A Voice in Your Ear, Sorting Mail

Text-to-speech is the new black.

Yes, gadgets that speak text out loud are bursting onto the scene like monks just released from a decade-long vow of silence. The Amazon Kindle 2 reads your electronic books out loud. The new iPod Shuffle is only the size of a tie clip, but reads your song titles.

And now there?s the iLane, a dashboard-mounted box, entirely voice-controlled, that reads your e-mail aloud while you drive.

It?s ingenious, polished and efficient ? and at $600 and $8 a month, it had better be. It?s pretty obvious that the iLane was designed when mobile executives still had things like expense accounts and jobs.

The iLane system comes in three pieces.

Piece No. 1 is the iLane itself: a slim, sleek, hollow-feeling plastic box with a couple of status lights and a cigarette-lighter plug. You can mount it on your dashboard, visor or air vents, but it doesn?t actually have to be accessible; you can just let it lie there on the floor amid the McDonald?s wrappers, for all it cares.

This box doesn?t actually connect to the Internet or download any e-mail. Instead, it?s just the voice box for Piece No. 2, a BlackBerry that you already own. It communicates over a wireless Bluetooth connection, so you don?t even have to take the BlackBerry out of your pocket.

(Yes, a BlackBerry. The Web site and marketing materials coyly refer only to ?your smartphone,? as if other phones are welcome. But no, it?s BlackBerry or nothing at this point.)

Piece No. 3 is a tiny Bluetooth earpiece, made by BlueAnt but included with the package. It?s held in place by an over-ear wire as well as a dime-size, rubber-ringed disk that you?re supposed to wedge into your ear.

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