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August 11 , 2003 | gear

I'm a proud owner of a new car. It's small, it's fast, it's fuel efficient, and it's armed with a 6-speaker CD-stereo system that doesn't have a cassette deck. At first glance this doesn't seem to be that big of an issue. We are smack dab in the middle of the digital era, right? So, what do I do about my iPod?

Griffin Technology, makers of nifty products for your Mac, propose the iTrip as the solution. It's a compact FM transmitter with a form factor custom designed to fit the iPod -- plug it right into the top, and tune a FM radio to hear the music. Perfect for a car without the tape deck, but also useful if you want to carry around a pirate radio station in your pocket.

As most FM transmitters are only set up to transmit one one to five different FM stations, the iTrip has the clear advantage as it is able to transmit on almost any station on the FM band. Pop in the iTrip CD into your Mac, click install, and in iTunes you should spot a new playlist called "iTrip Stations" with songs like "95.7" or "103.3". Sync that up to your pocket warrior, and you're set -- with the iTrip connected, when you play one of those files, your iTrip will begin to transmit on that station. Also, the iTrip doesn't require an additional battery, instead it sucks a little power from the iPod itself (through the cuff around the head-phone jack) making it a very quick, simple, and tight package.

While that all looks great, using the iTrip is not so quick, simple, and tight. First, you have to find a frequency to transmit on. Any decently powered radio station is going to overpower its small transmitter. While there isn't a list of "clear" radio stations out there, V-Soft does have a list of all the received stations by zip code. I inputted my zip code, and then started cruising the rest of the stations in my car to find one that had complete static. Once I played the appropriate MP3 on my iPod, the iTrip flashed to life, started transmitting, and the radio static went dead. I queued up one of my playlists and music started happily playing through my speakers. Just don't plan on playing your entire collection on random if you keep your iTrip files on board, otherwise you might either end up hearing some weird sounds or your iTrip will go frequency hopping.

But the difficulties don't end there. The instant I started driving around, my under-powered iTrip lost that clear channel. If fact, if you live near a large city (like me), then chances are that you won't have many clear stations for you to use. Once you start getting on the move, things change too. Forget any hopes of navigating the iPod's interface while keeping at least one hand on the wheel -- if you don't have a clear station for your entire route, then either forgo the whole thing or plan rest stops so you can retune.

For $35, this is might be a great deal if you have an original iPod (Griffin Technology claims that they will have a new version for the newest iPod in a few weeks) and if you live in the suburbs or a rural area. If you do live in a big city however, and your car is armed with a cassette deck, spend the $5 and just buy yourself a wired adapter.

Raffi Krikorian is a graduate student and a British Telecom fellow in the Physics and Media Group at the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms / Media Lab. He is the author of Tivo Hacks, from O'Reilly & Associates.

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