Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The 12 Days of ... CAR STUFF

Lots of new toys for your favourite gearhead

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Bluetooth for the old school

GoGroove's FlexSmart X3 Bluetooth FM Transmitter is a tweener product. It's unlikely to appeal to technocrats who feel that FM transmitters are yesterday's technology. And yet the luddites who might have use for this type of device wouldn't know what to make of it.

The FlexSmart X3 is engineered to make Bluetooth wireless phone calls in conjunction with your Bluetooth-capable cellphone, with a built-in FM transmitter designed to route audio to the car stereo's FM band. It has a cool mounting mechanism whereby the cigarette-lighter adapter, which powers the unit, is attached via a flexible coil cable, making it easy to position the device for ideal placement in the car.

The technology includes A2DP capability, which is ideal for both calls and to stream music, and it also features an auxiliary port so that the old-school buyers of this product can kick it even more old-school with a wired connection.

$80; visit gogrooveaudio.com.

Gran Turismo to go

MOBILE games are supposed to be light and simple but nobody seems to have told this to Gameloft, maker of GT Racing 2.

Available for iPhone and Android, GT Racing 2 offers tilt or onscreen steering, features really fabulous graphics, a campaign mode that lets gamers experience 67 licensed cars, and well-employed physics that lets you feel the difference between a Chevy and an Alfa Romeo.

Online multi-player is handled with aplomb as competitor cars can feature a cool, floating personal photo avatar which punctuates the point that you are competing against real people. Unfortunately, the game does employ a "freemium" model where it's free to download and play but car upgrades can take a long time unless you pay real money to speed up the process, which is also very realistic.

ñº $0; visit Apple App Store or Google Play

We carry the Kenwood flag

Kenwood's new DDX790 double-DIN multimedia DVD receiver features a very smooth, very responsive 6.96-inch touchscreen with small buttons at the bottom so that the entire screen is effectively unencumbered. This is great for watching video and using apps, but the small buttons are a bit small for regular use.

It has A2DP Bluetooth to stream calls and music, and the device has rear auxiliary and USB ports for easy connectivity to MP3 players and smartphones. The ability to match the stereo's illumination colour to any vehicle dashboard lighting is great. $500; visit kenwood.com.

Hudway makes you feel like a fighter jet pilot

There's nothing like a heads-up display to bring out your inner Maverick.

Hudway is a free, new app for iPhone, and soon arriving for Android, that runs on your smartphone, which you then place face-up on the dashboard. Via the magic of glass reflectivity, you end up with a heads-up display that looks eerily like those seen in fighter jets and futuristic automobiles in the movies, only it's real-life and, frankly, not as mind-blowing.

But it's cool, and you'll no longer need to look down at your speedometer to see how fast you're going because Hudway lists your speed on the windshield. It also uses the phone's built-in GPS to show upcoming twists and turns on the road so, if visibility is low, Hudway can lead the way.

It's all part of a new wave of augmented-reality apps that are becoming all the rage, their makers betting that some day we'll want to pay for additional cool components that will be layered into these apps. $0; visit hudwayapp.com.

Classic stereo with modern perks

Classic cars are great, but classic-car stereos are not. The traditionalist might argue that nothing should change, and that a true aficionado should appreciate the entire classic vehicle, lack of modern amenities and all. But if you're stuck with radio only, it's easy to grow wistful for the versatility that comes with an auxiliary port and an MP3 player full of tunes.

Retrosound USA offers the best of all worlds with its Retro Classic Radio 2014, which arrives in plenty of different styles to match an array of classic cars. It features the ubiquitous AM/FM tuner with 30 presets, a built-in amplifier delivering 40 watts of power out of four channels, three equalizer pre-sets, a customized bracket system so that it will install smoothly in all classic cars, and a much-needed rear-mounted auxiliary input so that you can connect an MP3 player, satellite receiver, smartphone or anything else that's loaded with digital music.

Admittedly, you'll be giving up the purity of driving a classic car lacking modern convenience, but you'll get past that pretty quickly. $200; visit retrosoundusa.com.

Hide your fuzz buster

Only in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan can drivers use radar detectors, which means only 27 per cent of Canadians can legally employ Cobra's brand-new iRadar S120R Under-The-Hood Radar Detector. That's a real shame, because the product is truly innovative.

This puppy is the latest entry in Cobra's iRadar series, so named because the device interacts with a free smartphone app providing real-time radar alerts. It also has the ability to share speed-trap findings with other users via the smartphone's Internet connection.

But while the iRadar is cool, the S120R takes it to another level. It's the first of its kind designed for installation under the hood, so that your radar-detection hardware can be completely discreet.

Unfortunately, unlike other iRadar products which work with iOS and Android devices, the S120R curiously only works with iPhones. Android users need to opt instead for the iRadar Atom, which isn't wireless and is not nearly as stealthy. $300; visit cobra.com.

Charger treats Apple and Google equally

It's easy to dismiss an in-car smartphone/tablet charger as low-tier technology not worth discussing among cool car gadgets. But Anker's new USB 24W Car Charger merits mention because it's the world's most powerful dual-port car charger.

Most chargers provide 10 watts or less, but this product outputs 24 watts, allowing it to simultaneously charge an iPad and an Android tablet. It even has labels indicating which USB port should be used for Apple devices and which for Android.

The reason for the labelling is that Anker has engineered the circuitry of the individual ports to adhere to each platform's specific charging requirements, allowing devices to charge at their optimum speeds.

Owners of gadgets of all shapes and sizes win, but your wallet suffers as this Anker's expensive. $36; visit ianker.com.

Epic marketing bolsters Garmin's new Zumo

Just in time for winter, Garmin's new Zumo 390LM motorcycle navigator arrives with a testosterone-laden two-minute promotional video that proclaims, "If the bike is an extension of your body, Zumo is an extension of your mind."

