Over the last week, I had a chance to try out a few different products from noted mobile device accessory manufacturer Griffin Technology. I used the iTrip DualConnect Aux Jack and FM Transmitter, the PowerBlock Duo dual port USB Wall Charger, the Outfit Ice case for the iPhone 4, and even something totally unique called […]
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A Quick Look at Some New Accessories from Griffin

Over the last week, I had a chance to try out a few different products from noted mobile device accessory manufacturer Griffin Technology. I used the iTrip DualConnect Aux Jack and FM Transmitter, the PowerBlock Duo dual port USB Wall Charger, the Outfit Ice case for the iPhone 4, and even something totally unique called the Woogie.

Some of these accessories are newly released, and some others have been around for a bit, but they were all well designed and quite useful. In the end, I came away very impressed on the whole. In fact, three of these devices have found their way into my regular accessory rotation. Let’s take a closer look at each of these goodies from Griffin, and what they bring to the table.

iTrip DualConnect

I travel a good bit by car for work, so I have used several different kinds of FM Transmitters and Aux Jack solutions for the iPhone over the years. I was a music major in college, so I love to listen to all types of music on the road. More recently, I have also become a podcast junkie, listening to shows on everything from Christian apologetics, to sports, to mobile technology while I am on the go.

I always hated hunting for radio stations when I first started traveling for work, as most of our company vehicles at that time only had AM/FM Radios. As such, it didn’t take long for Apple’s media devices to catch my eye. I have used many of my mobile devices to carry some content on the road with me in the past, but it wasn’t until I got my first iPod that I was interested enough to move beyond the crude cassette tape adapters of old. Unfortunately, the first two FM Trasmitters I purchased, and even the first Aux jack adapter lost their usefulness before their time, as they either wore out or were not compatible with newer iOS devices when time to upgrade rolled around.

There is also another small dilemma that I currently have when it comes to music and podcasts on the go. My latest work vehicle has an Aux input, so playing content from my iPhone in it is no problem. All I need is a cable from my headphone jack to my Aux port, and I am set. Unfortunately, my wife’s van does not have this luxury, so we are forced to use an FM Transmitter to listen to our tunes on family trips. In the past, this meant having a separate device for each vehicle. However, with Griffin’s new iTrip DualConnect, you can purchase one device to handle all of your vehicle audio needs, as it has both an Aux output jack, and an FM Transmitter in one convenient package.

The inner-workings of the DualConnect are housed in Griffin’s familiar car charger adapter. As with some of Griffin’s other models, it has Play/Pause, Next, and Last buttons on the adapter face. The icons on the buttons are even backlit when it is plugged in, which is really handy in a dark vehicle. The top of the adapter has a stereo headphone jack for use with a vehicle’s Aux input, and the DualConnect comes packaged with a separate stereo cable to make the connection. It also has a built-in cable with a dock connector to handle charging and audio transfer to your iPhone or iPod.

Any time that a stereo cable is plugged into the adapter jack on top of the DualConnect, all audio will go through it to the vehicle’s Aux input. Since the sound is fed from the dock connector, no volume adjustment is required on the iPhone. The sound quality from the dock connector is also superior to using an adapter straight from the iPhone’s headphone jack.

If no cable is plugged in, then the DualConnect automatically becomes an FM Transmitter. It uses Griffin’s iTrip Controller app, which is available free in the App Store, for all tuning and control. While other Griffin FM Transmitters are compatible with this app, the DualConnect was the only one I could find that has no hardware tuning controls for stand-alone use. So, the iTrip Controller app is required for the DualConnect’s FM Transmitter to operate. Fortunately, despite some critical customer reviews, I found the app to be well designed and very easy to use.

The buttons and frequency display are large and easy to see, which is handy when you are on the go. The app can store three station presets, which are available on the main screen, as well.

In another nice touch, a tuner dial is available to move quickly between distant stations, rather than having to click or hold a single button.

One of my favorite features of the Connect app is its ability to upgrade the firmware of the DualConnect with app update from the App Store.

This is a great feature, as I have had to get rid of two older iPhone audio devices because they didn’t work with newer iPhones that I upgraded to later. Now Griffin has made that problem a thing of the past, and given themselves a way to fix bugs and add new features down the road.

