Over on the Macworld Forums, there’s been an interesting discussion on decent car connection options for the iPhone 3G. I’ve owned a dock / FM transmitter for 3 years that I was happy with, but it doesn’t support the iPhone so I needed to upgrade (I’ll avoid a diatribe on that issue; I can feel my blood pressure rising already).
I did some research and decided to test drive the Belkin TuneBase FM. Stylistically, the TuneBase has improved its looks over previous versions and it’s certainly more compact than others I’ve seen. I was particularly attracted to the gooseneck mount – it’s the most solid one I’ve come across to date whilst still providing a good deal of flexibility.
The only criticism I’d make here is length – if your cigarette lighter is embedded low and deep in your dashboard you may be in trouble. I have that issue with my car, so I can only have the TuneBase in one position pointing out to the left and even tha was a close thing. There’s no extension option available so do be confident of your measurements before buying.
On connecting my iPhone I got a message stating the device was incompatible and asking if I wanted to switch on Airport mode. I selected no and then my iPhone worked perfectly – it charges fine, makes and receives calls perfectly and is generally unhampered. The iPhone’s message is an annoyance but not a lot more than that. The bigger annoyance for me is sliding the iPhone into its cradle after the TuneBase is in situ in the car. The iPhone’s dock connector and the TuneBase’s one just don’t line up easily.
After a couple of minutes frustration each time I’ve ended up disconnecting the TuneBase from the cigarette lighter in order to get the iPhone connected properly. The cradle itself provides a very snug fit, which I like, but it really isn’t an easy process getting connected. On the upside, cradles for pretty much every iPod and iPhone iteration excluding the Shuffle are supplied, so you’re guaranteed the same snug fit no matter the model you have.
Performance-wise, it’s hard to fault the TuneBase. The ClearScan function chose a clear FM frequency for me first pop, and the quality of transmission is equal to other transmitters I’ve tested. The display is easy to read and most of the time you won’t need to use the tuning buttons. Even in metro Sydney I found I wasn’t needing to re-tune as often as I did on my old unit – it seems that TuneBase does a better job of optimising your iPhone / iPod over weaker external radio signals. I particularly liked the fade down on receiving a phone call and fade up again when the call was complete.
Australian Macworld Buying Advice The TuneBase FM is a significant step up from previous Belkin transmitters – if you can be sure your car’s cigarette lighter conenction is in a position for easy mounting, this may be the car connection solution for you.