Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Throwing me for a Curve

This was one of those "well, duh!" moments which be came a "way cool!" moment. Here's what led up to that moment.

I don't drive much but around town. When I take a business trip, however, I'll drive to the airport in Portland, Manchester, or Boston, trips of one to three hours depending on traffic and rest stops. In those long drives, I like to catch up on music or audio books. More specifically, I'll batch up a whole bunch of Dave Ramsey podcasts and then listen to them.

My car has a great stereo- 6 disk cd in the trunk, am/fm/cassette, volume/seek controls right on the steering wheel. With my Zune mp3 player, I just plug into a cassette adapter, choose the music or podcast I want to play, and off I go.

But I've also got a Blackberry Curve cell phone. For Christmas, Santa left behind an 8gb memory chip for it, and I've loaded it up with a few thousand songs. Without the best in usability and maintaining content, the phone does an acceptable job of being cell phone, music player, and a poor-man's GPS (way to go, Google Maps!). But my driver's seat becomes a spider-web of cables, headsets, and small media serving devices filling every cup-holder and storage bin.

When an email or phone call comes in, if I catch it it's because of the interference it sets up with the radio- you know, the buzzing deet-da-deet-da-deet static . Then I've got to kill the radio or mp3 player, fish out the phone, answer it, play cat's cradle with the phone's ear phone/mic combo, and pray that the volume is loud enough to cover the road noise.

Last night, on the long swim back home from a customer demo in the Boston area, I went through that whole exercise on a call with Mrs. Toadroller. My headset was unfortunately buried in my computer bag, so I was trying to do the neck craning/hold the phone up thing. I'd turn the volume up to hear her, and then my boy Jack would scream on her end, piercing my ear drums. After a while, I fumbled for the tinny, tiny speakerphone capability and then snuggled the phone into my sun-visor above me. Ahh, hands free. But still, hard to carry on the conversation.

And then it occured to me, "well, duh!"

My Zune had been playing through the cassette adaptor; the headset out on the Blackberry Curve is a standard 1/8" stereo plug, with an extra ring for microphone in. I might not have a mic-in, but it was worth a shot. I yanked the cassette adaptor from the Zune, plugged it into the Blackberry Curve, and carried on the conversation.

Mrs. Toadroller (and my boy Jack) were now being broadcast in crystal-clear stereo through the car radio. And I mean clear- you could hear him playing with the faucet in the background. With the phone sitting on my lap, she could hear me just fine. Boom, like that. My voice into the phone's built in mic; her voice through the headset out jack and into the car stereo, with volume control on the steering wheel.

Way cool! No blue tooth borg-assimilation head units with blinking lights or expensive installs needed.

The best thing is that I can do the iPhone scenario with it. I can be jamming along with my Blackberry Curve playing the tunes through the cassette adaptor, and when a phone call comes in, it will pause the music, play the ringer tone, and I can accept the call and carry on without switching units or fussing with cables. When the call is done, hit the phone's end button and the music starts up again. Ta dah! I'm a PC and I'm rocking like a teenager, but with a nicer car.

Now if I could find an all you can eat music subscription service like Zune's Marketplace and a better media player/synchronization toolset for the Blackberry, I can leave the Zune behind and remove yet another device from the travel kit. It used to be CD player, Noise Cancelling Headphones, spare AA batteries and 10 of your favorite CDs for long trips. Now it can be cell phone, headset, and an adaptor cable.

By the way... In the dark, the Curve's LCD display makes for a handy near-field flashlight, lighting up the front seat quite well for 15, 30, or 60 seconds at a time, depending on how you have your backlight settings configured.

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