminate dead spots caused by reflections from the windows.

Accel’s Voyager: Connected Car Smartphone Technology

Voyager

Considering integrated GPS and mobile telephony has been around for many years now, we all have something we use in our cars for hands free communications or navigation, via either Bluetooth connectivity or built right into the car’s console display system. Either way, the technology is no stranger.

However, in many cases getting an all singing and dancing console system is only available in top of the range models, so perhaps something which offers an alternative but with the added benefit of WiFi might well be a very handy device indeed.

Voyager from Israeli based telecommunications company Accel may well be the answer. It is a stand alone connected car smartphone which can be easily installed in any car and operates using an existing phone number via a twin-SIM.

The Android software works with an HSUPA Qualcomm module to deliver Waze navigation, an innovative social media based GPS system offering turn by turn directions garnered from community data, an in-car 3G WiFi Hotspot connection, voice activated dialling and even on board engine diagnostics via Bluetooth or RS232. Google and Exchange are already built in to the software and accessed via the hard keys on the device.

“Our user-friendly, cost effective and secure Carfone devices have seen substantial market success. We expect strong demand for the new generation VOYAGER Connected Car Smartphone device in both European and US markets in line with recent industry reports and our own research with industry influencers.”

Marc Seelenfreund, CEO Accel

Voyager is poised to enter the European market but prices are yet to be finalised.

Magellan SmartGPS: Map to the future

There’s GPS and then there’s GPS. And then passed that and at the next right is Megellan SmartGPS, a device that integrates social, local and mobile content, including Yelp and Foursquare, through Magellan’s cloud-enabled Smart Ecosystem.

Smart-GPS

The Magellan SmartGPS is the first navigation device to wirelessly sync your navigation data, (favourite places, contacts), with smartphones or regular computers, and to intelligently deliver stored and dynamic location-based information to the GPS display that is personalised to the driver’s locale.

“Magellan pioneered the GPS navigation industry, and in today’s socially-driven world, we recognise that consumers want and need a much more comprehensive navigation solution that surpasses what traditional GPS devices and smartphones can offer.”

Peggy Fong, President of MiTAC Digital Corporation.

The SmartGPS does this via its contact with with Magellan’s custom-built Smart Ecosystem, an extensive cloud-based database of constantly-updating, location-relevant social media and navigation content automatically pushed to the SmartGPS display.

There’s obviously core navigation features and on-board maps but everyone has those these days – even my phone. The SmartGPS goes one up with valuable, timely information so you can discover places and services around you at the right place and right time. The screen can simultaneously display maps, navigatation, and reviews, tips and offers from Yelp and Foursquare for nearby restaurants, stores and services.

The display works off a series of location-relevant information “squares” that are displayed on the SmartGPS screen and graphically flip between service establishments in the vicinity. Tapping on a square displays detail info including the address, phone and any available special offers or consumer reviews, plus an icon to navigate to their selected destination. In addition, the SmartGPS delivers current gas prices in the vicinity, weather, traffic events and speed camera warnings.

A smartphone Bluetooth connection can also be used to update the SmartGPS information squares with the freshest, dynamic content as the SmartGPS pairs with your phone automatically when you enter the car. You can use this connection for an “always on” connection and to place hands free calls through the SmartGPS.

The Magellan SmartGPS is also compatible with Magellan’s award-winning Wireless Back-up Camera ($149.99 MSRP). When the vehicle is in reverse-mode, the SmartGPS will automatically switch from navigation mode to become a rear-view monitor.

Sadly the Magellan SmartGPS is US only for the moment and will be yours (or theirs) for $249.99 from Spring 2013.

Road test: TomTom Via 135 voice controlled sat-nav

After years of being told what to do by our sat-navs, it’s time to talk back. The new TomTom Via 135 comes with ‘Speak & Go’ functionality. This enables you to control the device with your voice and also the ability for hands-free calling via a Bluetooth connected phone. The Speak & Go system is capable of recognising over 1,000 commands and their synonyms, which means (in theory) that you can give it commands and addresses without having to talk like a robot.

We took the Via 135, which has a 5″ screen compared to the otherwise identical 4.3″ Via 130, out for some road tests. Sat on the driveway, with the radio off and the windows closed, we were immediately impressed by the device’s ability to correctly establish our sometimes garbled addresses. If the Via isn’t sure of an address, it gives you a list of close matches and you simply say the number (1, 2, 3 etc.) corresponding to the right one.

Once you’ve confirmed the correct address, the Via then reverts back to the tried and tested TomTom functionality – i.e. beautifully designed maps and well timed instructions. These new Via devices also come with free access to daily map changes from the TomTom community, which includes information on road changes, road closures and temporary speed limits.

