The iPod is a very cool piece of gear, but when you compare its specs to those of other portable music players, one difference clearly stands out: the absence of an FM radio. Up to this point, those solutions that attempt to glom such a radio onto an iPod haven’t been very successful. That’s likely to change in the next few weeks.
Griffin Technology is poised to release the $50
iFM, a small device a little larger than a hotel-pillow mint that acts not only as an inline FM receiver, but an iPod remote control and an audio recorder as well. I’ve had a chance to play with a preproduction unit and it looks intriguing. Here’s how it shakes out.
The iFM sports a split cable that extends from the bottom of the unit. One cable bears a connector that fits into the iPod’s Headphone and Remote Control ports. The iFM is powered by the iPod through this cable. The other cable includes a female miniplug connector where you plug in your headphones. Your headphone cable acts as the radio’s antenna.
On the left side of the iFM is a three-position toggle switch labeled Off, FM, and Remote. As the names imply, you move the switch to the middle position to listen to FM radio and push the switch all the way up to use the iFM to remotely control your attached iPod.
The other side of the iFM sports two rocker switches. The one nearest the top controls volume in 16 steps for both FM and Remote modes and the switch below includes Next and Previous controls that, in FM mode, are used to select stations and, in Remote mode, mimic the functions of the iPod’s Next and Previous buttons. This switch changes behavior depending on how you press it.
When in FM mode, briefly pressing Next or Previous moves the FM channel up or down in odd-numbered point increments—90.1, 90.3, 90.5, for example. If you press and hold Next or Previous, the iFM will scan for the next strongest frequency and stop at that station for two seconds—giving you time to listen to what’s playing. Let go of the switch and the iFM stays on that station.
In Remote mode the Next and Previous toggle works just like their iPod counterparts. Press quickly on Forward and the iPod moves to the next track in the current playlist. Click Previous and the currently playing song starts over from the beginning (press twice in succession and the iPod moves to the previous song in the playlist). Press and hold Next or Previous and you’ll fast forward or rewind through the currently playing track.
The front of the iFM includes a large button that’s designed to play and pause an iPod when the iFM is in the Remote mode and to manage the unit’s six FM presets when the device is switched to FM mode. It’s easy enough to understand what the button does in Remote mode but FM capabilities bear further explanation.
The iFM is capable of memorizing up to six FM stations. To set a station use the Next/Previous switch to move to the station you want the device to memorize and press and hold the Play/Pause/Preset button for two seconds to lock the station to that preset. Click the button to move to the next preset location and repeat this procedure to memorize other stations. To clear a station, select a preset and press and hold the button for four seconds.
The iFM can also record FM broadcasts or outside audio via the device’s built-in microphone. To make this happen, press the small button next to the device’s Play/Pause/Preset button on the front of the iFM. When it FM mode a full-sized dock connector iPod (sorry, Apple doesn’t support recording on the iPod mini or iPod shuffle) will record what’s playing on the radio. When in Remote mode anything picked up by the iFM’s microphone is recorded to the iPod. Because of the iPod’s built-in recording limitations, audio you record via either method is recorded as an 8kHz, 16-bit WAV file (which Apple terms “voice quality” and the rest of the world terms “not very good”).
The Record button offers one other function—it allows you to configure the iFM for U.S., European, or Japanese FM bands. Just hold the Record button down for five seconds to change from one band to the next. The display shows US, EU, and JP. Supported frequencies for the U.S. are 87.9 – 107.9 (in 200kHz intervals), European band range is 87.9 – 108.0 (in 100kHz intervals), and Japan is 76.0 – 90.0 (in 100kHz intervals). You can set six presets per band.
The back of the iFM has a flexible plastic clip for attaching the iPod to a belt, shirt, or purse strap.
We don’t review preproduction units so we’ll save evaluation of the iFM for when the product is officially released, which, according to Griffin, should be in the next three to four weeks. I will say, however, that after playing with the iFM for a very short while, it looks like a promising solution for those seeking FM with their iPods.
For more information on iPod accessories, see Playlist’s