First Looks Special: Griffin Technology iTrip nano | iLounge Article

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First Looks Special: Griffin Technology iTrip nano

Whenever Apple introduces a new iPod, accessory makers face three obvious challenges: physical, electronic, and practical. How do you make an FM transmitter that fits something as small as the iPod nano, especially when there’s no place to plug it in on the top? How do you make sure that it actually works, given that its antenna may be blocked by the nano’s partially metal body, and that the nano’s battery is so small? And how can you tune its stations on the go?

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

We’ve received a nearly final version of Griffin Technology’s new iTrip nano ($50), the first FM transmitter we’ve seen that has really good answers to each of these questions. Due out in time for the holidays - at least, to pre-orderers - the new add-on provides a practical alternative for people who need a truly portable way to broadcast nano audio to a radio. It is also the first transmitter to allow station tuning on an iPod’s screen without any special software, as shown in the photos below.

Body Design

Griffin’s design for iTrip nano is smart in a measured way: while not perfect, it becomes smarter the more you really think about the alternatives, such as Griffin’s earlier iTrip with Dock Connector, XtremeMac’s AirPlay2, and other devices that hang awkwardly off the nano’s bottom. It is built as a ‘sled’ that the nano slides into, doubling its thickness but adding comparatively little to its bottom, and nothing to its top or sides. The sled holds nano in place with what looks like an adhesive sticker, but isn’t - it’s a new micro suction cup pad that looks like white 3M tape but won’t wear out, and can be cleaned with scotch tape. It’s shown here with a protective sticker on; you peel it off to reveal an all-white surface.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

It’s hard to quantify how much better this sled works than devices such as the earlier iTrip and AirPlay2, which constantly feel as if they’re going to snap on the iPod’s bottom if the wrong pressure is applied. iTrip nano feels solidly bound to the iPod, and even gives it the ability to stand up on its bottom edge. An antenna is mounted on the back bottom, letting tinkerers have easy access to a way to boost broadcasting power - something we don’t recommend, as it violates FCC regulations to do so.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

If you’re willing to mount it or lay it on its back, a mini USB port at the bottom lets you charge the iPod at the same time as the iTrip is connected. A small red light on the bottom left corner is the only power indicator, and a three-position switch on the unit’s upper left is the only control system you’ll need.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

What’s wrong with the design? Only two things we can think of. First, we’re not enamored with the three-position controller, which would have worked better as three small buttons in this design; Griffin’s older chrome dial was the best tuner yet, and this switch isn’t as easy to use. Second, there’s no way to use a case while it’s attached. Griffin plans to include a silicone skin for the nano in the iTrip’s package, but they can’t be used at the same time. The importance of solutions such as Power Support’s Crystal Film and InvisibleShield for iPod nano just shot up dramatically for potential iTrip users.

Menus

The biggest stroke of genius in iTrip nano is the one you can’t see on its body: Griffin has long obsessed over simple, smart radio tuning, and has taken that to the next level here. Old iTrips forced you to install a playlist full of tuning tracks if you wanted to change stations, a solution that worked pretty well until “shuffle songs” and better options became popular. When XtremeMac released AirPlay with an integrated LCD screen, it was obviously the best way to go… until now.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

Since Apple has not included FM transmitter menus on an iPod, Griffin figured out a way to achieve the same effect: briefly convince the nano that it’s in the extended docking mode used in iPod docks and high-end car kits, and display menus as graphics on the “Do Not Disconnect” screen. No second screen is needed; the iPod’s brightly lit LCD handles all the work.

You trigger this screen with the iTrip’s side switch, interrupting whatever the iPod is doing at a given moment to tell the attached transmitter what to do. The first thing that pops up is a station tuning screen with large, easy to read numbers. You can change FM stations by pressing the switch up or down, then select a station by pressing the switch inwards.

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

Multiple inwards presses cycle through a collection of menu choices: rather than presets, the three last stations tuned are automatically saved by iTrip, and can be scrolled through on the second screen.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

Then there’s the Mono or Stereo mode screen, where you select between the iTrip’s wisely renamed LX and DX modes. Mono mode does away with stereo separation but lowers the noise/static floor. Stereo mode provides left and right channel audio, but with more noise.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

Next, there’s a three-option menu, which lets you select between EQ, AutoP, and US/Intl.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

EQ lets you turn a single predefined equalizer on or off, a feature similar to the one found in the latest version of iFM.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

AutoP is AutoPlay, which sets iTrip to start playing automatically when you leave the menuing system. This is done because the iPod is paused automatically when you enter the menuing system - something that some users mightn’t like, but may be necessary because of the way iTrip nano’s menuing system works.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

The US/Intl menu lets you choose between US, European, and Japanese FM radio frequencies, just like prior iTrips. What’s new: 87.9FM is now included in the US frequencies, as it is with iTrip Auto.

