Review: Griffin AirClick Wireless RF Remote Control
Pros: Attractive white and gray wireless remote and receiver enable you to wirelessly control your 3G, 4G or mini iPod (as well as second-generation iPod photos) at better distances than most competing products, and through walls. Included belt clip and velcro remote holder enable outdoor use.
Cons: Limited by fewer buttons/functions than top competing product from TEN. Currently need to buy multiple remotes to take advantage of AirClick’s cross-platform functionality. Due to undisclosed change to new iPod photo hardware, doesn’t fully work with first-generation iPod photo units.
The list of power players in the iPod add-on business isn’t big, but it’s certain that Griffin Technology is among them. For years, the company’s iPod and Mac accessories have been sought after as much for their style as for their functionality, and even when the company hasn’t been first to market with an idea, it’s almost always delivered something excellent.
Griffin’s positive track record continues with the AirClick series ($39.99), wireless remote control add-ons made for both iPods and computers. There are three versions of AirClick, one made for 3G, 4G, and current-model photo iPods (“AirClick”), one made for iPod minis (“AirClick mini”), and one made for PCs or Macs with a free USB port (“AirClickUSB”). As we’ll explain below, the standard version of AirClick has some issues we’ll note below with the first-generation iPod photo, and isn’t recommended for use with that particular iPod.
Facially, each AirClick model resembles earlier iPod wireless transmitter and receiver sets in appearance, featuring the two white plastic components you’d generally expect. But there are stylistic differences: each component uses an attractive combination of white plastic and gray rubber, and with the benefit of hindsight has been designed to better meet the aesthetic and practical needs of different sorts of iPod owners. It’s also the first Apple-certified “Made For iPod” remote, though for consumers’ purposes, the badge indicated little to no difference between this and earlier remotes we’ve tested.
As it’s not the first wireless iPod remote control system, AirClick includes a few nice design features that were absent from its competitors’ earlier offerings. AirClick’s remote, for example, doesn’t just have the five buttons (play, track forward/backward, volume up/down) that appear on most remotes - there’s also a hold switch. Is that really necessary? Yes - AirClick’s remote includes a spring-loaded integrated belt clip that can clip to your clothes or a bag, and you might actually use it someplace where the buttons might accidentally be pressed.
To that end, Griffin also packs in a plastic remote control holder that the AirClick remote locks into with its rear belt clip - a nice design. And two included (but simple and inexpensive-feeling) velcro bands can individually be used as wristbands or a steering wheel attachment, and collectively joined as an armband. They’re not the most comfortable bands we’ve seen, but they work; you can mount the AirClick on your bicep when they’re attached to each other. And the mounting ability is superior to other remotes we’ve seen, which aren’t at easy to use in cars or on-the-go for a number of reasons, including odd shapes, lack of clips, and in many cases, the inability to function unless they’re pointed directly at the iPod you’re using.
That’s the key distinction between Griffin’s remote and most others: the AirClicks use RF radio signals to communicate with the iPod instead of infrared light, and consequently controls supported iPod from a distance of around 50 feet without an issue. Not only is this significantly further than the best infrared remotes we’ve seen, but the AirClicks also work through walls, and don’t require you to point the remote in a direct line of sight from the receiver. Consequently, we were able to successfully use its control capabilities up to two rooms full of walls away, and at better distances than IR-based remotes such as TEN’s naviPro EX and DLO’s iDirect.
But that’s not the only way AirClick can be used. Assuming your iPod’s properly encased or otherwise protected, you can toss it into a backpack or pocket, connect your headphones to AirClick’s top pass-through port, and control your music from a close but shielded distance. Assuming that you like shuffle songs mode or use playlists, the AirClick is therefore an entirely useful on-the-go alternative to interacting with the iPod’s controls and screen. While not as elaborate as TEN’s naviPlay, which for five times the price lets you disconnect your headphones entirely from your iPod while both transmitting and controlling audio wirelessly, AirClick provides vaguely similar functionality under certain circumstances.
Like Griffin’s other top-mounting accessories (and most wireless remote competitors), AirClick’s receiver doesn’t require its own battery, and runs off of iPod power. However, its transmitter uses a small and standardized replaceable lithium CR2032 battery, and it’s a minor bummer that you (or a watch store) will need to unscrew three screws on the remote’s back to perform the replacement; this isn’t necessary on any of the competing remote controls, which use pop-open rear panels.
Diffferent Versions and Performance
Each of the three different versions of Griffin’s receiver comes with the same remote control for the same $39.99 price, though for obvious reasons, the AirClickUSB bundle does not include the armband and remote holder found in the other packages. All three use red indicator lights - the iPod versions on their fronts, the USB version on its top in a position that can be seen from any angle - and feature a small pin-sized button that can be used to pair individual remotes with individual receivers if you prefer. If you don’t use the button, or use it and then reset it, remotes become generically capable of controlling multiple AirClick receivers at once, though synchronous performance isn’t 100% predictable.
After extended testing of prototypes of the AirClick and AirClickUSB, we’ve repeated our tests and confirmed our findings on final versions of the AirClick and AirClick mini, but haven’t yet received a final model of the AirClickUSB. Consequently, we won’t rate the AirClick USB, but provide some details for those who may be interested in its performance.