Our main gripe at this stage is that you can’t leave the route overview screen and start the turn by turn navigation without pressing the ‘Done’ button – surely this should also be voice controlled. Likewise, if you change your mind, then you also have to physically press the “change route” button rather than simply say it out loud.

Having started towards our test address, we then decided to make a diversion. To re-enable voice control you have to press the relatively small microphone button on the screen. This then presented another problem: the sat-nav continues to give turn by turn instructions at the same time you’re attempting to say a new address. This caused confusion for both the driver and for the timing of the Via’s voice prompts.

For the next test, we tried saying a postcode. It’s at this point we discovered, frustratingly, that Speak & Go doesn’t support postcodes. In response, TomTom have told us they are aware of this [lack of postcode recognition] and are looking to add it to the functionality in due course.

The Via performed well at understanding addresses read out by our passenger which we felt was a useful capability. It also handled, i.e. ignored, a small amount of background noise. The same can’t be said when we opened the windows. Even at a relatively low speed, 20-30mph, it appeared that the wind noise was enough to prevent the Via from hearing our instructions. We encountered this problem regardless of whether the device was mounted to the left or right of the steering wheel.

With the smartphone becoming ever more central in our lives and with a slew of good sat-nav apps (including TomTom’s highly rated one), we can understand the need to try and come up with something ‘new’ to entice people back towards standalone devices. However, with a lack of postcode support, non-complete voice control (it doesn’t allow for ‘change route’ or ‘done’) and patchy voice recognition when outside noise is introduced, we’re not sure the Via 135 (RRP £149) is going to be the device that will reverse this trend.

For further info on the TomTom Via 130/135 head to www.tomtom.com

Mio Spirit 695 LM and 697LM: Free map upgrades for life

There’s no getting around the fact that Navman and Tom Tom have dominated the satellite navigation market for some time now, mainly because they have consistently managed to improve their product offerings, a strategy that has left them with an even firmer grip. This is key in a market like this, where we continually demand more from these little boxes of tricks and in many cases have come to depend on them.

Mio-Spirit

Mio has made a name for itself primarily with bikers, where its Cyclo range has become almost legendary. Someone at Mio has clearly decided there is ample opportunity within the in car sat nav market for an alternative product that can compete not just on price but also in areas where the big boys have perhaps missed a trick.

The Mio Spirit 697 and Mio 695LM cover both of these bases with a promise of free map upgrades four times a year for the life of the unit and some novel new features which include an option to find your car when you’ve forgotten where you left it, (how many times does that happen in the car park at Asda) as well as an expanded route choice  that adds ‘easiest’ or ‘most economical’ to the usual duo of ‘quickest’ and ‘shortest’.

The 5 inch colour screen 695 together with its higher end 697 stable mate, which also includes hands free Bluetooth and voice activated  input also contain other useful features, including IQ Routes (additional data from other drivers)  LearnMe Pro (where your short cuts will be remembered for next time), Lane Guidance, Parking Assistance and a very useful Pedestrian Mode.

Spirit 697 LM: £169.99  Spirit 695 LM: £119.99

Mio also has a range of entry level products which have also had a makeover and a software upgrade; the Mio Moov 410, 413 LM, 610 and 613 LM.from £69.99 to £99.99.

www.mio.com

Auto Trader Goodwood Festival of Speed app

Auto Trader invited us to have a play with their new Festival of Speed app and have a general chat about the world of app development.

Auto-Trader

The first ever official Goodwood Festival of Speed mobile app is a free-to-download app and is the UK’s first augmented reality racing game. If you’re familiar with area you’ll recognise the iconic Goodwood hill climb. The app is also a good example of event driven app design and is a great way to enjoy the festival (if you’re actually going to the festival you can win an Alfa Romeo MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde at the Auto Trader stand).

We had a quick play of the game (which incidentally I am *terrible* at) and were impressed by the app design. You place the camera over an image of the track and it becomes a 3D race course. Whilst the game play is fairly simply, the augmented implementation is pretty impressive and it’s quite handy to be able physically move youself when trying to negotiate a corner.

But the app is not all fun and games and also guides visitors around the Goodwood Festival of Speed, taking place 28th June to 1st July 2012, with the latest information on timetables and events. I have have zero interest in cars but am fascinated by good app design and the event planning functions of the app are really smooth, with maps, reminders and information layed out in an incredibly smooth manner that I’d like to see employed on all all festival apps.

“As well as the stand at the show, we developed the app to ensure visitors had an interactive experience of the show as well as some fun with the augmented reality racing game which is also great to play with a couple of friends.” Jonathan Williams, Consumer Marketing Director at Trader Media Group

The official Goodwood Festival of Speed iPhone app from Auto Trader is available to download for free from the Apple App Store.