Unlike many mobile phones, the iPhone doesn't feature a built-in FM radio, and the same goes for its smaller cousin, the iPod Touch. If you're a big radio fan frustrated at finding something that Apple's hero products don't do, maybe you'd be interested in the Griffin iFM. Available for around £25, the iFM turns your iPod or iPhone into a portable radio.
Fit to Transmit
The iFM is essentially a chunky little radio transmitter that sticks into the iPhone/iPod's charging slot. On the other side is a 3.5mm socket to plug in your headphones. The radio element is controlled on-screen using a free downloadable app (if you're plugging the iFM into an iPhone or iPod touch) or using the radio setting that will appear in the menu if you're using an iPod Nano (5th, 4th, 3rd generation) or an iPod Classic.
The transmitter itself is on the slim side, so you won't feel like it's bulking out your pockets too much. Unfortunately the transmitter itself isn't too powerful -- walking around with the iFM you'll likely find the signal cuts out or weakens quite regularly. We were able to get all our favourite stations without too much trouble, but don't expect unwavering quality.
Browsing through frequencies is handled via a familiar iPod-style wheel, and two scan buttons that will jump you to the nearest strong signal. Stations can be made favourites if you want to select them quickly, although annoyingly they can't be renamed so you'll be stuck with a list of frequency numbers, while remembering which one is which is left up to you.
Another gripe is that the iPhone's volume control buttons won't alter the radio volume -- if you turn the volume up or down you'll need to adjust a slider in the app's interface. That's pretty irritating as it rules out changing the volume using the iPhone's easy-to-find volume keys from within your jeans pocket.
As the iFM uses headphones plugged into the radio transceiver, if you get a call while listening to the radio, you won't hear the phone ring through your headphones, and as you'll have some headphones in your ears, you're unlikely to hear any ringing through the iPhone's speakers either. The only way to know you're getting a call through is feeling the phone vibrate, or watching the screen. You may well find yourself missing calls if the iFM is stuffed in your pocket while you're out and about.
Because the iPhone operating system doesn't currently support multitasking, if you want to check your emails or perform other actions on your iPhone or iPod Touch you'll have to quit the iFM app, killing the radio playback. The iFM actually works better on the older generation iPods than it does on the touch-screen devices, because you're unlikely to be trying to perform several conflicting tasks such as checking emails, or answering calls.
Using the iFM on older generation iPods is pretty simple -- accessed via the radio option in the iPod menu, frequency navigation is handled with the scroll-wheel. Holding the central button will add a frequency to your favourites, both the iPod and iPhone will display song title and artist information if the station you're listening to broadcasts RDS information and if the signal is strong enough, though more often than not we found this feature worked only intermittently.
The iFM works just fine, even if signal quality is occasionally a little stuttery. It's a shame that there aren't a few more features, such as the option to rename channels, and the inability to hear incoming calls when using the iFM with an iPhone is annoying.
Ultimately, if you own a compatible iPod other than the Touch model, the iFM works pretty well, but it's less useful when used in conjunction with the newer iPod Touch and iPhone.If you're a massive radio fan and need some FM loveliness on your device, the iFM does a decent, if not spectacular job.