Review: XtremeMac MicroFlex Car for iPod nano
Pros: A nice-looking black and silver single-piece integration of car charger, gooseneck, and iPod nano cradle that properly charges and mounts your iPod in a car. Gooseneck is easy to adjust and maintain in a given position; audio output from unit is powerful and especially good in cars with line-in ports. Physically compatible with company’s optional AirPlay2 FM transmitter.
Cons: Lack of two-position audio output switch results in slightly distorted bass when used with any cassette adapter (optional), location of audio port and related need for cable winding cleat detract from otherwise good looks. Not compatible with non-AirPlay2 accessories, like a recent competitor that’s also lower priced.
With the release of TEN Technology’s flexDock for iPod mini (iLounge rating: A-) one year ago, it was apparent that the gooseneck was the future of hybrid iPod car charging, mounting, and audio output solutions: the flexible metal pipe enables you to position your iPod on virtually any angle, at your preferred height from your car’s cigarette lighter port, which charges your iPod as you drive. Since then, other goosenecks have emerged - most notably TEN’s even better iPod-agnostic FlexibleDock (iLounge rating: A) - but none has been tailored to the iPod nano until now. Griffin Technology and XtremeMac have just released highly similar alternatives; Griffin’s TuneFlex (iLounge rating: B+) is reviewed separately.
XtremeMac’s MicroFlex Car for iPod nano ($50) is essentially a cosmetically and modestly electronically tweaked flexDock, consisting of a nano-specific black plastic cradle, a comparatively thin black gooseneck, and an attractive silver and black cigarette lighter plug - certainly the nicest-looking part of a very good design. As with TuneFlex, all that’s missing visually is a white version, which would match the less popular nano color like Belkin’s earlier (and forthcoming) competing gooseneck TuneBases; the black MicroFlex, however, is probably a better aesthetic match for most car interiors.
It also did pretty well physically in our test cars. While the lighter plug is quite long - longer than FlexibleDock’s, and just enough to make physical contact with the gear shifter on one of our test cars - it didn’t interfere with driving, and stayed generally stable and upright even through hard turns in our test drives. There’s a small blue power light on the plug, which (unnecessarily) flashes to indicate the nano’s recharging status, and a series of small black rubber grip dots which made MicroFlex easier than normal to remove from the recessed charging port on another of our test cars. Not surprisingly, nano recharging worked properly.
We also liked the gooseneck and cradle. The gooseneck is more pliable than the one in Griffin’s TuneFlex, better holding the shape and orientation you specify. You can make the cradle sit flat against the gooseneck or off on an angle, and the cradle has actually been designed with enough internal space to hold either the nano alone, or the nano stacked on top of XtremeMac’s AirPlay2 (iLounge rating: B), a small FM transmitter which works a little better inside MicroFlex than alone. A Dock Connector in the bottom of the MicroFlex cradle is capable of providing power for both devices at once. While Xtreme’s solution isn’t as widely compatible with accessories as Griffin’s TuneFlex, one of our editors preferred the visually clean in-line integration of Xtreme’s parts to Griffin’s less visually coordinated approach.
If you’re not using AirPlay2, you’ll need to connect an audio cable or cassette adapter to get audio output from your iPod nano while it’s inside MicroFlex Car, and this is handled through a port on the cradle’s right bottom side. This turns out to be a visual detractor from the MicroFlex design, which XtremeMac attempts to manage by including a rear cleat that you can wrap your cable around. The overall look with cable attached is not as elegant as on other devices we’ve seen, but it works well to provide clean, strong audio from the nano’s bottom.
The audio’s actually a bit too strong, though: as with a number of other in-car devices that pull sound from the iPod’s Dock Connector, MicroFlex really needs a flexDock-like switch to flip between output compatible with cassette tape adapters, and newer cars with direct line-in audio ports. Without that switch, the audio output is a little too powerful for use with tape adapters, clipping the bass in a way we’ve regrettably heard before. It’s not too bad in an absolute sense, but noticeable when compared against superior solutions. Buyers whose cars have direct line-in audio ports will find the sound virtually perfect, just as with Griffin’s TuneFlex.
It’s worth a brief additional note that XtremeMac sells a bundled “Combo” version of MicroFlex Car that includes one of the company’s newer cassette adapters for a premium over the standard $50 price tag - the exact premium ranges from $10 at most retailers to $20 at a few, and even $0 at others. We’d advise you to shop around for this combo pack, particularly if you can find it cheap, as Xtreme’s cassette adapter is worthwhile either as a first-string or backup for your car. In any case, however, MicroFlex remains $10 more expensive than TuneFlex, a factor in Griffin’s favor that’s hard to ignore when comparing the two devices side-by-side. Griffin also includes a small but useful and increasingly common feature - an auto-pause mechanism that activates when your car turns off - which MicroFlex Car doesn’t.
Overall, MicroFlex Car is a good mounting and charging solution for the iPod nano - especially if you already own an AirPlay2 FM transmitter, in which case you’ll find XtremeMac’s design the most practical and attractive solution yet for mounting both devices in your car. While we still prefer the sound, wider iPod-compatibility and identical pricing of FlexibleDock, and would also lean a bit more towards the overall versatility and design of TuneFlex, MicroFlex Car is a better visual match for the black iPod nano than TEN’s products, and with proper shopping you’ll even get a good cassette adapter in the box for the same price. In an increasingly crowded field, it’s a good, recommendable option.