Griffin Technology’s iTrip Auto ($69.99, ~£35) is a fairly recent addition to the ever expanding line of iTrip radio transmitters, originally for the iPod and now branching into other devices such as the PSP too. Griffin, from memory, were fairly early to the market with fairly revolutionary (at the time) iTrip for the 1st and 2nd gen iPods, where you had to select the frequency via MP3 files stored on the iPod. Ah, those were the days. The iTrip Auto is a far cry from the original iTrips, bearing similarities in only name and function. Read on for the full review…
As one may guess from the name, the iTrip Auto is intended for in car use. Don’t even consider buying it to use elsewhere – it won’t work without the 12v cigarette lighter jack. Leaving that limitation/feature aside, at first look it would appear that Griffin has a near perfect package for in car use. It’s worth making clear from the start that FM transmitters will never rival direct line-in solutions for sound quality and lack of fuss (when installed). But the world isn’t perfect, and for me at least, without dropping several hundred pounds on a new in-car audio system, an FM transmitter it had to be.
The iTrip is well packaged – not up to Apple’s legendary standards, but opening the pack up gives a nice feeling of tech lust being satisfied (at least until the next thing that catches your eye flits by on the web). In the pack are some fairly bare bones instructions, the iTrip Auto, and, not a whole lot else.
Installation is a breeze – plug one end into the car’s 12v jack, plug the other into the iPod (quite easy to work out which one’s which), and then try to find an open frequency to transmit on. Frequency is changed by using the +/- button on the iTrip, with an LCD readout of the current selection. The iTrip is such a deceptively simple product, it would seem appropriate to give it a simple review – anything else is talking hot air, to be honest. Here come the bullets:
- Simple to use and operate when driving (in general).
- Strong FM signal, should punch through any surrounding stations unless in a really congested area.
- Good sound quality compared to some of the competition.
- Integrated charger, power to the iTrip and audio line out means that cable management becomes much neater than compared to other solutions. My old Belkin Tunecast needed a power jack for the Tunecast, an audio cable from the iPod to the Tunecast, plus power for the iPod.
- Nice exterior finish, fits into most cars subtly and doesn’t advertise your iPod to potential thieves.
- Although I didn’t have to use them, the options of the LX (stereo, normal strength) or DX (mono, stronger signal, great for audiobooks apparently) modes add flexibility that may be lacking from competitors.
- LCD is backlit for night use.
- User replaceable fuse means your iPod should be protected from unexpected power issues – a nice touch.
- Use of line out from the iPod means that volume level is taken care of and adjusted by the iTrip on the fly, so there is no stuffing around trying to find the ‘optimum’ volume for the best sound quality.
- Build quality seems less than perfect. Whilst not bad, it’s quite a light unit and the button for adjusting the frequency seems a little flimsy when in use.
- No presets for commonly used frequencies – not a problem for me as my commute was fairly good with just one selected, but for others who drive less predictably that could annoying.
- Thoroughly inflexible – only usable in car, but that’s the point of the iTrip Auto, so no points deducted here.
- The LCD/transmitter is located half way along the cable running from the power to the iPod – possibly not that convenient. I would have preferred it closer to the iPod for mounting on the dashboard, others may prefer it elsewhere. I guess that’s why Griffin plumped for halfway, but it didn’t work perfectly for me.
A well specced, recommended FM transmitter for in-car use. I would give it a 4 out of 5, knocking it down for the location of the transmitter/lcd and lack of presets. In terms of value, at $69.99 or about £35 in the UK, it’s not the cheapest transmitter – but when it combines great functionality as well as integrating charging and transmission in one unit, it makes more sense at that price.