iPod-haters will crow that FM radio functionality is old hat in most other MP3 players. But for those iPod owners craving some radio ramblings, then the new iPod Radio Remote is an ideal solution.
The Radio Remote, which plugs into the iPod's dock connector, will be instantly recognisable as an iPod product because of its all-white colour. The actual control unit itself looks like somebody chopped off the top third of a Shuffle, as it features the same clickable control wheel that iPod's smallest player features. On the back of the main unit is a silver clip which can be used to attach it to clothing, bag handles or anywhere else you'd like the remote to sit. The iPod Radio Remote also comes with a pair of headphones. These headphones are similar to the ones bundled with all iPods except for their shorter length, which makes them the ideal partner for the remote as you'll end up with fewer cords dangling around your body.
Anyone who's ever had an iPod Remote in the past (they used to be included free with third-generation iPods, for example) will be instantly familiar with the new Radio Remote. The Remote can control many of the iPod's functions, including starting/stopping playback, skipping tracks and setting volume levels.
But this accessory's major drawcard is FM radio functionality. The iPod Radio Remote supports radio stations between the frequencies of 87.5 and 108.0MHz, and can also read any information being transmitted via RDS (radio data system). RDS, which is used by only a few FM stations across Australia, allows you to see information on-screen such as station name, track listings and more.
Using the radio is simplicity itself -- simply plug in the Radio Remote to an iPod's dock connector and a new Radio option instantly appears on the iPod's main menu. Select Radio and you're taken into a new screen which displays the frequency currently selected in large, bold type. Choosing radio stations is performed via the iPod's scroll wheel. As you'd expect from Apple, the Radio screen is visually simple yet quite appealing. The frequency selector, for example, appears as an old-style bandwidth dial, similar to what you'd see in older radios. The Radio Remote can also remember your favourite stations -- simply hold down the scroll wheel's middle button for a few seconds and the iPod will remember that station's frequency. The left and right buttons on the wheel or the remote can then be used to skip between preset stations.
As a receiver, we found the iPod Radio Remote to work well. It generally picked up radio station frequencies with ease, although as with all receivers like this, where the actual cord is placed has a great effect on signal strength (as the Radio Remote's cord acts as its antenna). And there were plenty of times we wished the actual remote unit itself had some sort of LCD screen. It was easy to get confused when listening to the radio, particularly after we had preset close to a dozen stations and were jumping between them frequently. RDS functionality is also nice, but it ends being something you never see in action -- partly because only a few stations in Australia use it, and partly because you never get to see your iPod in action anyway (with the whole idea of the remote being so you can tuck away your iPod somewhere in your bag and still have control of it).
But an added bonus, particularly for those who like to share their music, is when you're using the Radio Remote, another set of headphones can be plugged into the same iPod (as the Remote, which plugs into the bottom of the iPod, has its own headphone jack).
The iPod Radio Remote works well and is stylistically a great match for 5th gen iPods and Nanos. But iPod naysayers do have a point when they say AU$79 is a high price to pay for an accessory that adds functionality to the iPod that many of its competitors are already bundled with.