COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

Accessorizing your iPod

The popularity of the iPod has led to an assortment of new accessories that lets you play it through your car radio, turn it into a voice recorder, a tabletop stereo system, and even a storage drive for digital images. I tried a number of these products and found some of them to be worthwhile, though many are quite pricey.

Listening in the car

Few automobiles have a connector to play a source like an iPod through the audio system, so the most popular solution has been to wirelessly transmit the iPod's music to your radio on an unused FM frequency.

I tried three different products, Griffin's iTrip for $35 (www.griffintechnology.com), Belkin's TuneCast II Mobile FM Transmitter for $49 (www.belkin.com), and Monster Cable's iCarPlay Wireless for iPod for $69 (www.monstercable.com). All work much the same way.

In spite of its silly name, I liked the iCarPlay best because it's combined with a power adapter that powers the iPod through the cigarette lighter. The others rely either on the iPod's battery or on a AA cell, and the iTrip requires installation of software on the iPod.

Unfortunately, all provided mediocre sound, with a slight background hiss. For audio books it's fine, but if you expect CD quality sound you'll be disappointed. All but the iTrip work with the iPod mini. Griffin has just introduced an attractive new model this week for the iPod mini, which I've not tried.

I think a better solution is to use Belkin's mobile cassette adapter at $25, a throwback from the Walkman days. It's a cassette that plugs into the iPod and slips into your auto's cassette player. The sound quality is quite good.

Listening longer

The Belkin Backup Battery Pack, at $60, extends the playing time from its normal 6-8 hours to about 12-15 hours using four replaceable AAs. The pack is particularly useful on a long plane flight. The pack attaches to the back of the iPod using suction cups, nearly doubling its size. It doesn't work with the mini. A good idea, but hugely overpriced.

Portable speakers

Monster Cable and Altec Lansing offer portable speakers for the iPod. The Monster Cable iSpeaker Portable at $59 looks like a stack of 3 CD cases that open up to reveal two tiny speakers that have passable sound, but a bit tinny, much like a small radio. The product looks unfinished with its exposed wires and circuit.

Altec Lansing's inMotion speaker system, at $149, is an attractive design, fabricated in "iPod white" glossy plastic, that sounds surprisingly good. Battery powered, it's the size of a small book that unfolds to reveal two speakers on each side of a dock for your iPod powered by a built-in amplifier. With an included adapter it also works with the mini. An AC adapter is also provided that recharges the iPod. For its size the sound is rich and clean. Highly recommend.

Voice and image

Belkin, who deserves an award for figuring out how to do more with an iPod than anyone, has a device for $59 that turns it into a digital voice recorder.

About the size of a quarter, it plugs into the top of the iPod and lets you record for hundreds of hours on the iPod's hard drive. It's plug and play, requiring no software. When it's plugged in a recording menu appears on the iPod; recordings are stored and listed on the iPod menu. It also has a tiny speaker for listening to your recordings. It works well, but not with the mini.

Belkin's Media Reader lets you move images from your camera's memory cards onto the iPod. While it doesn't display the images, it does provide a way to save your image files without lugging a computer so that you can reuse your memory cards. Price: $109.

Many of these accessories are available at the Apple Stores (Mission Valley and UTC), but check the pricing on Web sites like Amazon.com or Buy.com. You'll find some are available at hefty discounts.

One of the cleverest products I came across is from ProClips USA (www.proclipusa.com), which offers an excellent solution for mounting the iPod (or most any device) onto any make or model car. ProClips sells more than 1,500 variations of ingeniously designed clips that snap in place in seconds to the dashboard or center console. There are models to mount virtually every make and model cell phone, PDA, monitor and music player. These products were developed by an engineer who needed to find a way to mount cell phones, two-way radios and meters in Swedish taxi cabs without damaging the dashboard. Prices start at about $30. Highly recommended.


Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at phil.baker@sddt.com.

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