Review: Belkin TuneCast Auto Live with Lightning Connector
Compatibility: All Lightning-Equipped iPads, iPhones, iPods
FM transmitters, once some of the more common iPod accessories around, have almost totally fallen by the wayside thanks to the proliferation of Bluetooth connections and aux inputs in cars and speakers. There are still vehicles that don't have these more advanced inputs though, and iPhone users who want to listen to their music through the FM radio. That's what Belkin's TuneCast Auto Live with Lightning Connector ($70) is for. A small update to the 2010 30-pin based system of the same name -- itself a revised edition of a 2008 version -- the transmitter doesn't offer a lot of surprises, but it gets the job done.
With a Lightning plug on one side, a car charging plug on the other, and a tuning module in-between, TuneCast Auto Live works in conjunction with Belkin’s free app to find the clearest station for broadcasting. The controller in the middle is essentially the same as the one found on the last edition of the product. In addition to a small LCD display showing the currently-tuned station, there are two memory preset buttons, station toggle buttons, a “ClearScan” button that’ll help find the best station, and a “PRO” button “that optimizes audio and boosts volume.” Instead of red/orange characters, the numbers on this one glow a pale green. The app isn’t actually necessarily, as it simply replicates the functionality of the module. Although there have been some small changes to the app, it looks basically the same as it did in 2010.
Depending on how TuneCast Auto Live is used to find a radio station, results will vary in terms of transmission quality. When we hit the ClearScan button, it actually took us to a fully functioning commercial radio station. Needless to say, the power of that station drowned out what we were trying to broadcast. Playing around with the dial a bit though, we were able to find a clearer station, and were very impressed with the audio quality. Except for a few minor hisses and hiccups, it sounded quite good, especially for an over-the-air connection.
Belkin is essentially selling the same product it was six years ago. It’s swapped out the 30-pin connector for a Lightning plug and dropped the price by $10, but functionally and aesthetically, it’s the same thing. Although we found the ClearScan feature didn’t work as well as it should, some manual tuning proves it’s a very competent system for FM transmission, with the added benefit of charging. It’s a perfectly competent product, earning our general recommendation. We only wish there had been some other improvements of any kind to set this one apart from its predecessors.