 

Griffin iTrip nano for iPod nano

Finally, there’s a Griffin ID screen with a display of the current iTrip revision number - the first we’ve seen on a portable accessory, and a welcome feature. Now if only these version number labels were found on the products and their packages.

Conclusions

We’re holding off on any sort of conclusions on iTrip nano’s performance at this point because we don’t have final hardware in hand, but we can note that Griffin’s targets for the unit are standard iTrip-equivalent FM broadcasting power, but with an all-new low of battery consumption - no more than 50% of the nano’s standard run time. If true, the battery life would better prior devices by a fair margin.

We’ll have more information on whether the company has reached these targets in the days to come, but note that Griffin has a good track record of hitting or coming close to its targets. iTrip nano is planned for limited online availability in time for the holidays, and in retail stores in early January.

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Comments

1

Well, it certainly looks to match the nano, but in another way it defeats the grace of the nano, by making it, uh, nano-nano thick.

Still, I have friends that are looking for a FM transmitter for their nano and this to be the best looking to date.

Posted by FahrenheiPod 451 on December 15, 2005 at 4:18 PM (CST)

2

Geeze.. when are you guys gonna get a new camera? Man, the review pics these days look so crappy…

Nice review though.

Posted by Kloan in Toronto, ON on December 15, 2005 at 7:27 PM (CST)

3

Maybe you can help me.  I’ve pre-ordered one and I’ve asked this question of Griffin, but they never answered it.  I have the Invisible Shield on my nano and I want to make sure that it will fit in the iTrip.  I see you mention the Invisble Shield but I wonder if you’ve tried it or are just assuming?  It’s simple to test - if you have a nano with the IS, can you try using it with the iTrip.  If not, try putting 2 sheets of paper inbetween the nano and the itrip as 2 sheets of paper (normal copier paper) is about the thinkness of the IS.  Thanks.

Oh yeah, do you have any information about when these will ship?  I pre-ordered one over 2 weeks ago, so I’m hoping it will ship soon.

Posted by mtnagel in Cincinnati, OH on December 15, 2005 at 7:35 PM (CST)

4

“Due out in time for the holidays - at least, to pre-orderers”

“iTrip nano is planned for limited online availability in time for the holidays, and in retail stores in early January.”

What holidays?  Easter?  Certainly not for Christmahanukwanzakah.

I pre-ordered the iTrip Nano and an iTrip with Dock Connector from Griffin’s web site on the same order back in mid-October.  I still have not received either one from them.  Instead, I ended up buying the iTrip with dock connector from my local Best Buy store when they arrived there last week.  I specifically bought the iTrip Nano for my wife for Christmas.  Given that we’re only 9 days away, I don’t see how it’s going to arrive in time; as of this morning, nothing has shipped from Griffin.  Griffin seems more intent on supplying their retailers than their pre-order customers.  So, what’s the sense of pre-ordering???

Posted by Bob Reck in Baltimore, MD on December 16, 2005 at 8:52 AM (CST)

5

SockMonkey,

I agree. There are even wholesalers that have them on ebay.  Pretty annoying.

Posted by mtnagel in Cincinnati, OH on December 17, 2005 at 8:22 PM (CST)

6

And look, someone paid $91 for it.  For a $50 product.  Just crazy.

Posted by mtnagel in Cincinnati, OH on December 17, 2005 at 8:27 PM (CST)

7

One thing I still can’t find the answer to:
WILL THE iTRIP NANO BE AVAILABLE IN WHITE, TOO?

SteveCh!snall

Posted by Cube All on December 22, 2005 at 10:28 PM (CST)

8

second request for Jeremy etc. - do we know if the invisibleshield (or the crystal film) actually does work with the itrip nano?

Posted by ScottRu on December 27, 2005 at 12:50 AM (CST)

9

A thought on the invisibleshield questions - the Nano dock takes a Nano fitted with IS (well mine does!) so if the same tolerances are used by Griffin then it should be OK.

Just a thought.

Posted by snowgoon on January 3, 2006 at 9:49 AM (CST)

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