Review: Griffin TuneFlex Aux with SmartClick
When Apple announced the iPhone, it knew -- without question -- that its decision to include the iPod's four-year-old bottom Dock Connector would come with benefits and consequences. Some old iPod accessories would work. Others would not work at all. And still others would sort of work, but ultimately require developers to re-engineer everything from wiring to components, releasing similar but not identical versions that performed properly. Like other companies, Griffin Technology started the re-engineering process as quickly as possible after the first iPhone was released, and over the last few months has released updated, iPhone-ready versions of several key car accessories: iTrip Auto, RoadTrip, and TuneFlex AUX. This brief review update covers the iPhone version's substantial changes to TuneFlex Aux.
At least for the moment, the iPhone hasn’t gotten exactly the same car mounting, charging, and audio-out accessory that was released for the iPod a year ago; instead, this is an upgraded, more expensive version called TuneFlex Aux with SmartClick ($80). In addition to possessing the prior one-piece, black gooseneck mount-slash-charger and a Velcro-wrapped auxiliary audio cable, this version of TuneFlex adds new cradles for the iPhone and iPhone 3G, as well as a new SmartClick remote control: Griffin’s latest RF-based remote design features an oversized play/pause button, track buttons, and buttons to illuminate the connected iPod or iPhone’s screen, or activate shuffled playback modes. You can mount SmartClick on your steering wheel with a hybrid Velcro and magnetic mount, the latter part making the remote easy to take off, hand to someone else in the car, or replace the battery.
The good news for TuneFlex Aux with SmartClick is that users with cassette tape decks should have no major issues enjoying it. As was the case with the prior TuneFlex Aux, there’s a variable audio out port on the charging bulb, plus a volume adjustment knob that works very well to let you get clear sound from an iPod or iPhone when connected to a cassette adapter—the most cost-efficient way for owners of older cars to get solid sound quality out of their iPods. We’re not huge fans of Griffin’s new remote control design, which doesn’t quite rival Kensington’s LiquidAUX remotes in class, but it did work without issues to control connected iPods and iPhones mounted on the sturdy, if still too short gooseneck stem.
The bad news relates to the iPhone aux-out functionality. Even with the iPhone 3G, which tends not to cause issues for iPod-only accessories when it’s in 3G wireless mode, TuneFlex Aux with SmartClick exhibited very significant interference-like noises during our line-out/aux-in testing, almost all of which disappeared when we connected an iPod classic, or used the same iPhone with a cassette tape adapter. Griffin suggests that this issue is more likely to occur in Toyota’s vehicles - including our test vehicle - due to the way in which these cars are wired, but it’s not an issue in Kensington’s LiquidAUX designs.
Compounding this issue was the relative weakness of the iPhone’s aux-connected volume level even at TuneFlex Aux’s peak. In addition to the comparative lack of electrical interference noises, Kensington’s LiquidAUX units delivered a comparatively loud iPhone signal, properly matched to our test vehicle’s auxiliary input port. This factor made LiquidAUX a strongly preferable choice for iPhone users with aux ports, though its inability to adjust its output volume level or be used out of the box with cassette tape adapters makes it a comparatively poor choice for those with tape decks.
Overall, we’d recommend TuneFlex Aux with SmartClick primarily to iPod owners, and secondarily to iPhone users with cassette tape decks, but wouldn’t recommend it to every iPhone user with an aux-in ports; certainly owners of popular Toyotas may experience issues, with other brands as more of a question mark. The good but not great new remote, the marked difference in sonic quality between connected car stereos, and the issues with iPhone noise collectively make this $80 option a less than universal pick for our readers; our rating of B+ for iPod owners and a B- for iPhone ones can be viewed as a flat B overall. Based on past history, we’d hope and expect that Griffin will step up and produce a better version soon.