Charges iPod/iPhone while in use
Easy-to-use play/pause button
Doesn’t always find the clearest station
Awkward industrial design for some cars
Pro setting adds high-pitched whine
The Belkin TuneBase FM transmitter expands on the standard iPod FM transmitter feature-set by being built to work with the iPhone in GPS mode. Despite some solid features, unless GPS use is your primary need, its sibling, Belkin’s TuneCast Auto, is probably a better choice.
An Unusual, But Versatile, Shape
The TuneBase FM looks unlike most other iPod FM transmitters. While many are cords with remotes or small devices that plug into the dock connector, the TuneBase FM is a large-ish apparatus. It plugs into your car's cigarette lighter, is controlled by a dial at its base, and has a bendable arm that extends up to hold and position the iPod or iPhone.
Unlike other FM transmitters, though, the dock connector connection on the TuneBase FM only charges the device – playing music requires plugging a short headphone cord into the jack on the iPod or iPhone.
Just under where the iPod or iPhone is held is a button that, with one touch, plays or pauses music. This is a great touch – no need to use the screen, take your eyes too much off traffic, or unlock the device to play/pause. This button also doubles as a mic/control for phone calls, which increases its usefulness.
This design – fixed location in the car, bendable arm – has its strengths and weaknesses. The strengths include being able to adjust the TuneBase FM to your needs, not needing to search for your iPod and iPhone due to movement during driving, and a swiveling holder to make using the iPhone in GPS mode much easier.
On the downside, installation can be awkward depending on the placement of your lighter. The device can get in the way of the gear shift or lean into the passenger’s space. And, despite the play/pause button, if you want to change what you’re listinening to, you have to take your eyes off the road to look at the screen. With the cord-and-remote style FM transmitter, you can bring the iPod or iPhone closer to your field of vision, which feels safer to me; this isn't possible with the TuneBase FM.
The true test of an iPod FM transmitter, though, is how well it finds clear signals and plays your music. In this case, the TuneBase FM is bested by its sibling, Belkin’s TuneCast Auto.
Both devices use Belkin’s ClearScan technology to locate open signals. However, even when stationary, the TuneCast finds clearer stations than the TuneBase. This would be OK, except that the TuneCast costs US$20 less than the TuneBase.
Both models also use a feature called “Pro” that boosts the volume of the music being sent to the car stereo, which is a necessity. Unlike the TuneCast, though, the TuneBase sometimes introduces a high-pitched whine that’s annoying and unpleasant.
The Bottom Line
The Belkin TuneBase FM isn’t a bad iPod FM Transmitter. And, if your primary use for it is as a holder for your iPhone when using it as a GPS, it may be great for your needs. However, if your main use is playing music, consider the cheaper, more flexible Belkin TuneCast Auto instead.