It’s here, and it performs as promised: after delays, cancellation, and then a complete restart of the project from the ground up, Griffin’s iFM radio tuner ($49.99 MSRP, approx. $30 street price) is finally ready to go. And other than one caveat, it’s highly impressive. Our full review will follow later, but here’s a First Look with pictures.
The biggest feature of iFM is its integrated digital radio tuner, which jumps in .2 increments from 87.9 to 107.9FM. Tuning is quick and easy with the unit’s forward and backward switch, located on its bottom right corner. More importantly, it sounds great. Griffin has been promising for months that iFM would rival the best portable FM radio tuners, and in our testing, it actually does. It’s on the same general level as the best of the tuners we’ve tried, which we’ll expand upon further in our full review.
iFM’s light blue/green backlit screen is easy to see, and indicates its mode – FM / REMOTE / REC on the top. REC? Yes, iFM records FM radio to the iPod with a single button press, and stops recording with a single button press. The little button to the northeast of the large play button activates recording, lighting up red when it’s happening. The iPod’s screen – normally turned off while iFM is connected – turns on when recording begins, and stays on until it’s over. Your Voice Memos list then contains a time/date stamped recording, which sounds just about as good as the iPod can muster with its low sampling rate.
And yes, you can also use iFM as a remote control – a better one, in fact, than the one Apple has been selling in a package with extra headphones for $39 since the launch of the third-generation iPod back in 2003. While the LCD screen is mostly useless in remote mode, the iFM’s tuning button (the same as its radio tuning button) and volume control button (on the top of its right side) work well, and the play/pause button is easy to find and use.
But the big surprise is that you can use iFM as a voice recorder, too. A mic on its top left corner mimics part of the functionality of the company’s earlier iTalk accessory, controllable now via a single press of the record button at any time. The iPod drops what it’s doing and begins recording, then shuts off with a second button press. It’s pretty impressive.
There’s a three-position switch on the left side of iFM to toggle between OFF, FM and REMOTE positions. Since it runs off of the iPod’s battery, you’ll want to turn it off when you’re not using it. The iFM otherwise stays on when the iPod’s turned off, even in remote mode.
A plastic belt clip on the rear is small and not especially resilient feeling, but not awful, either. We wish the screw at the top was a Philips head, so people could easily remove the clip.
Our final comment, and only slight issue with iFM – the dangling cord form factor is not our favorite way of mounting any iPod accessory. iFM’s functionality as a remote justifies it in this case, but the same design in a top-mounting iPod accessory would have been even better. That aside, the look, feel, and interface of iFM are substantially better than BTI’s TuneStir (iLounge rating: B-), which we previously reviewed. We’ll have more to say on the units – and a complete comparison – very soon.