Review: Griffin RoadTrip with Smartscan

With my original iPhone 2G, I used a Monster solution to output the audio to my no-dock, no-RCA equipped car. Along came the iPhone 3G and while the Monster still worked, it no longer provided power. See, Apple in their Infinitely Looped wisdom decided to remove the FireWire pin from the iPhone 3G dock connector, and that was precisely the pin many peripherals used to transmit charge.

That was a problem for me, since my daily commute to work is an hour to an hour-and-a-half, and I typically listen to podcasts and audio books there and back again. Without power, my iPhone's charge was taking a hit!

Enter the Griffin RoadTrip with Smartscan. It transmits iPhone (or iPod touch) audio to your car's FM radio, and most importantly for our perpetually draining devices -- it charges as well.

I've spent a month with it now, putting it through it's paces on the Hoth-like roads of a Montreal winter. How did it hold up? Read on to find out!

Hardware

The end of the Griffin RoadTrip with Smartscan plugs into your car's cigarette lighter (is that still what we're calling it?). A long, malleable neck connects the end to a head which is solely composed of a few buttons and, at the very top, an iPhone dock.

The buttons on the face of the head include FM (which scans for usable frequencies), Play/Pause, and Skip.

Also included in the box are dock adapters for the iPhone 3G, iPhone 2G, and both generation iPod touches.

Usability

The tail plugs easily enough into the cigarette lighter, and the neck is very easy to position into just about any position that best suits your car setup and personal preferences. However, when an iPhone is plugged atop the RoadTrip, gravity has a tendency to slowly (or not so slowly) drag the whole thing down. As it rotates in the cigarette lighter, it also tends to come a little loose. So, I found myself losing FM reception quality from time to time and having to push it back in. Not a huge deal, but definitely a problem with this type of form factor.

My car has lousy radio reception -- the Monster worked fine but most others were nearly unusable. The RoadTrip worked well. It was incredibly easy to choose a usable station. Smartscan "just works". You press the button, it finds the best station, and you’re good to go. It remembers the station as well (least it always did for me), so set up is really a breeze.

Audio quality was excellent in general. Again, my lousy reception meant I had to carefully position the RoadTrip and make sure nothing came between it and my radio (including my hand!), but otherwise everything from music to podcasts to Audible books came in 5x5.

Aside from the FM selector, the buttons may seem to duplicate the functionality of what you can already do using the iPhone interface itself. That's true. However, in below 0 temperatures, when your fingers are going numb inside of your gloves, not having to touch bare skin to capacitive iPhone screen is very welcome. For those in warmer climes, they're also useful in saving you having to navigate to the iPod app (or double-tapping the Home button) to get the on-board media controls. Just hit pause/play or skip, and no matter whether it's on or off, locked or unlocked, in the iPod app or doing something else, your iPhone will listen.

The only real trouble I had with the device was the dock connector itself. It fit well enough, but because winter reduces the already terrible Montreal streets to ice and snow covered, cratered battlefields, I found that as my car bounced up and down, my iPhone would often become disconnected. This seldom happened on the major highways or roads, but on the less well cared for side streets, it was pretty frequent. I can easily imagine people who frequent dirt roads, go off-roading, or otherwise travel over rough terrain on a regular basis will have a similar problem.

Conclusion

If you live in an area with fairly smooth roads and have a car that allows the device to sit in a fairly straight-up position, the RoadTrip is a fantastic FM transmitter and charger solution.

If you have poor driving conditions and need to set up the device in a way that will tend to make it sag down, your mileage may vary.

If they could somehow beef up the dock connected -- perhaps use an old-school locking dock-type connection where you have to squeeze to remove it -- it would be darn near perfect for my needs.

Pros

  • Charges iPhone 3G (and other modern iPods)
  • Flexible positioning options
  • Handy controls
  • Good FM transmission

Cons

  • Can droop down if left in a horizontal position
  • iPhone can become disconnected when going over bumps

TiPb Rating

The iPhone blog 4 Star Review

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Review: Griffin RoadTrip with Smartscan

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you fail to mention the "smartscan" in the review, and this would be one of the key selling points for this product. how do you know which station to tune your radio to? does the smartscan find the best available channel for the radio (by scanning the full range of frequencys then selecting the channel), or just the first one with little interferance?
does it remeber which channel it was tuned to when you last had it turned on or do you have to retune it everytime. It would be nice to see a complete review of this product!

Smartscan just works. You press the button, it finds the best station, and you're good to go. It remembers the station as well (least it always did for me), so -- as stated in the review -- set up was a breeze.

