Newer Technology, in league with Other World Computer, recently released RoadTrip, an FM transmitter that broadcasts the output from a portable music player such as the iPod to an automobile’s FM radio. Currently two models are available — one that transmits at 107.7MHz and another that transmits at 87.7MHz. At $20 the RoadTrip is less expensive than other transmitters but also less flexible than similar devices.
True Plug and Play
The RoadTrip is, by far, the easiest FM transmitter I’ve used. To put the thing to work I simply plugged it into my car’s 12 volt power source (known, in more innocent days, as the cigarette lighter), jacked the RoadTrip’s miniplug into my iPod’s headphone port, tuned the radio to 107.7MHz, and pressed my iPod’s Play button. Unlike other FM transmitters, the RoadTrip doesn’t require you to fiddle with station settings on the device.
This is great news if there’s no interference on this frequency, but a deal-killer if there is. I tested the RoadTrip in both a rural area along the California coast and in a densely populated urban area in the San Francisco Bay Area and my results were decidedly mixed.
Out here in the sticks the RoadTrip performed admirably — producing a clear, crisp signal with nary a hint of static. Once I crossed over Highway 17 into the San Jose area, however, the radio picked up a lot of static — enough that had the device been capable of it, I would have switched frequencies in the hope of finding a clearer channel.
In terms of power and reception, the RoadTrip performed about as well as Griffin’s iTrip but not as well as Sonnet’s Podfreq — the transmitter that’s produced the best results in similar tests.
This lack of control makes the RoadTrip easier to use. And, because you’ll spend no time taking your eyes off the road to search for a different channel, it’s also safer to use. But if you travel in an area where it’s overwhelmed by stronger stations, you’re out of luck.
There are other trade-offs. Although the RoadTrip is powered by your car’s power plug — meaning you don’t have to feed the device batteries as you do with Belkin’s transmitters or drain your iPod’s battery charge to power the transmitter as you must with Griffin Technology’s iTrip and Sonnet’s Technologies’ Podfreq — you’ve lost the option to charge your iPod while it plays if your car has only a single power receptacle.
In addition, the device works only in an automobile. If you care to, you can use other FM transmitters with a boom box or your home stereo. But the RoadTrip’s requirement that it be plugged into an auto power adapter makes such connections impossible.
Playlist’s Buying Advice
Given the RoadTrip’s inflexibility, before purchasing one it’s important for you to have a clear idea of what you need from an FM transmitter. If you mostly tool around in an area where the RoadTrip’s frequency is unpopulated, if your trips aren’t so long that you need to charge your music player while driving, and if you don’t expect it to broadcast to devices other than a car stereo, the RoadTrip is a fine choice — particularly given its price. If, on the other hand, you take long road trips that take you through areas with varying radio station densities and you like to charge (and listen to) your music player while driving, the RoadTrip is a less than ideal fit.