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Mobile Computing Tips: Work From Your Car

Hands-free phone cradles, OnStar caveats, superlight notebooks.
Feature: Keep Your Hands on the Wheel

With so much uncertainty in the air, it's likely many business travelers are opting to drive instead of fly. If it hasn't happened already, the nation's highways are about to be riddled with harried executives with a mobile phone in one hand and a bucket-size cup of coffee in the other, steering with their Brooks Brothers-clad kneecaps.

In the interest of public safety, here are a few suggestions for being productive on the road.

Go Hands-Free

It's easy to keep both hands on the wheel while you yak--and in New York state, it's the law. I recently tested three hands-free mobile phone cradles that plug into a cigarette lighter and feature external speakers and microphones: the $60 Navigator Plus, the $130 Sharper Image Car Cell Phone System with Hear-It-Again Digital Recorder Technology, and the $90 Dock 'N Talk.

Unlike professionally installed phone cradles, these devices are portable, so you can use them in, say, a rental car, then pop them into your own car when you return from your trip. They're also less expensive than professionally installed cradles, which cost around $225, including installation. The best of the lot was the Navigator Plus. It's relatively small and easy to carry, and it ingeniously uses your car speakers as its own (you simply tune your radio to an FM station to listen). If you're looking for a low-cost way to put your mobile phone within easy reach, the Navigator Plus may be your best option.

These devices have some serious drawbacks, however. They don't stay firmly in place as you drive, most are cumbersome to carry, and their audio quality is fair to poor: Most people I spoke with while testing these devices said they had trouble hearing me. As a result, your best bet is to spend the dough for a professionally installed cradle if you confine much of your mobile phone use to the car. If you move around a lot while on the phone, get an ear bud instead. They're inexpensive (often about $20) and slip easily into a pocket when not in use.

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