One of the features of the iTrip Controller app that Griffin really touts is SmartScan, which is supposed to automatically find the best available frequencies without you having to hunt around the dial for them. I tried this out in urban, suburban, and rural areas, and the results were kind of a mixed bag. It’s hard to say whether it was the iTrip’s overall performance, my particular vehicle, or The SmartScan feature itself, but it had a tough time finding open stations in Memphis and the surrounding area. It did much better out in open rural areas, as well it should have. So, while SmartScan does work to some degree, I was a little disappointed that the best station I was able to find in Memphis, I had to find myself.

As with the SmartScan feature, the overall performance of the FM Transmitter portion of the iTrip DualConnect was a little mixed. No matter what, keep in mind that any FM Transmitter will pale in comparison to an Aux input jack, but this device performed well when I found the right station where I could get a clean signal. The problem is that the DualConnect just doesn’t seem to put out a very strong FM signal. Because of this, performance can vary dramatically depending on your vehicle’s radio antenna and power plug placement. While I could only find one completely clear station while in my work vehicle, which has a rear antenna, I found more in my wife’s van, which has a front antenna. So it just depends on the vehicle and the quality of your radio. I also found that switching to mono mode in the app’s settings helped clear up some of the stations with a lot of excess static.

Despite some of the shortcomings of the iTrip DualConnect’s FM Transmitter, I would highly recommend it overall. The sound quality of the Aux output is great, it charges iDevices fast, and the iTrip Controller app is well designed. Just having both an Aux output and FM Transmitter in one compact device for one price makes the DualConnect a great value. The ability to update the device’s firmware from the Controller app for future device compatibility also provides great additional value. The Aux jack is the better performer on the DualConnect, so if you only need an FM Transmitter you might want to look elsewhere. However, if you have multiple vehicles with a combination of an Aux jack and the need for an FM Transmitter, or if you travel a lot and spend time shuffling between different rental cars, then the iTrip DualConnect’s combination of value and performance is hard to beat.

The iTrip DualConnect retails for $59.99.

See Griffin’s iTrip DualConnect product page here for more information.

PowerBlock Duo

If you have a bag full of gear and multiple devices to charge, any accessory that can pull double duty is a good thing to have. Griffin’s PowerBlock Duo is just such a device.

It has two USB ports on the bottom, both of which put out 1.1 amps. This output matches the power output of a standard iPhone or iPod Touch power brick, so it is a perfect fit for iOS devices. It also has folding power prongs, which makes it easy to store, and is compatible with both 100 and 240 VAC outlets, which makes it very versatile.

The Duo is compatible with all Apple devices, as well as a host of other smartphones and media players. I personally tried it out with my iPhone and a Samsung Captivate together, and both charged quickly and had no problems. The only negative I see, and it is a minor one, is that iPads charge very slowly with the Duo due to the 1.1 amp output. While that output is equal to iPhone and iPod charging bricks, it is much lower than the iPad’s charger. However, the PowerBlock’s performance with the iPad isn’t any different than what you would get from an iPhone charger. On the plus side, however, I noticed that the PowerBlock didn’t heat up nearly as much as my iPhone brick does when charging my iPad.

The bottom line with the PowerBlock Duo is, i f you carry a lot of gear and space is at a premium, this charger is well worth a spot in your laptop bag.

The PowerBlock Duo retails for $24.99.

See Griffin’s PowerBlock Duo product page here for more information.

Outfit Ice

I have used a wide variety of cases with a wide variety of PDAs and Smartphones that I have owned over the last 13 years. I have used all manner of rubber and leather cases in all sorts of form factors, but I have never really been a fan of hard cases. At least not until now. After a couple of days using the Outfit Ice full time, I don’t know if I will ever take it off my iPhone 4. That is saying something, considering that I really like the form-fitting rubberized case that I have been using with it since I got it.

The Outfit Ice is form fitting, light weight, and the soft touch plastic just feels perfect in the hand. The blue color of the version that I tested also really stood out, but in a good way. It isn’t pastel, and isn’t too gaudy, but it is a nice change of pace from basic black. However, the Outfit Ice is also available in black if you want to keep things low key.

