iLane promises a productive drive, delivers frustration

The iLane is one of those new gadgets that make you feel as though you’ve entered the future – promising to read your e-mail to you out loud while you drive, and a gadget you can control with voice commands.

But when you actually interact with it, this device seems less like the idyllic cooperative computer from Star Trek and more like the devious Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This piece of futuristic technology comes from Waterloo, Ont.-based Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc. and sounds like a great time-saver. Imagine that you could easily listen to your e-mail while sitting in rush hour traffic. Your eyes are on the road and your hands at 10 and 2. You’re getting work done and staying legal, avoiding a possible traffic ticket.

Many jurisdictions are banning the use of handheld devices for drivers. In Canada, Quebec and Nova Scotia are among the provinces already practicing this law and Ontario will being enforcing its law this October. There is similar legislation in many U.S. states.

So Bluetooth devices have become popular products lately as drivers look for ways to use their phones legally. Most just allow the ability to make and receive calls. But the iLane can read out loud your e-mail and SMS messages, record audio files to send in e-mails, check the weather or the news, and also read your calendar items to you.

When reading through the iLane manual, you’ll find it filled with descriptive phrases like “easy”, “simplified”, and “seamless”. Your experience using the device, though, might be quite the opposite.

The iLane has a suggested retail price of $399.00 and there’s no subscription fees, plus a $39.99 activation fee unless you activate for free online.

In-vehicle setup

The concept is fairly simple.

iLane makes a Bluetooth connection to your mobile device and a wireless headset. Then you manage your communications by talking through your wireless headset. iLane comes packaged with a BlueAnt headset that it recommends for best results.

Using iLane’s hardware with your smartphone requires an installed application on your mobile device.

After signing up for you iLane account and following three pages of instructions in your manual, you should be set up and ready to go.

Installing the application on my BlackBerry Curve 8330 wasn’t troublesome. It’s recommended that you have the most recent version of BlackBerry OS installed.

On first-time setup you will plug the iLane’s car adapter into your cigarette lighter and wait for it to power up. Once it does so, it will start looking for your phone to pair with. After you enter the code to allow this, it begins looking for the Bluetooth headsets in your car. Make sure any headset you want to use is active and ready to be detected. Once iLane finds it, you’ll enter the code for that device pairing on your BlackBerry and you’re finished.

In addition to the BlueAnt headset, I attempted to setup iLane with a Parrot Bluetooth speakerphone and a Nokia Bluetooth headset. Neither of these devices resulted in satisfactory performance.

The speakerphone worked at first, with fairly garbled sound. But after my first experiment with it, it stopped receiving voice commands. The Nokia headset worked consistently but the audio quality was poor. Best results came when using the included BlueAnt headset – the audio is clear and it will work consistently.

Talking to iLane

Now you’re ready to start your conversation with iLane. This is where the frustration begins.

Once activated, iLane greets you by listing off the available options. It’s a long list, but you can interrupt it to be quiet if you want. Speak to iLane slow and deliberately — like it’s a five-year-old learning to tie it’s shoes — and hope for the best.

iLane seems to get stuck in different menu categories. After I checked the weather in Toronto, for example, I couldn’t successfully use the command “check messages” to hear my e-mail. iLane would either repeat the options available to me, or sometimes just become unresponsive.

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