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Seeking a better way to play iPhone in the car

Bob Ward
Aspen Times Weekly

I was a latecomer to the iPod revolution, but I recently switched from my old cell phone to an Apple iPhone, which happens to include an iPod in its array of capabilities.

It took me a few weeks to start downloading songs and building a library of songs, but I’m now up to about four gigabytes of music. I typically put the thing on shuffle and relish the random punk-reggae-bluegrass-salsa-metal mixes that result.

Anyway, when I took a recent road trip, I knew I didn’t want the earbuds in my ears all the way to New Mexico, so I purchased a little FM transmitter, with which I could listen to the iPhone over my car stereo speakers. I’ll admit my new Belkin TuneCast is a smart little device, but it doesn’t quite live up to its own billing.

First, the upside: During the long hours cruising through sparsely populated stretches of Colorado and New Mexico, the TuneCast performed perfectly. When the device finds a frequency that’s truly unoccupied by a nearby radio station, it can crank away for hours and you can enjoy whatever selection of tunes you want. It’ll even charge your phone or iPod while you drive (it plugs into the cigarette lighter). No complaints there.

But now the downside: It isn’t always easy to find a clear frequency, and the TuneCast can be temperamental even when there’s no discernible radio interference. On a simple drive home from Snowmass last week, my tech-savvy kids couldn’t find a clear frequency long enough to accommodate the Ramones’ 2-minute masterpiece, “Teenage Lobotomy.”

As any Roaring Fork Valley resident knows, it can take multiple frequencies to follow one radio station on a drive from Carbondale to Aspen. Likewise, it’s difficult to find one open frequency for the TuneCast; and switching frequencies on the TuneCast is harder than hitting a button or turning a dashboard radio dial.

The TuneCast instruction manual says the gadget will automatically “display the best frequency,” but mine always chooses frequencies at the crowded low end of the FM dial. Never once has it selected a frequency above 100. This device doesn’t seem to be as smart as the manual implies.

The TuneCast also seems susceptible to other sorts of interference. The signal will often vary if I move the gadget from one side of my stick shift to the other, or if I move it from the passenger seat to the drink-holder. Like I say, temperamental.

I’m sure many of these glitches are attributable not to the TuneCast, but to the vagaries of FM radio. Piping digital music through a portable FM transmitter is a process fraught with pitfalls, especially when you’re riding in a fast-moving automobile.

When the TuneCast works, it’s great. I’ll keep it for road trips. But I’m also on the lookout for a better way to blast iTunes in my car.


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