Review: BTI FM Transmitter for iPod nano
It's far more common that we come across iPod accessories that look good but work poorly than ones that work well but look odd. BTI's FM Transmitter for iPod nano ($40) is an example of the latter concept in action, a sled-like transmitter attachment for the super-thin iPod that mounts its controls on the nano's back, rather than on its front or sides. We opted not to give it a lengthy review because it's not a standout on audio performance - it lacks for dynamic range (high treble, low bass) relative to nano transmitters we've recently tested from Griffin, Belkin, and Kensington - but we wanted to cover it anyway, as it delivers acceptably clean audio output, and is hurt mostly by the weirdness of its interface.
Though we’ve only received a white version for testing, BTI offers the FM Transmitter in both white and black colors, each designed to match a single color of the iPod nano. Unlike Griffin’s iTrip for iPod nano, the sled falls a little short of matching the nano’s left and right sides, as well as its top, such that the nano sticks out conspicuously in three directions when viewed from the back. Other than that, the sled feels substantial and mostly looks fine on the nano when in use.
The weirdness appears in the FM Transmitter’s controls, which consist of five buttons and an LCD screen, both found not only on the nano’s back, but upside down relative to its screen. Flip the nano over horizontally and the screen will be in the wrong position - you’ll need to flip it vertically to make adjustments. Two of the buttons - the left and right single arrows - tune stations, while the up and down double arrows change iPod tracks. Holding down the left or right buttons lets you move between 5 preset stations, a feature which can sometimes be accidentally accessed, and it’s initially difficult to realize you’re stuck in that mode because the M1-M5 numbers are nearly covered by the top of the accessory’s screen. The center button replaces the iPod’s play/pause button, or selects a preset. When not in use for FM tuning, the screen reads “iPod,” even when the nano’s turned off, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to stop this short of unplugging the nano. Keeping text on the screen also drains a bit of battery juice in the process. For that reason, you’ll want to unplug the FM Transmitter when you’re not using it.
BTI’s done an interesting job on FM transmission this time out: in home and in car, the FM Transmitter lacks the dynamic range of Belkin, Griffin, and Kensington’s latest transmitters - their audio sounds punchier, louder, and more powerful - but it’s consistently low on static levels on empty channels (such as 87.9FM, which it tunes), very close to Belkin’s TuneFMs at close distances, and occasionally besting it on static at far distances. Regrettably, this should be read to mean something that we don’t consider especially important in an FM transmitter: though it doesn’t sound as good close to your radio as its competitors, BTI’s FM Transmitter may sound better - on static level, only - when further away. In a car, this won’t matter much, but if you like to keep your iPod further away from your radio in a home or office, perhaps this might matter to you. On challenging stations, such as our local 103.3FM test station, it faired at least pretty well at close distances- 20-30% static levels in a car, 10% or so indoors - and was able to work, unassisted, from several feet further away than top competitors before fading into static. Its close-distance performance is better than in Griffin’s iTrip with Dock Connector, but not up to Griffin’s more recent iTrip for iPod nano or Belkin’s TuneFM for nano when they’re at their best. However, it’s important to note that BTI, like Kensington with its Pico, doesn’t provide a pass-through port for iPod charging anywhere on FM Transmitter’s body, and for this reason also doesn’t benefit from the radio signal boost accessories with these ports enjoy when connected to a charger or loose USB cable.
Overall, the FM Transmitter for iPod nano is more than a little quirky - a transmitter that is competent, but not groundbreaking by comparison with its contemporaries, and outperforms them only in ways that we don’t think most users will care about. It also provides no ability to transmit and charge at the same time, a feature that has become common amongst competitors, and increasingly necessary with low-capacity iPod batteries. Given what else is out there, we think it’s worthy only of our limited recommendation - right for people who need longer-distance FM transmission than some of the other, short-distance optimized transmitters we’ve recently tested, and don’t mind its back-of-nano interface quirks or “always on” battery drain design.