The Griffin iTrip Auto is car ipod charger with an FM transmitter built in. It allows you to listen to your iPod via the car radio while the iPod recharges.
I have been a great fan of Griffin’s products. I believe that they are generally engineered well and the consumer gets a good quality product for a reasonable price. With that said, I was a bit disappointed with the iTrip Auto. I have been using a low-end FM transmitter (Belkin Tunecast II) for most of a year now, and use it as a baseline for comparison against Griffin’s offering.
The Belkin product also plugs into a cigarette lighter for power, but does not charge the iPod. The Belkin gets signal via the headphone jack on the iPod. By contrast, the iTrip connects via an iPod dock connector and provides both power and signal connections simultaneously. The Belkin’s power cable is an accessory and can derive power from two internal AAA batteries. The iTrip must be plugged into the car to work. The only benefit to the Belkin on this point is that my car’s cigarette lighter is not powered when the engine is off or the key is on ‘radio only’. The ignition must be at ‘on’. The Belkin still provides FM transmitter function with the engine off. The AAA batteries also remember which station freq. is being used, when the unit is off. One of my first concerns about the iTrip was to reset the freq. every time I use it. Not so. It seems to have non-volitile memory for this. Once it was initially programmed, it seems to remember the station.
The iTrip’s controls are simple. Plug one end into your car; the other into the iPod. There is a +/- button and a Select button, and a lit LCD display showing frequency. Simple tune to a station that is not being used in your area, and hit ‘play’ on the iPod. It’s that simple. Griffin’s build quality is of the usual high standards. The front of the iTrip control is a glossy plastic that matches my black iPod. The back is rubberized. As far as fit-and-finish, my only complaint is that the keys rattle when the unit is shaken. It makes the unit feel cheap, but didn’t effect functionality.
In use, I find the iTrip’s sound to be a bit crisp and lacking in base as compared to the Belkin. And the iTrip seems to pick up static ‘pop’s’ and ignition noise when I use certain accessories (e.g. – windshield wipers). I could blame this on poor shielding in my car’s wiring, but the Belkin doesn’t pick any of this noise up. Just the music. A plus that I noticed with the iTrip is that the iPod’s volume control is disabled. It seems to transmit signal to my car radio at one pre-set level and I use the car deck’s volume knob when adjusting level. By contrast, the belkin unit (being plugged into the ipod’s headphone jack) IS susceptible to the iPod’s volume settings and the iPod must be set nearly to max in order for the Belkin to ‘know’ that there is signal. The Belkin has auto-on when signal is detected and auto-off after 60 sec of inactivity (after which I hear blasting loud static from a car radio with no station playing). The iTrip broadcasts quiet dead-air as long as it’s plugged in. Nice!
My overall impression? Really too bad about the sound quality. I like it over the Belkin in almost every other respect. I will continue to test it in other vehicles; but listening to your audio is the REASON for having an FM transmitter, so the lack of sound quality weighs heavily in my score.