Also working in its favor is the fact that, where some hard cases struggle playing nice with screen protectors, the Outfit Ice didn’t bubble up or destroy my Invisible Shield-style screen and back protectors. When you pay a lot of money for good screen protection, you definitely want to be sure it doesn’t get mangled.

The Outfit Ice does tend to show fingerprints on the back, but that is common with soft touch plastics, and nothing a damp cloth every once in a while won’t cure. The only real concern I have is how much fall protection a case so thin and light with no extra padding can provide. Despite these minor concerns, this case is a real winner in my book. I would recommend it to anyone looking for something more than a Bumper, but less than an Otterbox in terms of device protection.  If you want, you can even get some style thrown in, to boot.

The Outfit Ice is available in Blue, Red, Pink, and Black.

The Outfit Ice for the iPhone 4 retails for $29.99. The product page can be seen here.

The Outfit Ice for the 4th Gen iPod Touch retails for $29.99. The product page can be seen here.

The Outfit Ice for the iPad retails for $39.99. The product page can be seen here.

The Woogie

Ok, when I first pulled this item out of the box, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at. After a little examination, I found the Woogie to be one of the more unique mobile device accessories I have come across. It is an interesting combination of a plush child’s toy, speaker, and media device protector, that somehow manages to be a cohesive and coherent device.

The Woogie is the child of a collaboration between Griffin and Iceberg Kids, a children’s eBook publisher with some notable titles, including Veggie Tales, Sesame Street and Curious George. It has a speaker that is completely enclosed inside of the plush exterior. As such, the sound isn’t particularly loud, even with the connected device’s sound turned all the way up. However, it is still clear enough to achieve its purpose. Your media device of choice is stored on the top center of the Woogie in a protective pocket with a clear plastic window. Tucked inside of the top pocket is a stereo adapter on a short cord, so you can plug in any device with a headphone jack and listen to whatever content you want.

Despite the fact that there is clear, protective plastic that covers the screen of your device, you are still able to use your capacitive screen to control whatever type of apps you want to use. This is a huge plus for the Woogie, because if you couldn’t use your chosen device’s touchscreen, it would severely limit the usefulness of the device and the ages of children that would be interested in using it.

The main focus of the Woogie is to be a book reading device for kids, hence the collaboration with Iceberg Kids.  In fact, there is even a free Woogie app, which is really just a demo of the Iceberg eBook format. The demo books were all Elmo titles, and were very nicely done. The demo books had nice illustrations, and easy to understand controls. I also really liked that you could actually record yourself reading the book, so your child will hear your voice when using the Woogie. Most of the books range from $0.99 to $3.99, and are available individually from the App Store. While these books are featured, and are a great fit for the Woogie, they are not required, or in any way exclusive. Thanks to the generic stereo adapter, the Woogie is compatible with any eBooks or interactive media and pretty much any mobile media device.

The Woogie works very well in its primary role as a kids book reader, as the form factor is a perfect fit for a child’s lap. This is especially nice for parents, as your child doesn’t have to think about holding or taking care of the device. Your iPhone or other media device is well protected, and isn’t going anywhere when tucked inside the Woogie. I tend to keep a wary eye on my little girl when she is playing with my or my wife’s iPhone, but after testing it out a bit, I would definitely feel more at ease giving it to her inside the Woogie.

I am not exactly the target audience for the Woogie, and my children are a little old for it, as well. To test it out, I gave it to my grand nieces to play with and see what they thought. The two oldest are ages 5 and 3, and they are both very familiar with the iPhone thanks to my older sister. She has several apps and books for kids on her iPhone, and they have both played with them for over a year now.

I was very interested to see what they thought of using the Woogie, especially considering that they were both used to holding the iPhone in their hands while they play with it. I was also curious to see how a 5 year old would react to it. I was actually pretty surprised at how much they both liked it. In fact, they REALLY wanted to take it home with them. This wasn’t exactly a scientific test, but in the limited time they had with it, my grand nieces really enjoyed using the Woogie to play their iPhone games, even though they were used to using the iPhone alone. So, if you have a young child who wants to play with your smartphone or media device and you want to give it some extra protection, or maybe just liven things up a bit for them, the Woogie is a unique and fun way to do it.

The Woogie is available for a retail price of $19.99.

See Griffin’s Woogie product page here for more information.

All of the reviewed products were provided by Griffin Technology for review on iSource.com. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

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