Gadget Review – Griffin iPod RoadTrip

Unlike a lot of blogging techno-geeks, I don’t spend a lot of time writing about my latest gadgets, mainly because I don’t buy a lot of gadgets. I have gotten a little crazy about the cameras lately, but so far I haven’t had a lot to say about them other than a casual comment along with some of the pictures. About the only other gadget that has seduced me (and possibly broken my heart) recently is the iPod RoadTrip adapter from Griffin Technology.

For some reason, I bought an iPod last year. I’m still not sure why; maybe a subconscious urge to fit in on a college campus. For a while, I ended up using it more as a data storage/transfer device than as a music player. At that rate, it was a pretty expensive 20GB hard drive (although the portability was cool).

Eventually I decided I could get more use out of it if I could use it in the car, since I usually do like to have tunes playing while driving. The iPod could free me forever from the task of burning CDs. I didn’t really want to hassle with the headphones, so I decided I needed an interface to the car stereo.

Since the stereo doesn’t have a line input, I would need either a cassete adapter or an FM transmitter, both of which are available for the iPod from various companies. A friend suggested that the cassette adapter might provide better quality, but I thought the difference probably wouldn’t be noticeable in a car interior, and that wireless was obviously the way to go.

In addition to getting the tunes from the iPod to the stereo, I would need a power adapter to keep it charged, and ideally a docking bracket of some sort to hold it. And then I stumbled on the all-in-one solution, the Griffin RoadTrip, which would plug into the cigarette lighter, hold the iPod, and transmit via FM to the stereo. Way cool!

Before purchase, I was a little leery about how it would really fit in my Celica, considering the location of the cigarette lighter. But the marketing info assured me that the included extension adapter would take care of any such problems. So I ordered it.

A lot of other people must have been as impressed with this as I was, because it was on backorder for months before it finally shipped. And, despite having to wait so long for it, I didn’t get around to playing with it immediately. Finally, last week, faced with a solo drive to Dayton, I decided it was time to get it working.

The first thing I discovered was that I’d been right to worry about the fit. Plugged directly into the dashboard, it was going to cause major interference with the gearshift. Not good.

So I got out the extension adapter, and started playing with it. It didn’t bend in as many places and directions as I would have liked. Finally I decided that this was about as good as it would get.

I wasn’t real happy with it. It looked dorky. And it also looked like it was shouting “Hey, steal me!” to anyone who walked past the parked car. I suppose this wouldn’t be an issue for hardcore iPodders, who would never leave their iPod behind, but I didn’t intend to carry the damn thing everywhere I went. But I guessed I could live with it on long trips.

It didn’t take long to find another problem with this configuration. It was fairly top-heavy, and the plug didn’t fit tight enough to keep it from rotating. So, very soon, it ended up in this position, once again causing shifting issues.

Resigned to the idea that I would just have to knock it out of the way occasionally, and I wouldn’t need to shift often on the highway, I headed north. And it didn’t take long to find out why the FM transmission technique was a bad idea.

It requires an “empty” frequency. You tune the stereo to a frequency that receives only static, then tune the transmitter to transmit on that frequency, et voila!. Life is good, until your travels take you within the range of a commercial station which is using that frequency that was empty back home.

It’s not a total disaster. Harmony can once again be restored by seeking out another static frequency on the radio, and retuning the transmitter. But that’s a minor pain. I had to do that twice in a two-hour trip. I might as well be changing CDs every hour. This thing was supposed to give me hassle-free uninterrupted music.

And, speaking of hassle-free-not, the power interface was yet another headache for everyday use. Although I like having tunes while I drive, I don’t like constantly messing with the audio gear. I prefer to set it and forget it; have it turn on and off with the ignition and ignore it otherwise. I frequently leave the same CD in the player for weeks because I’m too lazy to change it.

Well, this device isn’t going to turn on/off that easily. The lighter is fed from the accessory feed, which is good. Power to the RoadTrip turns on/off with the key, which is what I wanted. But the way it reacts to that is not what I wanted.

After the power is cut, when it turns back on, the RoadTrip does not power up by itself. It has to be turned back on manually. And cutting power to the RoadTrip does not shut off the iPod. It keeps playing silently on its own battery until it’s turned off (or its battery runs down if I forget to turn it off). And then after starting the car and turning on the RoadTrip, I have to turn the iPod back on. Again, probably not an issue for iPodders who take it with them when they leave the car, but it doesn’t quite fit the way I would like to use it.

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