Actually, it's a Bluetooth-enabled GPS navigator that attaches to your handlebars. It features North American map data, detailed lane view, the ability to request a curvy fun route, a maintenance minder, compatibility with Garmin's new Tire Pressure Monitor Sensor, and the ability to be touch-screen-controlled even by people wearing gloves. $700; visit garmin.com.

Solid Sony hasn't changed much

Considering most people expect to get more than a few years out of a car stereo purchase, it's hard to fault Sony for the incremental improvement in its new XAV-602BT multimedia entertainment system.

Not much different than last year, the XAV-602BT has Bluetooth capability, MirrorLink technology, 4.1 channel surround sound with a virtual centre speaker, a 6.1" display, DVD video playback, and Sony's exclusive App Remote technology which allows apps on phones to be controlled directly from the receiver.

It's got front and rear USB and Dynamic Color Illuminator so that the display can show different lighting effects.

The only real difference between this and last year's model is that the XAV-602BT is compatible with Android voice-enabled apps. $550; visit sony.ca.

Video games come to life

Remote-control race tracks are great toys that have one fatal flaw: If you don't have somebody to play with, you're stuck controlling one car rolling around the track on its own, and this gets boring pretty quickly.

The new Anki DRIVE solves this problem, arriving with a track and two cars (with more sold separately). Any car not being controlled by a person is controlled via artificial intelligence, just like a CPU-operated car in a video game.

Cars are controlled via an iOS app, and the four available vehicles have different skills and upgrade capabilities, even sporting weapons for a battle-race mode in which you can target other cars while driving around the course. While you won't see bullets or laser beams fly, a successfully hit car can veer right off the course.

It's a video game that's come to life, with truly intelligent AI for the computer-controlled cars and ingenuity that speaks to wondrous things to come in the world of AI robotics. But for now, it would make a kick-butt Christmas present. $200; visit anki.com.

Upgrade your car stereo like a Boss

Boss Audio's brand new 752UAB car stereo is perfect for regular people who are looking for a regular car stereo but don't want to pay an arm and a leg to get one.

Aside from typical AM/FM and CD playback, the device features Bluetooth hands-free capability, a built-in amplifier that can output a powerful 60 watts per audio channel, and four pre-set EQ curves to customize audio characteristics. It's also got a front-panel USB input and an SD/MMC memory card input slot, both of which combine to provide excellent versatility to listen to tunes from most media while on the go.

Though the 752UAB is designed to be a budget offering, when you compare its features to those in competitive products that register in at double or triple the price, it's clear that many car manufacturers are buoying their higher-priced car stereos with a lot of smartphone-related features that are not exactly must-haves to begin with. It won't wow, but the 752UAB is a solid, low-cost way to bring new car stereo tech to your ride. $80; visit bossaudio.com.

Unleash your inner Frankenheimer

Garmin, a GPS powerhouse, has inexplicably moved into the camera business with the new VIRB HD 1080p action camera, which features a car mount to record your road exploits.

Action-camera leader Hero has sold a gazillion GoPro cameras, and everybody wants to be a YouTube star. But the only imaginable reason that Garmin would want to exit its comfort zone and embark on this endeavour would be if the product is very good, and the VIRB is indeed very good.

Small and ergonomically portable, VIRB features a 1.4-inch chroma display that shows exactly what you're filming. Keeping with Garmin's pedigree, the device features a GPS chip that saves location data, and it also has an accelerometer to measure speed and an altimeter to measure height.

Battery power is not spectacular at only three hours on a single charge, but nobody wants to watch your "cool car cam" videos for more than a few minutes anyway, no matter how Ronin you think they are. $300; visit garmin.com.

Pioneer plays to the audiophile

Credit is due to Pioneer Electronics for being a car-stereo manufacturer that wears its audiophile sensibilities on its sleeve. This is a company, after all, that sells the $1,400 DEX-P99RS single-DIN car stereo that does little else but offer reference-grade sound.

Pioneer's new DEH-X9500BHS takes a page from its audiophile roots while offering conventionally desirable features such as Bluetooth, HD Radio and satellite-radio capability. So, unlike its P99RS audiophile-focused cousin, it doesn't snub its nose at the rest of us.

It features a five-band equalizer, a full-dot display that's customizable with various backgrounds, compatibility with MIXTRAX, which is Pioneer's computer-based app that lets you edit playlists and upload them to the stereo, as well as iPhone/iPad direct control, Pandora compatibility and a flap-face design that slides the face forward to reveal the CD tray. It also happens to have a very elegant design.

With CD car stereos for the thrifty available for $100, the high-quality DEH-X9500BHS is best suited for audiophiles not ready to blow past a grand, but wanting a rich-sounding car stereo nevertheless. $300; visit pioneerelectronics.ca.

Jobsian phone mount

It's a testament to how wonderful a world we live that an inventor can go online to kickstarter.com with a prototype of a premium car smartphone mount called EleMount and raise five times his needed capital in less than two weeks.

Launched as a Kickstarter campaign in early August, EleMount has already surpassed its $10,000 goal, and why not? As the inventor proclaims in a promotional video, "My goal was to design a product that you would fall in love with, a product that was so beautiful, so functional and so universal that you couldn't live without it."

Thousands of years of civilization proves you can live without EleMount, but it's nevertheless an impressive high-end accessory, constructed from digitally cut aluminum and featuring polyurethane pads on each end that hold the phone, and stick to any flat surface without any suction cups or locks. It elegantly works with all mobile phones and tablets.

If Steve Jobs had designed an in-car phone mount, this is probably what he'd have invented. It's priced as though he did. $80; visit elephantele.com.

 

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2013 A1

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