Review: Griffin TuneFlex AUX HandsFree

I’ve been a longtime user and fan of Griffin Technology’s products. One area Griffin has always excelled in was integrating my iPod, well, now iPhone, into my car. Shortly after I bought my iPhone 3G a couple years ago, Griffin released the TuneFlex AUX SmartClick. The SmartClick had this super handy remote you could attach to your steering wheel to control playback. This was one of the most useful accessories I ever owned. You can read my glowing review from back in January 2009.

Sadly, when the iPhone 4 came out, the SmartClick’s model-specific adapters didn’t accommodate the new shape of the iPhone 4. So I’ve been patiently waiting for a revised TuneFlex.

A couple weeks ago, Griffin released the TuneFlex AUX HandsFree. The main features are an adjustable cradle that can accommodate the various shapes of iPod and iPhone models, even while the device is in a case, and a microphone that will allow you to talk on the phone handsfree. Hence the name.

I saw this pop up on Amazon for $32, which is quite the discount from the $49.99 MSRP, so I ordered it.

In seven years, this is the first time I am disappointed with a Griffin product. Sadly, the HandsFree is four steps backwards in design from the SmartClick. Sadly, I’ll be returning it for the reasons listed below.

  1. The new, adjustable cradle doesn’t apply enough tension to keep the iPhone 4 seated well on the Dock connector. The iPhone wobbles around a lot. With the Dock connector providing the only apparent point of stability, I’m afraid either the connector on the TuneFlex will snap, or worse, the port on the iPhone will be damaged.
  2. On both the SmarClick and Handsfree editions of the TuneFlex, the point at which the gooseneck meets the cradle swivels to the left and right. On the SmartClick, it had ratchet points to provide resistance in swiveling. The HandsFree has a completely smooth action. Too smooth. A modestly hard turn will definitely cause the swivel point to swing and, combined with the loose tension in the cradle, will likely send your iPhone or iPod flying across the cabin.
  3. There is no way to control playback anymore. I do much more listening with my iPhone than talking in the car. Having to fiddle with onscreen controls to skip forward a track or pause is more dangerous. The SmartClick had such an excellent solution to this. The HandsFree offers no solution.
  4. Audio on the SmartClick was line-out via the Dock connector. The HandsFree offers only audio out via the headphone jack, so you first have to adjust the device’s volume, then your stereo’s. What a distraction and a mess. Never mind the fact that if you forget to turn down the device’s volume before you plug in headphones you’ll have hurting ears.

I really wish I had better things to say about this product. It actually kind of hurts to lampoon a Griffin product since I have never had a bad experience from them.

It’s a shame they didn’t just release a $10 adapter for the iPhone 4 for SmartClick owners.