Review: Griffin iTrip AutoPilot
Having only recently reviewed Griffin's iTrip Auto with SmartScan, a good but not great FM transmitter and car charger released early this year for iPods, we don't feel it necessary to rehash all of the details for today's review of iTrip AutoPilot ($100) -- a newly revised, iPhone- and iPod-compatible version. But there's no question that iTrip AutoPilot is a substantially better product, limited only by a price tag that makes it as expensive as cabled FM transmitters get.
iTrip AutoPilot starts with two familiar pieces taken from iTrip Auto, first a Dock Connector cable, and then an FM transmitter that has been newly packaged in a mirror-less dark plastic box that makes the bright OLED display inside easier to see. While this transmitter’s generally the same in functionality as the last version, with three buttons that change features based on the menu you’re in, it’s now shielded from iPhone audio interference. Under some circumstances, it also features the ability to broadcast the current song and artist text information from your iPod or iPhone to the screen of a car radio using RDS text.
There are two things that make iTrip AutoPilot a better than average companion for in-car iPod or iPhone listening. First, there’s a tuning feature called SmartScan, which like many recent competing FM transmitters automatically scopes out empty stations on the radio dial; unlike competitors, iTrip AutoPilot does a very good job of finding clear stations, and then transforming them into presets for the unit’s integrated buttons.
iTrip AutoPilot also has some transmitter-specific features that can improve the sound of your iPod or iPhone’s audio, including a SmartSound audio optimizer, plus monaural and stereo broadcasting modes. Experimenting with these features, found in a three-button menu with a Griffin logo at center, can be used to make iTrip AutoPilot sound significantly better than its competitors, but if the settings aren’t optimal, it will sound as good as its best rivals, not better.
The other new part of iTrip AutoPilot is “AutoPilot,” which was previously sold as a separate, FM transmitter-less car charger that had some interesting features. First was a set of three remote control buttons that let you pause and change tracks on an iPhone or iPod; second was a multicolored charge indicator ring, and third was an audio output port. In iTrip AutoPilot, you get the charger, the multicolored charge indicator ring, and the remote control buttons, but not the line-out port.
Some users will find that AutoPilot’s buttons don’t add much—we’d prefer a true steering wheel-mounted remote control—but both the iPhone and iPod touch do benefit from them, enabling you to quickly change or pause tracks without needing to unlock or fidget with their touchscreens. While most of the other differences between iTrip AutoPilot and iTrip Auto with SmartScan fall into the “this should have been fixed in the original version” category, the AutoPilot features are true additions; you’ll need to decide whether they matter to you personally.
Overall, there’s no doubt that iTrip AutoPilot is a standout FM transmitter and charger, but there’s also no getting around the fact that its $100 price tag is just too high—$20 higher than Belkin’s TuneCast Auto for iPhone and iPod, which was already pushing the price limits that people find reasonable for FM transmitter functionality, and the same price as integrated transmitter-charger-car mounts such as TuneBase FM. At a lower price, iTrip AutoPilot would unquestionably have merited our high recommendation; as-is, we’d suggest it only to people who want strong broadcasting performance and are willing to pay a premium to get it.