At a Glance
Cradle and charger for using an iPod mini in the car
A few months back, we reviewed Belkin’s TuneBase and TunesBase FM car mount/charger solutions for the iPod mini (http://playlistmag.com/reviews/2004/12/tunebaserev/index.php), noting that they were among our favorite solutions for using an iPod mini in the car. Soon after, Ten Technology released a similar product, the flexDock. Like the standard version of the TuneBase, the flexDock’s car accessory (“cigarette lighter”) jack base plugs into your car’s accessory jack and provides a 7-inch arm with a cradle to hold your iPod mini — the flexible, articulating arm lets you put your mini at a much more visible height than most in-car iPod holders while being sturdy enough stay in place, even over relatively rough terrain. In fact, the TuneBase and flexDock are far more similar than they are different, right down to the price ($50). Both even have an audio output jack on the base for your iPod to your car stereo via a cassette adapter or auxiliary audio cable.
Since the two products are so similar, most readers are likely interested in how they differ. The most obvious difference is color: Whereas the TuneBase models are white and light gray, the flexDock is dark gray. Although the white TuneBase’s white finish may say “iPod” better, I actually preferred the flexDock’s gray color, as it tends to blend in better with most car stereos and dashboards. The other significant difference is that whereas the TuneBase’s “cradle” is really just that — a cradle — the flexDock actually connects to the hidden notches inside the iPod mini’s dock connector; to release your iPod from the flexDock, you have to squeeze two release buttons on the sides of the flexDock’s cradle. As a result, the flexDock is a bit more secure.
The flexDock also provides two other features not found in the TuneBase. The flexDock’s audio output jack has two level settings, unlike the Belkin’s single-level line-out jack. The theory behind these settings is that if the flexDock’s standard audio level is too loud for your car stereo and results in distortion — unfortunately, a common phenomenon in our experience — you can switch to the lower level. This is a welcome feature, on one of our test vehicles, a 2005 Honda Pilot, the audio output jacks on both the TuneBase and the flexDock, regardless of setting, were too loud — I had to plug our audio cable into the iPod’s headphone jack instead. All our other test vehicles were fine, so I mention this mainly to point out that these output jacks won’t work with every vehicle. The other advantage to the flexDock is that it includes a cassette adapter, a $10-$20 accessory if you need to buy one separately. However, like some of the other cassette adapters we’ve tried, we had problems with the included model. We’ve still had the best luck with cassette adapters from MacAlly and Coby.
Overall, despite the cassette adapter issue, we like the flexDock better than Belkin’s standard TuneBase thanks to the more secure cradle connection and the dark gray color. On the other hand, if you don’t have a cassette deck or auxiliary input jack on your car stereo, your only opton may be an FM transmitter, in which case we recommend the TuneBase FM.–Dan Frakes