Review: Griffin iFM (Dock)
Griffin’s iFM was updated to work with the then-new iPods shortly after the iPods with video were introduced. It took us a little while to get around to testing it, but it still seems to be a bit of a niche product. With the introduction of Apple’s own iPod radio solution for the same $50 price tag, the iFM was guaranteed to receive some strict scrutiny.
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 and FM receiving capabilities, just like Apple’s device.
Although much of the design will be familiar to those who have seen its predecessor, there are some changes. Our review will be similar, although recording capabilities have been removed, and the silver/white color scheme has been replaced with all black.
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 button, previously for recording now finds use as an equalizer toggle. 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’s Dock Connector 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, making the iFM inline.
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.
One function that’s missing from the “new” iFM is the voice recorder. Although this was nowhere near as good as the iTalk in terms of audio quality, this rather handy feature seemed tacked on, and we’re not quite sure why it was removed. Because of this change, the iFM doesn’t offer much of an improvement over Apple’s optional solution, especially since Apple’s implementation uses the iPod’s screen for a more user-friendly design. However, for users of older iPods, iPod minis, and the original iPod nano, this is the only game in town that combines a remote and a radio.
In conclusion, the iFM has lost a bit of its “cool factor” along with the recording features. The update has allowed those who would use it and not want Apple’s version to use it with the newest iPods. Although the price tag might seem high for an iPod accessory, it is comparable with its competition, and can be found discounted in some places.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
As we said before, the iFM is a cool addition to any iPod, especially when you want to hear something other than your music, but the newest version is not as nice as its predecessor.
Pros: Great interface, small design, includes a few functions in one unit
Cons: Cables routed out of the bottom, no AM tuning