So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Belkin Australia TuneCast Auto Universal
- Powered by the car lighter, universal for any MP3 player, slim
- Can't take batteries, won't charge your MP3 player, not automatic
Although it's a simple device, it's quite a handy one to have if you're on the road a lot and need to have your music on hand.
Price$ 89.95 (AUD)
Belkin's TuneCast Auto Universal finally throws a bone to those of us not swept up by the iPod era. Not only is it an effective way of playing music from an MP3 player through a car stereo – or any radio receiver for that matter – but it uses a 3.5mm headphone-style jack to make the connection, rather than a proprietary connection.
For those who aren't familiar with the technology, FM tuners essentially broadcast an FM radio signal on the frequency you've selected. You then select the same station on your car's radio and off you go. In this case, the TuneCast can broadcast on frequencies ranging from 88.1MHz-107.9MHz. It's only a weak transmitter, so it generally reaches as far as a car's aerial and no further, though you might pick it up in an adjacent car if you were unlucky. For it to work correctly it's necessary to pick a station that's clear, or rather, isn't already being broadcast on.
Although it's possible to find stations that are mostly quiet, in areas like Sydney, it's difficult to ensure a consistently clear station, as most are either in use, or close enough to an in-use station to pick up part of the signal. It's not a perfect alternative for a direct cable link, but most cars don't have that as a feature, so it's the best replacement we've got available.
The TuneCast Auto Universal consists of a few basic parts. Two cables dangle down from the main control hub like tendrils on a jellyfish. The first part is a 3.5mm connection that plugs directly into the headphone port on the player; 3.5mm plugs are an almost universal standard for portable music devices. It shouldn't matter whether you have a Creative Zen, Toshiba Gigabeat, Microsoft Zune, or an iPod, the 3.5mm jack should fit your device.
Also hanging down in a tentacle-like manner is the power adapter, which connects to a 12V in-car cigarette lighter socket. The upside of this device is you can play music for as long as the car is on and the MP3 player has power allowing it to be slimmer from the lack of batteries. The down side is that you can't use batteries, even if you want to. If the car you're in doesn't have a working cigarette lighter socket you're out of luck. Also, unlike the iPod proprietary connection on the Belkin TuneCast Auto iPod the 3.5mm connection cannot charge the device, so you're relying solely on battery power.
The last part of this device is the control hub. This is the brain of the TuneCast Auto. It's a simple system with a few basic controls that cover all you're going to need. There are two presets, an essential feature that saves you the trouble of memorising a clear frequency, and a set of scan-up and scan-down buttons to search for clear frequencies you can broadcast on.
The product's name is a little misleading; it's not automatic in any way. If you want automatic you're going to need to track down a Belkin ClearScan product that finds a clear channel for you.
The only other thing that you'll get with the TuneCast Auto Universal is an adhesive pad to stick it to your dashboard, should you choose to do so.
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