Review: Pacific Rim Technologies iCradle FM for iPod nano
Pros: An all-in-one mount, charger, and FM transmitter for iPod nano, available in two colors. Properly charges the nano.
Cons: Size and plastic pipe mounting design presented major mounting difficulties in two of our test vehicles. FM transmission has audible sizzling bass distortion even on the cleanest of stations, and no station preset buttons to ease tuning on the fixed-angle yellow LCD screen. No wired audio output options for those who don’t want to use the FM transmitter. Bland aesthetic design.
Over the course of the last several years, we’ve tested quite a few “3-in-1” car accessories - devices that combine iPod mounting, charging, and FM radio broadcasting into a single unit. Last year, for instance, DLO released TransPod for iPod shuffle (iLounge rating: B-), a 3-in-1 design that we weren’t particularly happy with, and wouldn’t cite as a best of class option. Unfortunately, Pacific Rim Technologies has taken a stab at duplicating that device with iCradle FM, which is essentially an elongated, iPod nano version of the shuffle TransPod, minus a number of its frills. Because there are so many functional issues to point out with iCradle FM, we’ll only briefly mention the blandness of its aesthetic, namely that the unit we received for testing is a generic black plastic shell without any sort of class, branding, or style. An all-white version is also available.
More than any other feature we test in our reviews of automotive accessories, car mounting is a somewhat subjective experience. Cars and personal mounting tastes vary from person to person, iLounge’s editors included. That said, we’ve reviewed enough car mounts and read enough reader comments to know that there are some solutions that have a much higher probability of working in all cars than others. And we’ve repeatedly told auto accessory manufacturers (both in our reviews, and in personal discussions) that we and our readers have found serious issues with car mounts that use plastic tubing to connect to your cigarette lighter port. Accessories with short tubes have problems fitting into the charging ports in some cars, ones with long tubes often have stability problems due to their weight, and even ones with medium-length tubes can be hard to adjust on a comfortable viewing angle. You have to add a lot of parts and do a lot of testing to create a good plastic tubing solution. Consequently, we’ve strongly recommended gooseneck mounts as a more compatible and versatile solution; we (and readers) have found them far less troublesome, and much nicer to look at, besides.
Unfortunately, Pacific Rim didn’t listen to these warnings, and the problems with short plastic piping we mentioned in the TransPod shuffle review are actually accentuated in iCradle FM. We had serious trouble mounting the device in two of our three test cars, finding that its larger-than-TransPod iPod dock physically interfered with the gear shifter on one car, and could not be placed in a visible, usable position in the other. Our photos below show these difficulties. Though the iCradle could be used in our third car - and, depending on your vehicle, may well mount without any issue there as well - this is, regardless, amongst the least compatible iPod 3-in-1 devices we’ve tested. Even DLO’s full-sized TransPod and Griffin’s RoadTrip, both of which use large plastic tubes, work better.
These mounting problems are compounded a couple of other issues. First, the plastic piping lacks a ball joint or other way to tilt the iPod or iCradle’s LCD display so that you can see them straight on, and virtually all of the similar plastic pipe-mounted 3-in-1 devices we’ve tested (say nothing of goosenecks) include a tilt feature so that this isn’t a problem. Second, iCradle FM’s yellow LCD display can be hard to see at certain off-center viewing angles. Since Pacific Rim doesn’t include a preset button or presets, if you have to switch channels on the road, you’ll need to really use that LCD screen, and depending on where the device is mounted in your car, may find that to be a challenge.
How does iCradle FM sound? You’ve probably heard our standard disclaimer on FM transmitters already, and know that even the best such wireless devices aren’t a good substitute for wired (cassette adapter/line-in) in-car solutions. By the standards of the last two generations of transmitters we’ve tested, iCradle FM’s audio quality isn’t good. Regardless of the station you’re using - and yes, iCradle does broadcast to 87.9FM, which is almost always clear in the United States - you’ll hear significant static distortion around every bass thump, enough that two iLounge editors ultimately found the sound unlistenable. We’d choose light background static without the percussive sizzling any day.
Adding insult to injury, iCradle FM lacks a traditional audio output port, which is very common on devices of this sort to provide users with an alternative to FM transmission if they only want to charge and mount their iPods. Because of the bottom location of the nano’s headphone port, there’s no way to make a wired connection at all, limiting the device’s utility for many users. In other words, unlike TransPod for iPod shuffle and most other devices of this sort, you only buy iCradle FM to get FM output, because you have no other option.
Overall, iCradle FM is one of the rare iPod accessories that we actively disliked - such a disappointment on audio quality, features, and mounting that we agreed that it merited our “bad” rating rather than just an okay one. Despite its initially attractive $50 price tag - the same as TransPod for iPod shuffle - we can’t in good faith praise anything about Pacific Rim’s implementation here, as what you wind up with under the best circumstances is heavily bass-distorted FM transmission, without the ability to do any cleaner wired audio output, and at worst a device that won’t mount properly in your car, as it didn’t in two of ours. The only thing it’s guaranteed to do right in every car is charge your iPod, which isn’t saying much. Given 2005’s advancements in both FM transmission quality and iPod in-car mounting, it’s our opinion that iCradle FM is two generations behind the curve on both, and in need of significant improvements before it’s worthy of mass-market attention.