Review: BTI u-Link/uLink Accessory Adapter for iPod nano
Pros: A simple, affordable adapter that enables you to connect virtually any top-mounting 3G/4G/mini iPod accessory to the bottom of your iPod nano, providing the same power and iPod interactivity you’d get with earlier iPods. Comes in two different colors to match white and black nanos.
Cons: Accessories are mounted backwards on nano and accessory ports are on the very tight side, both detracting a bit from otherwise solid execution; the few accessories that have problems with u-Link will largely be attributable to this odd decision. Separately, and through no fault of the adapter, battery drain of old iPod accessories may limit their usefulness with the small nano, and all voice recording accessories remain incompatible because of iPod firmware differences.
When Apple decided to remove its proprietary extended headphone (“Remote”) connector from iPod nanos and 5Gs, several companies talked about releasing “old accessory adapters” - devices that would allow owners of old iPod accessories to keep using them with the newer iPods. At least a couple of major players passed on the idea, but recently BTI and Targus have provided us with actually working adapters. This brief review focuses on BTI’s variously labelled u-Link / uLink ($20) for iPod nano, while a separate review looks at Targus’s 9-Pin to 30-Pin Accessory Adapter (iLounge rating: B/B-).
Both of these products work in the same basic way. They provide one port to plug in an old top-mounting iPod accessory, and a plug that connects to the bottom of a current model iPod. So connected, old accessories such as remote controls, Bluetooth adapters, and FM transmitters are able to draw power from the iPod and perform their normal features. In short, the old accessory behaves pretty much as it should, even though it’s connected to a newer iPod. The only common exceptions to this rule are old voice recorders, which don’t work on new iPods at all because of firmware differences.
Other than the obvious fact that one’s a cable and the other’s a plastic bottom-of-iPod mount, u-Link’s different from the Targus Adapter in five ways. First, it comes in two nano-matching colors - Targus’s white Adapter doesn’t - and second, both of its iPod connectors are initially on the very tight side. Part of this tightness is attributable to a third, bigger electronic difference between u-Link and Targus’s Adapter: it actually connects to both the iPod’s Dock Connector and headphone ports at the same time, and stays firmly locked into both when connected. BTI’s decision to do this has two consequences: on one hand, this is actually a superior way to emulate the old iPod’s connector, allowing users of old FM transmitters and remote controls to hear changes in the iPod’s volume level, a beneficial if not necessary step when you’re using certain old accessories.
But as a fourth difference, this headphone plug also limits u-Link to being used solely with the nano, unlike Targus’s Adapter, which works with both iPods. BTI plans to sell a separate, headphone plug-less version called v-Link for fifth-generation (and possibly other) iPods. And as a fifth difference - one that’s frankly inexplicable to us, and the single biggest detractor from u-Link’s rating - BTI actually mounts your accessories backwards on the nano’s bottom. This won’t matter with most accessories, but users of Griffin’s iTrip (LCD) and the numerous old accessories with front-mounted status lights will find this puzzling, if not worse. By contrast, Targus’s cable forces accessories to dangle, but they needn’t have their front sides facing backwards.
Both BTI and Targus’s devices raise one additional new concern: battery drain. Unlike newer iPod accessories we’ve tested, older ones haven’t necessarily been optimized for the nano’s smaller battery, so those expecting to get iPod- or iPod-mini comparable run times may be disappointed. This isn’t u-Link’s fault, of course, but should be borne in mind before you entirely write off the idea of buying newer, nano-specific accessories.
Overall, u-Link is a good new iPod nano accessory - affordable, useful, and inoffensive-looking; its wide and proper compatibility with past iPod accessories makes it easy to recommend to nano owners. That said, its idiosyncracies - oddly tight ports and backwards accessory mounting, in particular, come across as rushed and sloppy, detracting from the user experience, and for some, its usability. Our guess is that if you need what it offers, you’ll find a way to live with these issues.