Developer: Griffin Technology
Requirements: Third-generation iPod
Now that my entire music collection fits into my shirt pocket, it gets more and more annoying when I need to lug a bulky binder of CDs out to my car when I want to go out for a drive. I’d like to use my iPod in my car, but it doesn’t have a tape deck, so a cassette adapter is out of the question. Short of shelling out a large amount of cash for a customized mounting system or doing some serious surgery on my center console, that leaves the old standby—the FM transmitter.
I played with one such device a number of years ago and came away quite unimpressed. While most car stereos featured digital tuning, the FM transmitters were limited to analog tuning. The transmitter I used had three or four small ranges of stations and a dial for fine-tuning. If you couldn’t find a working signal within these few ranges, then you were out of luck.
The iTrip is one of very few digital FM transmitters I have seen for sale. Unlike any other device on the market, though, the new iTrip is specially designed to work only with Apple’s third-generation iPods.
The iTrip is basically a 2.4" long tube with a diameter of .84". It sits on top of the iPod, connects to both the headphone and remote control jacks, and requires no batteries, as it draws power from the iPod. Since the iTrip lacks wires and batteries, it is smaller and less unwieldy than other FM transmitters available.
By itself, the iTrip is far too small to contain a display for digital tuning. However, since it only operates while connected to an iPod, it has access to a 3"x2" screen to use for tuning purposes. This is accomplished with a series of MP3 files corresponding to the different FM frequencies. When you install the iTrip software on your Macintosh, these MP3 are added to your music library and are put in a playlist called “iTrip Stations.”
To change the channel on the iTrip, you start playing the desired station, and when the red LED on the iTrip begins to flash rapidly, you pause the track. If you have your radio tuned to the desired station while you’re doing this, you’ll hear a definite change as the static is replaced by dead air.
At first, I was concerned that playing my entire library would cause the iTrip to change channels when it one of the station files was played. This turned out not to be the case—the LED begins to flash rapidly for a time, but that station does not change unless you pause the iPod during this period. Of course, it’s still annoying at times to hear a series of beeps and blips pouring out of your car stereo or your headphones.
The big test for the iTrip was a weekend with friends earlier this month that featured a 4-hour drive. I hit a few different radio markets during my drive, so I really got to put the iTrip through its paces. Also, I did this the same day I installed the iPod 2.1 software, so there were plenty of potential gotchas to throw the iTrip for a loop.
When I first started out, I had some difficulty getting the iTrip to accept a new station assignment. It seemed like the iTrip just did not want to wake up. After removing and replacing the tuner, everything seemed to be in order.
Over the course of the drive, I needed to change channels a handful of times as I drove through different radio markets. Once I got the hang of finding the really weak signals, the iTrip preformed beautifully, even though it was sitting in the front seat and my FM antenna is mounted in the rear windshield of my car. The one thing that concerned me was that the 4-hour drive almost completely chewed through what I thought was a fully charged battery. At first, I thought the iTrip was using more power than Griffin originally implied, but now I’m not so sure—the battery charging process for my iPod has been a little flaky since I installed the latest iPod update.
Out of the box, the iPod can go pretty much anywhere short of the freeway. If you want to bridge this final gap and don’t have an accessible auxiliary jack for your car stereo, I encourage you to check out Griffin Technology’s iTrip. It works exactly as advertised and does so without littering your car with extraneous wiring.