Review: Griffin iTrip for iPod nano (2008)
Having only recently reviewed Griffin's 2008 version of its iTrip FM transmitter -- a white or black plastic bottom-mounting accessory that broadcasts your iPod's music to any nearby FM radio -- there shouldn't be much to say about iTrip for iPod nano ($50, aka iTrip nano), right? Well, we were surprised. Designed to match the dimensions of the third-generation, video-ready iPod nano, iTrip for iPod nano actually turns out to be a better buy for any iPod owner than the standard iTrip, assuming that you're willing to give up two semi-important features to gain two more important others.
Though the standard white iTrip was designed in 2007 to generically fit any iPod, it didn’t really match any iPod on the market in size, color, or texture by the time of its early 2008 release. A black version is the closest to a single iPod model—the classic—but thicker and shinier. iTrip nano, by comparison, is a little wider, but significantly thinner, with a silver and white front that matches the common 4GB and 8GB silver iPod nano, as well as the silver iPod classic. The width is just right for the nano, and, like the standard iTrip, short of the classic and iPod touch’s wider bodies. Its rear is also made from white plastic, unlike the shiny metal iPod rear casings, but you won’t see it unless you flip the iPod over.
More important are iTrip nano’s new features. First, it includes three FM station preset buttons missing from the standard version, which let you save and quickly recall your favorite stations with a single button press. Second, its screen is better than the standard iTrip’s, with taller numbers and a brighter, more even white backlight. Third, Griffin has done a better job of labeling its options, which are accessible by holding down both manual tuning buttons at once: like the standard iTrip, it has stronger mono and weaker stereo broadcasting modes, but here they’re obviously labeled rather than coded as LX and DX; so too are separate tuning modes for US, EU, and JP, which come up when the buttons are held down for a more extended time. The Japanese tuning mode lets you pick U.S.-everclear FM station 87.9FM, as well as other, lower stations found on Japanese radio dials.
What you give up with iTrip nano are two of the standard iTrip’s design features: a pass-through USB charging port on the bottom, and an extended Dock Connector plug on the top that lets that iTrip be used even if your iPod’s inside of most cases. While we wouldn’t trivialize either of these features or suggest that they’re unimportant, iTrip nano’s superior tuning, presets, and screen will make it easier to use on a daily basis, unless you keep your iPod in a case with a recessed Dock Connector port on the bottom. Ideally, you wouldn’t have to choose between iTrips to get all of these features, but it’s obvious that iTrip nano was designed to fit unencased new nanos with minimal fuss, while the standard iTrip was designed for users with more variation in their needs.
Sound quality is about as good as we could hope for in the post-FCC-enforcement period: if anything, iTrip nano sounds a little better than the prior iTrip. There’s still a very low base level of static, but the nano version sounded just a little cleaner at comparable distances from our test radio. Both versions do a very good job of performing audio when they’re close to your radio’s antenna, but we’d give the nano version a little edge.
In an ideal world, iTrip for iPod nano and the 2008 iTrip would be a single product with all of their collective advantages rolled into a single enclosure, but it’s obvious that Griffin had two slightly different audiences in mind when it created these products. From our perspective, iTrip for iPod nano is the smarter buy unless your iPod is permanently sitting inside of a case with a recessed Dock Connector port, or if you need to keep your iPod charged with a separate USB cable while broadcasting. In those situations, consider the standard iTrip a better purchase; otherwise, go with the thinner, more easily tuned and nicer-screened iTrip nano. Neither product eclipses the total value once offered by Belkin’s TuneFMs, which included detachable car charging bulbs for the same price, but until and unless those products are updated for compatibility with late 2007 iPod models, iTrip nano is one of the only real options in town.