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Taking Your iPod on the Road

Calling all music junkies: If you can't bear to leave your iPod behind when you're on the go, check out these ways to keep the music (and news and entertainment) playing.
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I've got just one thing to say: I love my iPod. Yes, I am that person, that soul, that dude caught up in the marketing hype that Apple must love. I love you, Pod.

But I realized something when I stepped away too long from my computer. Batteries die. Also, when I get into my car, it is really hard to drive with white ear buds in your ears (even if you do look cool). I have to turn off my 'pod.

The music does not last (whimper)....

Within a week of purchasing my beloved 'pod, I had to do something. I had to figure out how I could buck the system. I need my music, man. I need it in the car, where I spend hours each day.

This article is the cathartic response to the solutions I found on how to take your iPod on the road.

Breaking into Radio Is Really Easy

The first accomplishment I wanted to achieve was being able to listen to my iPod in the car. There are a few ways in which you can listen to your iPod in the car.

The first way that I recommend to everyone is a little expensive, but the luxury is worth it: Buy a new BWM. Almost all of the new Beemers come equipped specifically for you to hook up your iPod. The setup is really neat. All you have to do is connect your iPod to a jack in the glove compartment. The iPod plays through the speakers (great surround sound), and you can control tracks right from buttons on the steering wheel. This means you can be listening to Janis Joplin on the Highway and skip to Queen without ever having to taking your hands of the wheel. This makes for safer driving.

Of course, if you are part of the many millions who cannot afford a Beemer, you can do what I am doing. You see, I am an impoverished reporter, and my car is 10 years old. But it is paid for, and I love it for that. The only thing is, I do not have a tape deck or a CD player. And I love music and hate the stations in northeast Wisconsin. For years, I have felt stuck in a kind of trap.

A couple weeks after I bought my iPod, I was sitting on the passenger side of a friend's car and discovered that he was listening to his iRiver MP3 Player in his car through his speakers. Aghast, I demanded to know how he was doing this. As it turns out, there are these cool tools called FM transmitters that you can connect to iPods and most MP3 player that enable you to play your music through an FM signal broadcast to your stereo.

It was like a gift of manna from heaven.

I shot out and bought one of these nifty little devices. This was my first failing. I am cheap, so I bought a battery-powered transmitter that you plug into the headset jack on the iPod. This broadcasts a signal that I could pick up on my radio by tuning to a specific station.

It was awful. The quality was tinny and very quiet. But it was still better than listening to "Chuck in the morning." If you are interested, it was the Belkin FM transmitter—not a good buy, and it chewed through batteries.

Undaunted, I went back to the Apple Store and looked for all the FM transmitter plug-ins you can buy. Turns out, there are a lot of them. In the end, I settled on one. I bought the $69 iCarPlay Wireless Transmitter from Monster, as show in Figure 1. You know, they say there is no such thing as love at first sight, but this was pretty darn close.

The iCarPlay not only broadcasts to eight different channels (sometimes you need to change channels if a local station is broadcasting on the same channel and the signal is too strong), but you plug the transmitter into your power supply in the car and then into your iPod. No batteries are needed. Also, your iPod gets recharged. The quality of the broadcast is still sub-22KHz but that is okay because radio is broadcast at the same level. My karma was back, and for the first time in 10 years, I was able to listen to my entire music collection in the car. It ain't no BMW, but it still rocks.

Figure 1Figure 1 Monster's iCarPlay.

You can get other transmitters as well. Just check out http://www.ipod.com and click on Accessories. You will find a host of companies trying to sell essentially the same thing.

The hot alternative is Griffin iTrip FM Transmitter, shown in Figure 2, which sits on the top of your iPod. This is cool because you can then broadcast a signal from any radio, not just your car. The downside is that the transmitter uses power from the iPod, which reduces playtime. I chatted with the people at the Minneapolis Apple Store, and they told me that they have had a few iTrips returned because they can be a little touchy. I have not had any problems with mine.

Figure 2Figure 2 Griffin's iTrip FM transmitter.

The final thing you need to get for your trip in the car is a place to put your iPod. The BMW stores the iPod in the glove compartment. My iPod sloshes and slews on my car seat. A couple of times, it has narrowly missed landing in my coffee cup. But the spot for you coffee cup can be a savior. Belkin has one of those "I wish I had put a patent on that first" devices: a clamp for your MP3 player or any iPod that fixes to a coffee cup holder, shown in Figure 3. Nice touch.

Figure 03Figure 3 Belkin's iPod coffee cup holder.

You can find a lot more tools. Again, I encourage you to check out Apple's iPod store for more gadgets. Or, if you can, go to your local Apple Store; these stores are popping up all over the world like mushrooms after a storm. You might have one near you and not even know it.

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