Review: Griffin iFM
Most iPod accessories fall under one of a few categories—speakers, docks, cases, FM transmitters, voice recorders, and remotes. We were taken back a bit when Griffin Technology released the iFM, a small device that crosses the boundaries to include remote, voice recording, and FM receiving capabilities.
The small silver device sells for about $50, and will work with any iPod that has the remote connector next to the headphone jack. iPod mini users will not be able to utilize the recording capabilities, due to the hardware limitations of the iPod itself.
iFM (volume and tuning/track controls)
iFM (mode selector, microphone), and clip
The actual shape and design of the iFM screams iPod, although it is only a little bigger than the Apple remote. A switch on the left side lets you select between OFF, FM, and REMOTE modes. On the front, a backlit LCD screen displays the FM frequency currently being listened to, or if the iFM is in remote mode. A large button plays/pauses songs in remote mode, and cycles through presets in FM mode. A smaller record button activates recording for either voice or radio. On the right side, there are two rocker switches to adjust the volume, switch tracks, or switch frequencies.
A small clip is located on the back to allow you to attach it to a piece of clothing or the outside of some iPod case. While not the best clip, it’s functional and serves as a backup to having the iFM dangle from the headphone cord.
The iFM runs off of the iPod’s battery, like many other remote-connector accessories. The backlight on the LCD only turns on when you press a button, similar to many of the settings on the iPod itself. A hold switch is not necessary, as turning the iFM off ignores all input.
One thing we didn’t like about the iFM was the cord issue—the cord going from the iPod and the cord going to a headphone jack both dangle from the bottom of the iFM. We would’ve rather seen something like Apple’s remote, where there is one cable going in the bottom, and an actual headphone jack on top.
The radio functions work well, and we were able to pick up quite a few stations, more than our old Sony Walkman. The radio itself is very easy to control, and basically just uses the iPod as a power source. Just like Griffin’s other products, the iFM can switch between different tuning “modes”. US mode works between 87.9FM to 107.9FM, while EU mode works between 87.9FM and 108.0FM. Japan mode works between 76.0FM and 90.0FM. The US mode tunes in .2 increments, while the other two tune in .1 increments. We feel that this design should make anyone happy, and allows you to take the iFM with you anywhere.
The iFM also functions as a recorder. When in radio mode, pressing the record button causes the iPod to switch to the Voice Recorder, and begins recording. Owners of third-generation iPods will have to actually hit record on the iPod, too. Anything recorded on the radio will be at the iPod’s somewhat pathetic 8kHz audio format. In remote mode, pressing the record button activates a tiny microphone on the left-hand side for recording voice memos. While the iFM is no iTalk, it does a decent job for quick voice memos.
For grins, we tried the radio recording feature on a third-generation iPod running iPodLinux and were able to achieve high-quality recordings for both radio and voice.
In conclusion, the iFM is a very cool device, combining a remote, an FM receiver/recorder, and a basic voice recorder in one small device. Although the price tag might seem high for an iPod accessory, having this “Swiss Army Knife” of gadgets is still cheaper than separate accessories. Owners of larger iPods, especially those with Click Wheels, will be able to utilize the iFM best, but other iPod owners will also be happy with its functionality.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
The iFM is a cool addition to any iPod, especially when you want to hear something other than your music.
Pros: Great interface, small design, includes a few functions in one unit
Cons: Recording quality iffy, cables routed out of the bottom, no AM tuning