The world has no lack of iPod FM transmitters. Unfortunately, because FM broadcasting technology is tightly controlled by the Federal Communications Commission, the FM transmission performance of this year's crop of iPod FM transmitters is largely unchanged from the previous year.
The Griffin iTrip Auto ($79) is no exception to the parade of vaguely revamped products from 2006. Unfortunately for Griffin, the iTrip Auto Smartscan may actually be a step backward, compared with last year's model.
The Griffin iTrip Auto is essentially one long cable (3.5 feet) with a universal iPod dock connection on one end, a cigarette lighter adapter on the other, and a digital FM tuner right smack in the middle. Unlike the Belkin Tunebase or the DLO TransPod, the perceived benefit of the iTrip Auto is that it doesn't try to provide a sturdy (and usually bulky) docking station for your iPod. Instead, the iTrip's cable allows you to place your iPod wherever is most convenient--whether that's on the passenger seat, in a cup holder, or shoved in a change tray. If you're the type of person who hates messy cables, the iTrip Auto is not the right choice for you.
Cable mess aside, the major failure of the Griffin iTrip Auto is its thoughtless interface design. Gone is the legible monochrome display found on last year's iTrip Auto. In its place is a squinty,blue readout that is hopelessly obscured behind a mirrored plastic shell. The result is a product that is nearly impossible to read in the daylight hours. After the sun goes down, the display's illuminated blue letters eventually reveal themselves, leaving the iTrip Auto's indistinguishable black buttons as the only dumbfounding design flaw.
If you can overlook the iTrip Auto's nearly invisible display, Griffin has added one major product enhancement, called SmartScan. The SmartScan feature allows the iTrip Auto to quickly scan all the locally available FM radio stations to find what it considers the three best options for broadcasting. During our unscientific testing around San Francisco and Oakland, we found that the iTrip Auto's SmartScan feature consistently produced at least one clear broadcasting frequency, proving itself a useful alternative to hunting and pecking manually through stations.
We found the overall sound quality about what we would expect from an iPod FM transmitter. Although there are no sound enhancement features to speak of, the iTrip Auto does enable you to switch between stereo and mono modes.
With such a flawed interface, it doesn't matter how many features Griffin packs into the iTrip Auto. The reflective mirrored display is a total deal breaker, especially considering that you can pick up last year's model (minus the SmartScan) for about half the price.