Blagging stuff on a monthly basis must be fun, I hear you cry. Well yes, for a while it is. But then it gets a little repetitive. A phone, a satnav, a PDA. It’s all a little bit samey, really, and it can get a tad, well, tedious.
So this month The Don blagged a Mercedes. Woohoo! True, it happened to have a Nokia car kit on board … but what a car kit!
IN THE BOX
- Handsfree Unit HF-20
- Input Device CU-8
- Speaker SP-3
- Microphone MP-2
- Data Cable CA-76
- Audio/charging cable CA-88
- Adapter CA-44
- Power cable PCU-4
- User and installation guides
It’s not often I get the star treatment, but Nokia pulled out a few stops when getting me to test its brand new CK-20W multimedia car kit, by turning up with a Merc, a selection of all the new and tba handsets, a European Product Manager and a very good-looking PR lady. Ok, mind back on the job, and off we go.
The CK-20W is a stronger offering than previous in-car solutions. For one, it offers the ability to utilise various features that are now all-so common on handsets, like music and satnav.
Second, it offers the same control methods that we have grown so used to from Nokia. This form of standardisation and simplicity has served them well on the phone range, and will prove to be a big hit again for in-car.
And thirdly (and this is possibly the most impressive yet) it works on a cross product basis, without the limitations of having to own a Nokia phone.
We start with the basics – a microphone, a cradle and a Navi-Wheel control. To the naked eye, it’s a Nokia car kit. Place your handset in the cradle, of which there are currently 15 options; press the buttons; and you can have a phone conversation through your cars built in audio system; in stereo.
Say it in stereo
Now you might ask why you need to talk to someone in stereo. Well you don’t … especially if it’s the chap from Nokia phoning you up to see where you’ve disappeared to with their Mercedes, handsets and PR lady!
The stereo sound comes into its own when you utilise your handset as a music player. The CK-20W allows full use of your phone’s MP3 player while in-car, and the Navi-Wheel control unit will allow you to move tracks, play, stop, pause etc when using that facility.
The most impressive thing about this Navi-Wheel module is that it automatically picks the mode you require. So as soon as you launch the MP3 payer, the control becomes more music-orientated. We all like shiny buttons to press, but having a compact module with a little AI onboard is quite nice if you have a modern car and don’t want to clutter it up too much.
(If however you have 10 England flags on your roof (and you’re not a diplomat), and a car sticker asking fellow motorists to honk if they’re horny, this probably isn’t for you. Try a tin-can and a piece of string.)
There’s more. The in built GPS receiver adds to the value of the proposition, because now you can mount your phone in a cradle and have satnav through your car stereo. The beauty of this is that it comes with a version of Route 66 which is full of various settings, like ‘allow car-kit to take phone calls’ and ‘mute the constant “turn left drones while talking’.
This is a well received addition. It basically means that you can have navigation through your cars audio system, yet still take and make a phone call while driving – through the same system.
This is aided and abetted by the fact that the kit has two separate Bluetooth channels, allowing the simultaneous running of audio and data. The Navi-Wheel again comes into play, automatically switching to navigation mode.
I’m not sure that I like the fact of a Nokia control module being smarter than the guy reviewing it, but it works.
Speaking of Bluetooth, yes, this kit’s strongest proposition is its wireless connectivity. Forget the cradle and GPS for a minute and think about the possibilities of selling Joe Public a kit that allows them to use their phone through their car stereo without taking the thing out of their pocket. Voice commands to dial, one touch control module to pick-up, muting of the stereo.
OK, it’s got possibilities. Now, add to that the fact that they can now play all the music on their phone through it using Bluetooth too, still without taking it out of their pocket. It becomes a much more universal product.
There is also the option to use your iPod or MP3 player on the CK-20W. This can be done via a 3.5mm jack that comes attached to the control module, or via the same Bluetooth technology that the phone would utilise. (Obviously you will need a Bluetooth dongle for the MP3 player). Once connected, not only do you have access to your music library – but with two Bluetooth channels, you will also have all the functionality of your hands-free telephone.
The fact that you can also have a cradle for business use, or add a GPS and satnav solution, just strengthens the offering.
It’s a little bit like they’ve thought of everything with this product, and what really gets annoying is that it all seemed to work on the demo. Normally you get a problem here or there; but apart from a sticky control module button, it went well. I even got to call the PR lady in the back with it.
There are some hurdles, however. It works using A2DP, which the top music phones in the Nokia range don’t have. This is a software gismo for Bluetooth that allows the car kit to play back your music in stereo. The great thing, though, is that other phones do have A2DP. Suppose your punter had a Samsung D600 – he could play his music using this kit.
It’s a great testament to Nokia that this kind of integration exists. It is releasing all-new propositions with this technology, and sure enough the next upgrade will have it, but with a 3.5mm cable attached to the kit, you can plug your N91 into the system for now.
It’s hard to get wowed about a car kit. It’s not a funky new handset, it’s not an all-in one satnav device, and it’s certainly not a pretty PR lady.
But it is cool to think that anyone, and not just the BMW 7 Series drivers of this world, can walk into their car and have streaming music and hands-free conversations, with extreme clarity, all without using their phone or picking up a CD.
To help with this offering, Nokia is going to launch a partnership scheme with experienced installers, concentrate strongly on demoing the product to the industry, and come up with A2DP compatibility in the next set of N-Series handsets.
It’s worth having a look at this, as it is a strong extra sale in two ways. Number one is that it will strengthen the appeal of a higher end handset, and number two is that it’s possibly the first in-car solution that will attract Joe Public as well as the usual business type.
Nokia says there will be more info on the website shortly, but expect the RRP to be in the range £149-169. The GPS add-on (including Route 66 software) will be an extra £50 or so. Fitting costs are yet to be finalised, but Nokia is expected the charge to be lower than for previous models because of the universal nature of the connection process.
Nokia’s GPS unit.
Neat controller, featuring Navi-Wheel
Memory card for map data
Route 66 (optional)
Turn-by-turn voice instructions and on-screen directions
SMS-like input for address search engine 1.2m
points-of-interest add personal contacts as waypoints night colours