The Dension ICE-Link Plus Reviewed

The Dension Ice-Link Plus came out swinging with the promise of such features as iPod navigation from the head-unit and ID3 tags. While the device delivered on most of this, ID3 tags have remained missing from the Ice-Link Plus when used with the MINI’s head-unit. While Dension has since backed off the claim of ID3 tags for the MINI, I can’t help but go into the review thinking that Dension dropped the ball on the initial rollout phase of this product back in December. Just a quick look at the comment section of our previous Ice-Link Plus stories and you’ll see the kind of frustration many had to deal with. While it seems most of the pesky software issues have now been fixed, there’s still some lingering questions from many about the Ice-Link Plus. With that in mind, I figured it was time to throw our hat in the ring and officially review the Ice-Link Plus, from installation to final use.

On paper the Ice-Link Plus looks to be the ultimate iPod integration for the MINI. The “Plus” not only has all of the functionality inherent in the iPod (being able to choose any playlist, album, artist, etc. directly from the iPod’s interface) but now also takes on the functionality that the official MINI iPod adapter – and even a little more. Dual mode operation (as Dension calls it) means that you can use your radio or iPod user interface to navigate through playlists, albums and songs. It also means that you can use your headunit’s first five radio preset buttons as shortcuts to the first five playlists on your iPod.

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The last feature is especially important in helping drivers keep their eyes on the road as opposed to their iPods. Essentially, this gives users the best of both worlds and effectively one-ups the official adapter in the process.

Being very familiar with the first generation Ice-Link adapter and its installation, getting the Ice-Link Plus operational was fairly straightforward. I won’t repeat the install process here, but needless to say there really weren’t any surprises.

That said, there were some surprises after the install. Once everything was up and working, I put the Plus to work with the help of the latest Beck. It didn’t take more than a couple seconds to notice that there was some very obvious distortion in some ranges of the music. Knowing that I had the very first firmware on my Ice-Link Plus, I figured the solution was fairly obvious: time to update the firmware. This was confirmed with a quick call to Dension support.

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However, after many attempts at updating my Ice-Link and several calls to support (all very helpful), it became obvious that it just wasn’t going to happen with the unit I had. So after another call the Dension support, I had a new Ice-Link Plus with the most current firmware (2.05) on the way.

After a few days wait and a five minute install/switch, I was finally able to enjoy Beck in all his sonic glory. The distortion was gone and the Plus has since performed flawlessly.

Instead of going for the ever popular cradle, I ordered the standard cord connector. I decided for the most part that I wanted to replicate the Official MINI Adapter in operation and functionality. Thus, I installed the Plus with the wire coming out from under the toggles. That allows me to simply put my iPod in the storage tray (standard on ’05 MINIs) and navigate via the head-unit or multi-function steering wheel. Installing it out of sight and navigating via the MINI’s radio interface is by far the safest way to go about using the Ice-Link while driving.

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However, for those that do use the cradle and navigate via the iPod interface itself, there are a couple of downsides to Dension’s interface design. First off, Dension replaces the iPod’s standard Chicago typeface with something that is less much less readable. Further, the Ice-Link’s display on the iPod doesn’t actually make use of the entire screen but a smaller portion of it. Hopefully this is an oversight that can be fixed with future firmware updates. That said, it’s not exactly stellar interface design and not an issue you want to have with something that you’re going to potentially use while driving.

Another issue that is more obvious when navigating via the iPod is the lag-time while trying to navigate the Ice-Link interface. I asked Dension about this issue and was told it’s inherent in the connection between the iPod and the head-unit. While that may be true with this new system, I can say that the lag-time wasn’t present with the older, much simpler original Ice-Link (Reviewed here). It would seem that it’s a necessary trade-off with the new functionality built into the Plus.

One area the new Plus differs from the original ICE-Link is that it doesn’t light-up the iPod’s display when you start navigating via the head-unit. Perhaps Dension decided this wasn’t needed since many cars support ID3 tags on the head-unit and one wouldn’t need to look at the iPods display for information. However, since that feature has yet to be added to the non-Nav equipped MINIs (and may never be on pre- ’05 models), not being able to see the iPod’s display is definitely a drawback if you plan on using the cradle.

While the early software issues that plagued the Plus have long since been rectified, I can’t help but feel Dension hurt their credibility by releasing a product that probably wasn’t fully ready for the public. Due to this, I know there are some in the MINI community with mixed feelings about Dension and the ICE-Link. Yet, in the end I think the ICE-Link Plus succeeds as being the best iPod integration solution presently available. It gives you the freedom to use it as an extension of the head unit as well as using the iPod’s interface on its own. After a few short weeks of using it, I can’t imagine having a MINI without it.

Rating: 4.0 (out of five)

The Ice-Link Plus retails for around $200. You can read further specifications and find retail location at Desnionusa.com

A word on the early software issues with the product and the final MotoringFile score in this review: I had originally gone into this review thinking that the early software issues would have to be factored into the final conclusion in some way. Having experienced them first-hand, I know how frustrating they were to deal with. However, after a couple of weeks of living with the ICE-Link Plus (w/2.05 firmware), I feel it may be a bit unfair to degrade the final score of the device due to some problems with the earlier versions. It’s obvious to me that Dension has fully worked out the software issues and has delivered a very solid product. At this point, I see no reason for any potential buyer to be concerned about software issues. As long as you know going into the purchase that ID3 tags are not supported on the MINI. (FYI – There are some reports that the latest firmware does indeed support ID3 tags on MINIs equipped with Navigation).