Tuned But Out Of Control(s)

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This article is not quite a product review, but rather does it culminate in a “how-to” of sorts. But would I not go against all that is long-winded and unnecessarily wordy if I were just to post a few snappy bullets and call it good? Yes, I would; and that’s not the kind of writer I am. I am, after all, an editor’s worst nightmare and I can’t just dispense with the tradition of the 3000-word paragraph in the name of brevity. You have been warned! For those of you who are prone to early-onset superfluous information overload, scroll down to the very end of this article to get the scoop under the “Eureka!” heading. You won’t find starred ratings, or an in-depth look at any product in particular, neither will you gather any geeky tech specs. These are just Miss Busa’s ramblings on her woes of motorcycle music management and volume control.

The Lead

A gorgeous iPhone 4G in all its glory: Underpowered processor, low-resolution camera, smallish screen, an oversensitive accelerometer and a well-known propensity to drop a call here and there. But that gorgeous Retina display makes up for all its personality flaws. These are not the ramblings of an Apple fangirl, it just so happens… I’m Microsoft Certified and Casa Busa has been a Mac household ever since I passed the exams, but that is an entirely different story altogether.

The Love Interest

The Monster iEZClick Remote Control for iPods is a weather-resistant and ruggedized wireless remote control for various iPod models. It communicates with your iPod by employing radio frequency signals via an RF receiver that plugs into the dock connector and is powered by the iPod’s battery. The remote control draws its power from a lithium-ion watch battery aka a button cell. Since the iEZClick is using RF, it has relatively low power consumption levels and works through clothing, bags, and even walls. The unit comes with a belt-clip and armband and sports raised rubberized buttons of decent proportions, which make this gadget perfect for outdoor activities and extreme sports.

Why do I dig up this fossil from the bottom of my tech pile now? Let’s start off with…

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

I like to listen to tunes while I’m riding on the street. It keeps me focused, calm and staves off the boredom that’s bound to creep in on the longer trips. It also gives me  a grand opportunity to look like a total jackass doing the motorcycling equivalent of the Chair Dance, a little number I’d  like to call the Saddle Wiggle. I really don’t care to know what my fellow motorists are thinking when they see me fly by, enthusiastic feet tapping away on foot pegs while a leather-clad posterior is bouncing around in the seat, all to the rhythm of an unknown, unheard song on some obscure playlist.

In my quest for the perfectly tuned, hassle-free aural assault I have tried a few things:

  • I started out with my iPod Classic strapped to my right arm, nestled in a waterproof gadget-specific Otterbox hard case secured to the optional armband. I could not operate the Click Wheel’s swipe functions, such as volume control and menu navigation, while wearing gloves; hence I was limited to the use of  Play/Pause and the two Skips.
  • The 160GB version is pretty heavy for this sort of setup, and my arms are skinny which left me using a heck of a lot less Velcro than is recommended for the snug fit I needed. After almost losing my iPod while motoring down the Interstate (don’t ask!), the entire rig ended up strapped to my right thigh. This way I had much more of the Velcro strap fastened securely and I could actually see the iPod’s screen and didn’t have to feel my way around the controls anymore. However, I kept accidentally pulling on the wires and eventually the Otterbox’s internal audio jack passthrough succumbed to the abuse. Not to mention it was annoying to accidentally yank the ear plugs out of my ears and consequently having to pull over, take my helmet off and reinsert them or keep going and risk one killer of a headache.
  • LennTek‘s Hookup accessory, which I bought on clearance somewhere for half off the MSRP, lets you wirelessly connect your Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone and your iPod to a remote control unit. I never tried the BT function, since the last thing I want to hear, while I’m on my bike, is the incessant ring of a 100% bothersome phone call. Meh. Bike-time is me-time! I only used the wireless remote control. It worked well, but the thing is a drain on the iPod’s battery (since it streams sound wirelessly), it isn’t weather resistant, and the buttons were a little too small for my gloved fingers to manipulate comfortably. Good for commuting in fair weather, that’s about it. (FYI: Plugging your ear buds into your iPod rather than the remote control unit negates much of the power drain, but this isn’t an option if the device is used as designed.)
  • Enter the iPod Shuffle. Neato! Small, lightweight, and sexy with a built-in clip. The little Shuffle was perched on my jacket collar to keep the wires out of harm’s way. But I’ll be damned, if I didn’t have to run out and buy a (then) $20 inline remote control adapter so I wouldn’t lose the Shuffle’s control functions when using my custom-molded stereo plugs. Weather-proofing foregone in favor of a replacement warranty, I went through two Shuffles and two adapters in the span of a year. Even though I loved this setup, I didn’t want to buy yet another overpriced piece of glorified wire, so I started looking for other options. (FYI: The adapters are now priced starting at around $6, which makes this definitely an option again, if you don’t use voice guidance on your GPS, that is. Also, the newest iteration of Shuffles has buttons again. =D)

Mr. Slow, aware of my two-wheeled audio woes, set out to find a solution to put his baby back in control: The aforementioned Monster iEZClick remote control.

Click the receiver into the dock connector, select your playlist, shove the entire kit into your jacket pocket or tank bag, route the wires to your ears taking the path of least snag- and yankability, put  your rocket in gear, rev the engine to about 9000 RPM and dump the clutch. Please do enjoy responsibly. 😉 (FYI: You cannot change playlists with the remote control, since this would require Click Wheel functionality.)

I was happy and tuned in again, until I traded my Droid X for an iPhone 4G and wanted to schlepp around but one gadget. My favorite remote control ever was not compatible with the phone. Bummer! I could get it to work sporadically, but not to the point of usability. I spent the next few months starting my music, shoving the iPhone in my jacket’s breast pocket and accepting the fact that I couldn’t do jack about nothing until I either a) got to where I was going, or b) pulled over to the side of the road.

