Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Merry Motoring

Happy New Gear for the auto buff

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iHawk tracks performance

While most people take a carmaker's word for it when it comes to acceleration time, a product such as Superchips' new iHawk vehicle diagnostics system relies upon a certain segment of drivers who need to see for themselves just how good their car really is.

This product features a LINQ module with an accompanying iPhone app. It requires no tools and plugs into the car's OBD-II diagnostic port, where it measures and wirelessly transmits a host of car-related data such as vehicle acceleration corrected for atmospheric conditions (which are downloaded from the web), real-time dashboard and data-logging records and diagnostic trouble codes with the ability to reset them.

Information can be viewed on an iPhone and lets users share their ongoing results and findings via email and on Facebook. $190; visit

Film Ronin chase scenes

The GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition is a miniature HD video camera with a waterproof housing that can be mounted to the top, side or bottom of a car. It weights less than a pound and lets drivers record their commute in high definition video, sound and photos. A soon-to-be-released iOS app will wirelessly control the unit. $400; visit

Roadside assistant

SpareOne is a backup mobile phone that can manage a 15-year charge from one AA battery. The phone is intended to be there when people need to make an emergency call but discover their regular cellphone is out of juice.

The SpareOne has a SIM card slot, so users merely take the card out of their dead phone and insert it into the SpareOne. Slim and lightweight, the phone can access 911 services even if a SIM card is not inserted.

A 2013 Consumer Electronics Show Innovations Award winner. $100; visit

Summit has juice to spare

Another mobile emergency option is the myCharge Summit 3000, a rechargeable battery pack that holds enough juice to charge a smartphone twice. Its 3000 mAh battery capacity is able to power up to 335 hours of phone time, including 13 hours of talk, 67 hours of music, 15 hours of wi-fi power and/or 17 hours of video.

The product features built-in Apple and Micro-USB connectors, as well as a USB port and charging cable, which powers up most devices. A fold-out wall prong is used to recharge the Summit when indoors. What it doesn't have is an iPhone 5 lightning adapter port, meaning Apple users will have to carry an extra cord around until myCharge and other manufacturers adapt. $80; visit

MIXTRAX picks your happy song

Pioneer Electronics' new AVH-5500BHS audio unit features a seven-inch motorized touchscreen, built-in Bluetooth for hands-free dialing, a revamped user interface to reduce complicated menu trees and an 8-band graphic equalizer with Pioneer's Advanced Sound Retriever and Sonic Centre Control for greater audio fidelity.

Our favourite feature is MIXTRAX, which lets users configure an in-car playlist from their personal computer and then develops new playlists based upon track mood, beat and rhythm. MIXTRAX is able to decide which songs belong in a happy playlist and which songs belong in a sad playlist, leading to countless hours of fun as you try to predict in which camp MIXTRAX will place deceptively upbeat but sad songs such as Mamma Mia, Hey Ya and Bohemian Rhapsody. $600; visit

A cushion for those expecting

The Owie Pillow is designed to help pregnant women feel more comfortable while strapped into the car seat belt. A recent recipient of the Parent Tested Parent Approved Seal of Approval, the Owie Pillow is designed to be placed between the abdomen and the seat belt and provides more comfort and space for soon-to-be-moms' expanding bellies.

The pillow attaches to the waist belt so that it's firmly but comfortably installed and will not slide around during the commute. It can also serve as an in-car comfort aid for people who have hernias, appendix pain, gallbladder troubles and anyone who finds the seat belt uncomfortable when tightly affixed to the tummy. $35; visit

Tablet meets car stereo

Audio video manufacturer Soundstream has taken a unique direction with its new VR-931NB single-DIN multimedia source unit with detachable 9.3-inch LCD touchscreen. The key word is "detachable" and we don't mean for the purposes of hiding the screen for security purposes when you are away from the car.

The VR-931NB is a completely detachable multimedia unit that operates as a standalone tablet when detached from the vehicle dash. It features Bluetooth capable of streaming calls and music from Bluetooth-enabled devices, a 2.0 USB port and SD card reader so that flash devices and cards can be attached for portable playback of digital files. It's also expandable with a GPS module and digital TV tuner and even offers a sold-separately stand for home use. Admittedly, the specs are not overwhelming, with just 800-x-480 screen resolution and software that's not connected to a high-profile operating system. But this is the first car stereo built entirely around a portable tablet. $300; visit

Scosche steps up

The new SCDBTA60 car stereo by Scosche features Bluetooth capability, 40 watts output per audio channel, an auxiliary port and a USB adapter.

It's a solid if unspectacular first effort from the perspective of core features, but the SCDBTA60 does have one killer app -- a free iPhone and Android app called ControlFreq, which lets users stream audio from their smartphone to this receiver, select audio sources and generally control the car stereo from afar. This is a very sweet innovation. $140; visit

Flare for the dramatic

Most people don't keep road flares on hand and live to regret it when they realize how dark it can be after busting a tire in the dead of night on a deserted road.

Aervoe's LED Road Flare Kit is a unique product that provides six emergency flares that produce no flame or smoke and do not need batteries. The flares arrive in a storage case with a wall charger and a car cigarette-lighter adapter. Each flare features nine flashing patterns, including an SOS rescue request in Morse Code.

Available in blue, orange and yellow, the flares also feature magnets that allow them to be affixed to your vehicle. They're also waterproof and capable of submersion up to 10 metres. $280; visit

Quiet the kids

With everybody and their uncle making tablets, surely the good people at Toys 'R' Us should know better than to enter the most oversupplied category in the consumer electronics field.

But the company's new Tabeo Android-based tablet has an interesting twist, focusing specifically on pacifying frenetic back-seat children with a tablet that's chock full of kid-friendly games. The seven-inch device arrives preloaded with 50 apps, including child-favourite Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, and more apps can be accessed online.

The tech specs include a single-core one-GHz processor with an 800x480 touchscreen, four gigabytes of storage that's expandable up to 32 gigabytes, a front-facing camera and HDMI output. The specs are not industry-leading, and when a product focuses on kids alone, it need not be. But with the price just a shade below more competitive offerings, some might opt to buy an adult-friendlier tablet and just share it with their kids. $150; visit

Store more multimedia

As tablets and smartphones become the primary multimedia hubs in cars, the only limit to drive-time possibilities is the maximum amount of storage space they offer.

Kingston's Wi-Drive wifi-enabled hard drive is a small, portable, flash-based device that expands mobile storage, wirelessly streaming data to any wifi-enabled smartphone or tablet. It allows music and videos to be accessed no matter where you are or how limited your gadget storage might be.

Available in 32- and 64-gigabyte models, the manufacturer has developed smartphone apps to provide direct wireless compatibility. The product also provides access via a web browser. $80; visit

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2012 ??65534

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