FM transmitters are such an old way to do this and typically poor audio quality. Griffin has the TuneFlex AUX SmartClick and most cars have AUX port now days. The AUX port is no digital out, but it is vastly superior to an FM transmitter. I'd love to hear a review of that product. It also has the merit of being new, unlike the Griffin RoadTrip with Smartscan which has been out for quite a while.

FM transmitters are the only way to do this for the majority of cars on the road. aux in ports are limited to most cars made in the last 4 or 5 years.

I would be very wary of these things - I bought an FM transmitter for an older iPod, and it was all but useless. The reception was so poor that the system was unusable. My solution: my truck has a tape deck, and I just got one of those tape deck adapters and plugged the iPod (and now the iPhone) into that via the headphone port. Works great. Of course, tape decks are not seen too much anymore, so this may not work for you.

I too have a 1+ hour commute. A few weeks ago I finally gave up on waiting for a good FM transmitter and opted for a speaker doc that now sits in my passenger seat and plugs into a power adapter that plugs into the "cigarette lighter". There are all kinds of speaker docs on the market but beware of any bluetooth models as I don't believethe iPhone 3GG will support that for playing music (I learned that the hard way when I tried out a Motorola handsfree unit, somthing to do with A2DP). Though the model I bought is rechargeable, I elect to plug it in because when running off battery if I go over a bump and the connection is interrupted it shuts off the unit. The speakers are probably superior to my VW Beetle speakers and if a call comes in it does defer to it.

I've had my RoadTrip for the past 3 weeks. Here are my observations:

  • I think I got a slightly older model, so it did not include a 3G iPhone holder.
  • Not a huge deal because I use a PowerSupport casing (the thin one). I found a holder that would hold both the iPhone in the casing with the provided holders.
  • I get a 'This is not an approved accessory' warning everytime I plug in the 3g iphone. Not a huge deal, but something to be wary of.
  • I live in a crowded FM area, SmartScan worked pretty well and I now have a good signal. There's also a nice tip on Amazon.com where a reviewer switched the Roadtrip to EU mode to get some different FM Bands.
  • Signal Quality is fine, although not tremendous, but my car does not have an AUX in or a cassette player.
  • I've found that bouncy roads car jar my iPhone out of the connection or smack it against my dash. But it isn't the arm part that is weak, it is the connector at the 'cigarette lighter'.
  • Speaker phone doesn't work very well, I can hear the person, but my voice comes through 'echoy'.

Overall, it is a good 'one step' solution for most cars. I'd like a better way to answer calls, and it'd be nice it it were a little sturdier. But I can't complain for a $65 investment.

I like this device. The nano is perfect for it. My 4g works with it ok, but there is no back support and im a little concerned over time i may damabe the ipod port, but this may be unlikely since the ipod is stong metal and probably is rigid enough to support itself. 8 of 10 stars.

GotHot this shortly after gettig 3G iPhone. Started out great then about month after (when I could no longer return it) the thing started to crap out. It has gotten progressively worse and it's been only 3 months!
Bad reception. Saysq it's not made to work with iPhone. Randomly disconnects. No longer stays properly in lighter...
Overall, I just paid $70 for an expensive car charger. I want my money back!

I'm in the same boat as NotPleased. This thing was absolutely awesome for about 5 or 6 weeks. Now, I wouldn't recommend it as a paperweight. It loses its connection constantly; repeatedly gives warnings about how it's not an approved device, etc. I have a Chevy Silverado with 3 outlets, and they are all VERY tight on the plug. So, I think the connection problem is in the swivel end. Either way, I pissed this money down the drain, apparently.

Two quick points not mentioned yet. I bought this back in January, and have been using on my hour+ commutes as well. There is a tiny aux plugin on the device, so if your vehicle has an aux port, just buy a male to male connector cable and it should work (I haven't used this feature though). Also, for whatever reason the iPhone refuses to play video when it's plugged in! It will gladly play the audio track to the movie, but the screen itself is full of a single frame, the first one on the video file. This is frustrating because often when I have passengers that would love to watch a TV show, or YouTube videos, and have the "surround sound" of the car speakers do their thing as well. It's admittedly a very small screen, but hey, some us are rich enough to install DVD players! I know the new Belkin one does, and specifically supports "widescreen mode". I may look at trying to get my hands on one of them. It's a shame, cause I did drop $100+ on this, and no where on the packaging do they warn you "no widescreen or video support". So consider this your warning.

I got this as a gift last Christmas and the thing is absolute garbage. After having it less than a year it is completely worthless. My girlfriend and her brother got the same model and they are having the same problems. If you go over the slightest bump the ipod will pause. It doesn't charge half the time and is very loose in the lighter port. Needless to say I am very disappointed in the poor quality of this product.