Review: RoadTrip and iTrip AutoPilot with SmartScan

Easy to use FM transmitters with auto scanning technology. (July 25th, 2008)

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Product Manufacturer: Griffin Technology

Price: $99.99 US

The Good

  • Easy to use. Sturdy and sleek construction. RoadTrip gooseneck bends every which way. Fits multiple iPods. Includes audio out jack. Simple programming with SmartScan. Display in both models very easy to see.

The Bad

  • Static heard through music often. Lost station frequently. Not great for person with a long commute as you’ll have to reprogram your channels. Must remove your iPod case to fit it into the dock. Plug buttons not lit on the iTrip Auto.

When you think about the places you listen to music, podcasts, books, and other audio, you probably use four places; home, work, while exercising, and in your car. Griffin Technology delivers devices that make listening to your iPod audio easier in all of those environments. Their car-capable RoadTrip with SmartScan is a clear improvement over some of the other devices on the market, including earlier Griffin products. Their iTrip AutoPilot uses the same SmartScan technology.

What is different

In the past, you put your iPod into a dock or plug a headphone cable into the audio-out jack. These older docks sat by your cup-holder or on the adjacent seat. It was difficult to adjust the channels and to see to the display. Not so with the RoadTrip with SmartScan, the display is amazing. You plug your iPod into the Dock mounted on a flexible steel neck and put the plug into your lighter or electrical outlet. I found that the gooseneck holds its bend nicely and positions the iPod where you can see it and where you can easily adjust FM channels.

The unit comes with multiple dock adaptors and fits five different models of Apple's iPod including the Classic, the iPod touch, the 2nd and 3rd gen iPod nano and the 5th gen iPod video. You can also use other MP3 or music players by using a separate audio out cable that is not included with the unit.

Even better, the RoadTrip has a small hole in its plug that allows you to plug the unit right into your stereo head unit's line-in jack. This means improved clarity and no static because your player's signal is direct to your radio. This is not the case with the FM function, as I cover below.

Yojimbo screen

RoadTrip with SmartScan

The last physical items I want to note are the sweet finish, the sturdy and intuitive functionality, and the thought behind both. From start to finish, the RoadTrip is a snap to use. It plugs into your lighter, the gooseneck stands in nearly any direction you choose, the dock section can be adjusted 90-degrees, and the buttons and display are easy-to-read.

I've owned models that were difficult to read and were just plain clunky. With the RoadTrip in the car, you feel like it was designed to be used there. One caveat - if you own a car that does not have a lighter plug, the RoadTrip won't work for you. I'm not sure if there are cars that have done away with these power adaptors, but be sure you have the capability to power this unit before you purchase it.

iTrip AutoPilot

While the iTrip AutoPilot doesn't have a secure base in which to mount your iPod, it does sport the same crystal clear display, the glossy finish, and a similar attention to detail. It's very easy to use, but as with older models, your iPod is not secured by any attachments, other than the docking cord. This model also works with the iPhone.

Trip AutoPilot

Trip AutoPilot with SmartScan

Other enhancements in the new iTrip AutoPilot include a Three-stage light ring on the plug that changes color to show the charging status of your iPod. It includes a Pause/Start button and a Forward and Back button. These work flawlessly unless you turn the plug so that they aren't oriented in the right direction. User error aside, these buttons don't light up, which is a small annoyance. If you car has an RDS-enabled radio display, you can see the song information on your radio also.

FM Transmission

Here are the nuts and bolts. If you drive your car and listen to your music relatively close to home, within about 15-30 miles, you will love these devices. They scan your clearest FM stations with just a button press, and they save the three clearest stations for you to listen to your iPod through.

This is great if you're within 20 miles of where you program the RoadTrip or the iTrip AutoPilot. If you travel more far a field, the available stations may change, so you have to rescan. As consultants, we frequently make jaunts to visit clients 30-100 miles away, and the Road Trip and the iTrip AutoPilot were frustrating to use. My preset channels would play static, I'd lose signal, or even have the radio station start playing over my music, and I'd have to reprogram my stations. Ilene experienced the same frustration and had to change the station as many as six times in one 30-mile trip.

Understandably, not everyone travels far and when used during long trips you might have a co-pilot in the car who can periodically reprogram the RoadTrip, or not mind stopping to set new stations. Ilene and I found it annoying and both of us eventually yanked the iPod out of the unit and resorted to the radio or CD player.

Conversely, frequent long-distance travelers may find the use of either product in their rental car a boon. While the RoadTrip is a tad big, the iTrip AutoPilot is small and sturdy and is so easy to use that you can just plug it into your rental and enjoy your own music when you're on the road.

While both models include Griffin's new SmartSound Plus technology that is supposed to deliver "clear sound under real-world conditions," it was of little use when the FM transmitters didn't lock onto a station well. As noted above, it was difficult to get a clear signal. If the SmartScan feature doesn't find the best station, it is easy to manually scroll through the stations. Please take into account that both products were tested in an area encompassing Boston, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, all of which have many FM stations. If you have less competing FM stations in your area, your experience may be better.

The wrap-up

The Griffin RoadTrip with SmartScan is better than the iTrips I've played with before. The three-channel feature is great and the SmartScan feature makes it easy to set up. With so many dock adaptors to choose from, nearly any iPod will fit inside. In addition, the construction of the RoadTrip is sturdy and holds up to everyday use. If not for the dropped signals when traveling moderate to long distances, I'd be completely pleased with this product. The same goes for the iTrip AutoPilot with SmartScan.

by Jeff Cutler and ilene hoffman


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