$9.99 cell phone headset sounds like a bargain

As Seen On TV

Tribune Media Services

May 30, 2004|By Matthew Kauffman

I'm on my third cell phone headset in what has become a frustrating hunt for a decent method of bridging the short distance from my phone to my ear while keeping my hands on the steering wheel.

My first try was a free-after-rebate deal with crummy wiring that made every third word drop out. It was like listening to a 50-cent song on Radio Disney.

Next, I tried an in-the-ear model that was more an in-the-ear-until-it-fell-out model. Then on to a fancy name-brand headset that, despite its $40 price tag, does only a mediocre job.

The Celltek

Surely there's a better way, I thought, as I hooked up the surprisingly affordable Celltek Hands-Free Universal Cell Phone Holder & Speaker.

And indeed there may be. But this isn't it.

In truth, for a mere $9.99 I wasn't expecting much from the Celltek, and the product performed better than I would have guessed.

But the sound quality for the unlucky person on the other end of the line is poor enough that I can't see myself regularly using it for two-way conversation.

The Celltek is made by a company called Emson, and from the looks of it, you'd swear it hired Rube Goldberg to consult on the design.

How to hook up

You begin the hookup by attaching the cell phone cradle to one of your car's air vents, using plastic arms that stick right through the slats.

The closer to you, the better - but attach it to the most obvious choice and you're likely to block your radio or clock, or perhaps the button for your emergency flashers.

Next, a speaker the size of a small walkie-talkie is plugged into the cigarette lighter to power the system.

Connected by wire to the speaker is a tiny microphone inside a small suction cup. The cup is attached to a spring-loaded clip that is placed over the earpiece of the cell phone to capture the voice on the other end and send it to the speaker.

On the same spring-loaded clip, an exposed microphone picks up your voice and sends it to the phone.

Sound isn't bad

You'd swear it's tin-can-and-string technology, but the sound coming out of the speaker is actually pretty good, if occasionally too soft.

And from the driver's seat, the Celltek has some nice additional features as well. Because the somewhat ungainly speaker takes over your cigarette lighter, there's an extra 12-volt input attached to the speaker.

They've also thrown in a small earphone if you don't want your passengers hearing the other end of the call.

Still, this isn't cell phone heaven.

The package promises that the Celltek "works with all makes and models of cellular phones." But I notice in the fine print that the package has a 2000 copyright - long before flip phones became the most popular cell style.

When I tried to wedge my flip phone into the cradle, it invariably pressed a side button on the phone that turns off the ringer, which kind of defeats the purpose. I was able to jury-rig the cradle so it holds the phone and misses the side buttons, but I sense that the next good pothole I hit is going to send the phone hurtling to the floor.

Hey, but it's all about the sound, right?

The instructions, which you can't read until after you've destroyed the plastic packaging, nonchalantly note that "the person you are calling will hear you slightly lower than if you were talking directly into your cell phone. This is nomal."

Misspelling aside, it may be normal, but that doesn't inspire confidence.

The wife test

So I called my wife to test some two-way conversation.

"I sound like I'm in an echo chamber," she said.

She was right. I reversed roles and found that not only does the car occupant have that "Grand Canyon" sound common to speakerphones, but my voice also echoed a tinny reverberation that was bothersome.

The Celltek hasn't ended my headset hunt, but it isn't in the garbage, either, because I've found one convenient use.

I check my voice mail every morning while driving to work, and with my password programmed into the phone, I can hit one button and drive safely while my messages are broadcast from the speaker.

It's no panacea, but for $9.99, using the Celltek for one-way voice mail checks has become part of my morning routine, and I suspect it will stay that way.

At least until I hit that big pothole.

Matthew Kauffman is a columnist for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail him at yourmoney@tribune.com. For a detailed review of the Celltek and other products, log onto www.ctnow.com/ontv.

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