I briefly considered buying another inline remote control adapter for my trusty button-less Shuffle, but resisted the temptation. Crap! I want control back over my tunes!

Race Gloves & Touchy Screens

Touch screens are a wicked pisser while wearing gloves. You can lick your finger and then “push” two or three “buttons” before you have to lick your finger again, to awkwardly navigate onscreen menus while your phone is stuck in yet another weatherproof, shock-resistant bulky Otterbox case, cradled in its universal RAM mount, which is secured to the upper triple tree clamp via a stem-nut mounted 1-inch RAM ball which I had to have shipped from Germany because the one RAM makes sucks balls (pun fully intended.)

[I have got to be freakin’ nuts!]

Magic At Your Fingertips!

I procured myself some quirky Digits conductive finger pins which you stick to the tip of your gloves’ fingers so you can finally get along with touch screens. A heck of a lot safer (not to mention more hygienic) than the lick ‘n stick method I have employed on more occasions than I’d like to admit. However, I cannot get over the way those things feel, but they do work.

quirky Digits call a truce between gloved fingers and touch screens. The MSRP is set at $11.99 (as of this writing) for a box of four.

I don’t like them very much. Maybe it’s because the fingers on most of my motorcycle gloves are slightly too long and the dots feel like they are a bit “shifty” on my finger tips; or maybe it’s the fact that I can feel their base pins on the inside that drives me bonkers. But I have no choice but to use the conductive dots if I want to use the GPS app on my iPhone, or else every time I get an alert I’m stuck with a screen-blocking info box and an OK button that desperately needs touching. (FYI: Don’t forget to lock your screen’s rotation or every time you lean into a curve or pass a car, your screen gets all wonky and it may not return to its proper orientation.)

The quirky Digits are a well-made, secure solution to a very frustrating moto problem. Now if Apple would only let us lock the screen in landscape mode... the world would be a better place.

I suggest you put one “dot” each on both of your index fingers, so you can use your right hand when you’re stopped at a light with the clutch in, and your left hand when you’re flying past unsuspecting racer-types in their souped up Mustangs.

Eureka!

Although the manufacturer does not specifically mention compatibility of the two devices, the Monster iEZClick Remote Control for iPods works with the iPhone 4G running iOS 5.0.1 if you follow a few simple steps in the exact order stated.

Here’s how you get them to cooperate flawlessly:

  1. Make sure all music player apps are closed.
  2. Connect the RF receiver to the iPhone’s dock connector.
  3. Plug in your ear phones of choice.
  4. Fire up the ‘Music’ app.
  5. Go for a sporty little test ride!

The iEZClick remote control even works with the embedded music app in MotionX GPS Drive. However, the lack of a passthrough connector on the RF receiver makes use of GPS enabled apps while using the RC unfeasible due to their piggish power needs..

Curtain Call

Since I have used up all my longwinded wordiness, here are a few bullets to wrap this puppy up and bring it in:

  • The Monster iEZClick does not have a passthrough connector. This is quite the bummer when you also need to be able to charge your device while riding, so your phone will be at full power once you get to your destination and get off the bike. This makes the use of this device unpractical on longer bike trips.
  • The Lenntek Hookup has a passthrough to charge your iPod while the receiver is plugged in. However, the remote control is also BT enabled and has higher power requirements than the RF receiver that plugs into the iPod’s dock connector, especially if you also pair it with your mobile phone to accept phone calls while listening to tunes. The RC unit is charged via miniUSB, so it is not impossible to have it charging while on the bike. This solution is only feasible in a tank bag (or similar) setup, since weatherproofing becomes the next greatest issue after meeting power requirements. The Hookup is also (still) quite expensive.
  • Conductive “finger dots” become an absolute necessity when also using the iPhone as a GPS receiver or ride logger/lap timer. You do not want the glue-on type for motorcycling. I recommend the quirky Digits, they work and stay secure by means of a backpin they screw into. However, you will have to pierce your glove to install them.
  • Out of all the stuff I’ve tried, the simplest (and cheapest) solution to enjoying tunes on (shorter) rides is still the iPod Shuffle, since the newest iteration (as of this writing) has push buttons, albeit tiny ones. The most important of which (Play/Pause) is the biggest and is dead center. And with the addition of an armband (or clipping the thing to your collar), wiring yourself in is also hassle-free and fuel stop friendly. It is also least painful to lose or break.

I think I have finally arrived at a solution that I can live with on and off the bike, on road trips long and short, with the hardware I had already laying around. I am glad I didn’t have to throw more money at this particular problem. I wouldn’t have. I like to race. I have no money for things other than gate and entry fees, transponder rentals, gas, tires and crash repair.

“You gonna finish those?” *points at your Cup Noodles*

Disclaimer

Having your delicate gadgets along for the ride, especially out in the elements, exposed to extreme temperatures (and the inevitable damage done by extreme temperature variation, especially when moving from cold to warm) will shorten their lifespan significantly. Why do you think I bought an iPod Shuffle with a replacement warranty? At the first sign of trouble my poor iPod was retired from moto duty. Not to mention the risk of them falling off and bouncing down the road when you hit that pothole you didn’t see in time. I almost lost my iPhone to a pothole once. Imagine my shock, a few miles down the road, when I happened to look down and found the cradle empty. I sat there in disbelief, mouth hanging wide open, muttering over an over “I just got that!” until I noticed it frying on the Beemer’s hot-as-hell frame, dangling precariously off its charging cable. One more reason to charge on the go. 🙂 Do secure your stuff by the use of lanyards, zip ties, duct tape, whatever it takes to keep the crap from hitting the road.



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