iLane. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Frank Rizzuti

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With e-mail becoming the preferred method of communication today, it’s not uncommon to see people reading and composing e-mail while driving. This can be dangerous and is illegal in many cities. If you are a mobile “power user” and need to keep in touch with e-mail on the go, then the iLane is designed for you.

iLane, manufactured by Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc. of Waterloo Ontario, is a hands-free and eyes-free, voice-based e-mail solution for in-vehicle use. It has the capability of verbally notifying you when new e-mail arrives on your smart phone, and you can open, listen to and respond to e-mails hands-free, simply by speaking aloud. iLane also allows access and control of other smart phone applications by voice command, allowing you to manage phone calls, SMS messages and calendar entries. One other feature is the ability to deliver news, sports and weather out loud and on demand. (Note this unit only works with 8000 series BlackBerry smart phones).

iLane will sync with your Bluetooth enabled audio system in your vehicle or you can use the supplied Bluetooth headset.

iLane. Click image to enlarge

In the box is the iLane unit, a Blue Ant Bluetooth headset, charger for the headset, 12-volt power cable for the iLane, clips to fasten the unit to the air vents in your vehicle, and operating instructions.

An initial hurdle in setting up the iLane was accessing the software. The software must be downloaded to your phone using the phone’s mobile browser, but not everyone has internet access on their phone. I don’t and had to borrow a phone which did. I think the makers of iLane should have included the software on CD with the device.

Once the software is on the phone you pair it to iLane using Bluetooth, and then pair the headset to the device and you’re ready to go.

At first power up, the iLane by default goes into active mode which will announce incoming calls, messages and calendar entries. Saying “Quiet” will stop current announcements and remain in active mode; “Goodbye” puts the iLane into silent mode and ignores any speech, but will still notify you when new calls or messages arrive; and saying “Do not Disturb” will put the device into stand-by mode. Pushing the headset main button will put you back into active mode.

When a new message arrives, you can say “Read message” during the announcement, and iLane will read it out loud through the headset.

iLane. Click image to enlarge

There are three options for replying. You can send a voice reply which will be recorded as an MP3 file and e-mailed. Or you can send one of two standard replies: “I am in transit and will respond shortly” or “Call me if it is important”. The last option allows you to call the sender (you must have the sender’s phone number in your contact list for this to work).

The news, sports and weather feeds are a nice option, allowing you to keep up to date while still monitoring your messages and phone calls.

All of this works flawlessly and I had no problems with hearing the voice commands or callers, and the voice recognition worked well. The hardware seems well made and of high quality and the Blue Ant headset was light, comfortable and had good quality audio. The only disappointment was with the reply options, I was hoping it would have speech to text, enabling normal text responses to e-mails.

Whether you believe that drivers should be managing their e-mail while on the road — hands free, or not — is another matter, and if you receive multiple e-mails on a continuous basis surely this can be a distraction. That caveat aside, the iLane delivers what it promises.

The iLane retails for $599, with a monthly fee of $7.99 for the news, sports and weather feeds.

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