The standard AirClick generally worked great on our test 3G and 4G iPods (plus the iPod mini, which it fit awkwardly), while the AirClick mini worked just as well on iPod minis. Both units fit iPods that they weren’t intended to match, so if you buy the AirClick mini and want to use it with a full-sized iPod, you can. Except when used with the first-generation iPod photo - yes, you read that correctly - each AirClick unit was capable of receiving signals from the remote at substantial distances - 30, 40, and 50 feet away - and best yet, through walls. At greater distances, the AirClicks sometimes required extra button presses to change tracks or volume, but at least they worked: infrared remotes just didn’t.
Similarly, the iPod shuffle-sized AirClickUSB prototype also worked well on our test Mac computer once its software was installed - a painless process. After the dongle is plugged into your computer, you can pivot its antenna portion 90 degrees to either side of your USB port so as not to interfere with whatever’s nearby. The small red indicator light visible from either side of its endcap lets you know that it’s successfully receiving and recognizing signals, while an icon appears on your computer to let you toggle between applications AirClick can control.
When using AirClickUSB with the Mac, you can control DVD Player, Keynote, iTunes, PowerPoint, QuickTime Player, radioSHARK and the open-source VLC media player; the PC version permits control of iTunes, Windows Media Player, PowerPoint and QuickTime. Griffin promises additional application support for the future, but the key one - iTunes - is already on the list, finally offering PC and Mac owners a remote control for distance listening with AirPort Express and AirTunes.
Griffin’s included software puts up generally nice transparent gray bezels on the screen when used with Apple’s music and movie applications, but not in either PowerPoint or Keynote. The latter approach would have seemed a better match for video applications such as DVD Player, especially given that Griffin’s bezeled volume control is very large on screen, but it fades in and out quickly enough not to be obtrusive. All of the applications we tested worked properly with the ironic exception of the company’s own OS X radioSHARK application; we couldn’t get the remote to do anything with radioSHARK at all. We’d expect that this will be fixed by the time the final unit ships.
For those who might be considering professional or studio applications for an iPod- or iTunes-friendly remote, it’s also worth noting that AirClick can’t control two programs at once on one computer, but as mentioned before, one remote can control multiple iPods or an iPod and a computer at the same time. Most people won’t care about this novelty feature, but we could imagine some interesting artistic applications involving music synchronization across multiple devices.
Now for the small bits of bad news. We liked each version of AirClick enough to highly recommend it independently, but there are a few disappointments: Griffin initially indicated that it would offer packages with one remote and two receivers (iPod and USB), but is not currently doing so. Consequently, while we benefitted from the reviewer’s advantage of receiving such a bundle for testing, readers will currently need to buy two $40 packages and wind up with an extra remote in the process. Our gut feeling is that many people who buy one of the iPod packages and like it will wind up wanting to add on the USB dongle as well, so we hope that Griffin finds a way to make the dongles available separately.
It’s also worth noting that whereas the AirClick competes wonderfully on features and pricing with most of its competitors, it’s shown up a bit on button count by TEN’s recently released naviPro EX packages. naviPro EX’s larger remote has individual buttons designed to let you toggle between different albums, playlists and book chapters without leaving your chair, while AirClick preserves the simple five-button functionality of virtually every remote that’s been released since the iPod’s earliest days. If you need the extra buttons of the naviPro EX, though it’s admittedly more expensive and less powerful in broadcasting, you’ll probably prefer that option.
And finally, there’s the issue of iPod photo compatibility. AirClick was originally promised as a fully iPod photo-compatible accessory, but early iPod photo owners are in for a disappointing surprise that’s not so much Griffin’s fault as Apple’s. While AirClick works perfectly with 3G, 4G and mini iPods, and even includes some features that were originally designed to control iPod photo slideshows, the full-sized AirClick units we tested have problems controlling first-generation iPod photos from a distance of greater than 8-10 feet. It appears that Apple quietly made some change to currently shipping 30GB and 60GB iPod photos around their headphone ports, and consequently, our older iPod photo models (and one tested by Griffin) didn’t work properly.
That’s a shame, because if you flip the remote’s hold switch on and off once during an iPod photo slideshow, you can actually use AirClick to change photos displayed on the iPod photo’s screen - the first device we’ve seen with such functionality. However, the feature doesn’t work with TV-based slideshows, rendering its practical utility less exciting, and unless Apple offers a fix for earlier iPod photo owners, you’ll only be able to use AirClick for control at a short distance anyway.
As an alternative to Infrared-based remote controls, AirClick is a winner. It looks good, works well even through walls and at greater distances, and costs no more than any available alternative. However, even though AirClick bests all of its Infrared-equipped brethren in broadcasting power, it isn’t the first RF remote for the iPod - that honor belongs to Engineered Audio’s RemoteRemote series ($40), which isn’t as easy to find but includes functionality and different-sized iPod receivers very similar to the AirClicks. A newer version of RemoteRemote 2 with iPod mini-specific casing is due out shortly, while a U2 iPod-specific black version is already out. Griffin’s gray highlights and arm and belt mounting options still set it apart, but Engineered Audio’s products are also viable options.
Overall, we really liked the performance of the AirClick and AirClick mini models, and have no hesitation in recommending them highly to our readers with 3G, 4G, and mini iPods - as well as those with currently shipping 30GB and 60GB iPods. Though it has fewer buttons than the most advanced of its competitors, it’s as good a remote solution as we’ve seen when measured in broadcasting power, and Griffin’s cross-platform support is an added bonus. From iPods to iTunes and other popular computer programs, AirClick does a great job of offering simple but effective wireless control options. It’s not recommended for use with older versions of the iPod photo, where its performance will prove disappointing, but we hope Apple will take some step to remedy this issue for those who supported the color iPod hardware early with $499-$599 investments.