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