Belkin TuneCast II
Belkin's TuneCast II ($39.99) is standard fare where FM transmitters are concerned. The white and gray device, which seems to get dirty excessively fast, isn't striking in design, but it's certainly not hideous. Sticking out of a slight protrusion along the top of the oblong device is a 6.5-inch cable with a minijack connection at the end. That means the TuneCast II is not limited to iPod use; it will work with any MP3 player with a standard headphone jack. A slight indentation around the edge of the device lets you wrap the cable up and snap the end into the other side of the protrusion for easy storage. While the length of the cable keeps things neat, we found ourselves wishing it was a bit longer so that we could keep our Creative Zen Micro out of the sun while still positioning the TuneCast II as close to the vehicle's antenna as possible--that is, on the right side of the dash.
The front of the TuneCast II features an ample LCD flanked by the up/down tuning buttons on one side and the memory-set key on the other. Though the down button functions as a power control, you never need to use it, as the transmitter turns on automatically if your MP3 player is on and a signal is coming from the radio. You can set up to four presets for your preferred stations. The device also tunes into any frequency between 88.1 and 107.9, not just the odd decimals--not that this mattered in our Ford Explorer, where the car stereo tunes to odd numbers only. Of course, you don't have to use the TuneCast II in a vehicle; its simple connectivity means it's just as functional in the home, and its range of 10 to 30 feet suggests practical at-home use. On the bottom of the TuneCast II, you'll find a DC input, and Belkin provides a 14-inch power cable, but you'll have to pick up either an AC adapter or in-car cigarette charger that attaches to this cable in order to make use of it. But even if you have the transmitter plugged in to wall power, it won't recharge your MP3 player.
For 40 bucks, we expected better performance from the TuneCast II. Reception was unacceptable in the metro areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles; even open frequencies proved to be riddled with static when used with the transmitter. The device fared better in the rural and suburban areas lining Interstates 5 and 101. We found a couple of frequencies that seemed to stick with little or no interference along the entire drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Still, sound quality was typically poor--AM radio at best--but that's to be expected from an FM transmitter. The device takes two AAA batteries (included), which lasted about 10 hours in informal testing, exceeding Belkin's own rating of 8 hours. All in all, the TuneCast II isn't terrible, but there are better options available.