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The Dension ICE-Link Plus Reviewed

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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).

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Written By: Gabe

  • http://www.rknrll.net/minipics Jared/pezboy

    I would agree with most of that. And to clear up the ID3 information…there is a file somewhere on the pages in the MINI2 thread (not in current firmware) that will let all model year MINIs with nav display track info. However…it renders the nav completely useless because it covers the entire screen, and it doesn’t go away. Someone in the thread mentioned if it would just disappear after 2-3 seconds then it’d probably be fine for now.

    For those without nav it would seem that they can make MY05 cars work (~4 weeks) to display the ID3 info on the HU. Pre-05, we are SOL…although switching out the HU for an ’05 HU might work – which I plan to try once that update comes out.

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    Thanks for the clarification Jared.

  • blalor

    I’ve asked high and low about this but haven’t gotten an answer…

    Gabe, does iTunes see that a track played from the iPod via the ice>Link: Plus (that’s a lotta work typing that…) has been played? I mean, do the last-played date and the play count attributes get updated? (please please please!)

    I’ve got an ’05 MCS on order (ASK MINI tells me its out of the paint shop! taking delivery 6/1) and I’ve requested an ice>Link: Plus for my b-day (Thursday) from my lovely wife. I hope to be able to offer first-hand information on the ID3 debacle. :-)

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    blalor – I’ve been meaning to figure that out for the past couple of weeks. I’ll try to confirm it today.

  • blalor

    /me taps impatiently on his desk

  • Jake

    Perhaps I read the article too hastily, but how is the Denison any better than the factory iPod interface, especially at a higher price point? For $125 delivered, I used the factory kit with flawless results from the beginning. Based on the multitude of reviews both here and elsewhere, it’s challenging to understand how this product is competitive with the factory interface which was developed with Apple input.

    Note also, the playlists are directly accessible from the head unit on the factory interface kit.

  • blalor

    Jake, you get two things for the add’l 75 clams:

    • navigation to any playlist (just just the ones numbered 1MINI to 5MINI)
    • a display of the current-playing track

    There’s also the possibility of having ID3 tags displayed on the head unit.

    Frankly, all other things being equal, I think that’s worth it.

    I got a good belly laugh when I read Monster’s info on the iCruze and saw that they charge an additional Ben Franklin for a display when there’s a perfectly useful LCD on the iPod…

    I agree with keeping distractions to a minimum for the driver, but I don’t see anything wrong with having additional information available.

    I know a lot of stink’s been raised about the ID3 tags, but when you’ve got 1700 songs on your iPod playing at random, I think it’s nice to be able to see what’s what.

  • http://www.hubertus.net/mymini Philip

    While I’m quite happy with my ICE-Link a friend of mine has the ICE-Link Plus installed.

    He has a facelift MCS with the new Boost that also playes MP3-CDs. After updating the ICE-Link with new config files the ID3 tags now show up on the HU.

    Philip

  • ChrisW

    I’d also love to know if the Ice-Link updates play count information. All my music is in Apple Lossless format, so I rely on “last played” information to cycle my music library automatically via Smart Playlists (which, BTW, is a great solution for those who don’t want to compromise their music with compression).

    Another plus for Dension: Best Buy is said (per Dension’s website) to now carry the Ice-Link. BUT another minus for Dension: it’s not shown on the Best Buy website, nor does anyone at the two stores I called know anything about the Ice-Link. :(

    DensionUSA seriously needs to get their premature information releases under control.

  • ChrisW

    Quote: “After updating the ICE-Link with new config files the ID3 tags now show up on the HU.”

    Whoa! Philip, can you get any pics to confirm? Sorry to be doubtful, but there’s been so much FUD about the ID3 tag “feature” that I won’t believe it until I see it.

  • Kurt

    Dension did, I don’t know if its still there, have a page on its support area for BMW text display…

    Trying to use the BMW text display with the newest firmware didn’t do anything on my 2005 MCS…

    I SOOO want text display on my 2005 MCS!

    I’m very disapointed in Dension… I give them an F for product preparation…

  • ChrisW

    Quote: “For those without nav it would seem that they can make MY05 cars work (~4 weeks) to display the ID3 info on the HU.”

    Jared, didn’t we get a similar timeframe from Dension way back in Nov/Dec?

  • http://www.gbmini.net/ Ian

    ChrisW, have a search around the MINI forums and see what you find – for example start reading this MINI2 thread which even has pics!

  • http://www.gbmini.net/ Ian

    Gabe, Where I do wonder about your 4/5 rating is that initially your ICElink did not work properly, and you could not update it … how many customers will receive the same quality of product and be frustrated; do you think you got a replacement because of your status in the MINI world?

  • http://www.rknrll.net/minipics Jared/pezboy

    Chris, yeah…I know. That was when everything was confusing and Tom at Dension said that all MINIs would be supported by Christmas…blah.

    This is the latest post from Lee at Dension:

    w.r.t. text on 05 cars, personally I’d wait for 3-4(ish) weeks until the 2.1 firmware stream becomes available as there will be a BMW-text specific stream of this.

    That was posted on April 1.

    Let me also note that the iPod mini cradle from Dension – paired up with the ProClip mount they sell, is nothing short of perfect (for me). It looks nice, and it’s so easy to just hop in the car and drop the iPod in the cradle – not have to find a cord to plug into the bottom of the iPod.

    Dension really could use some help with their PR and their website…both are well below average. But I have to say that overall I’m quite pleased with the Ice>Link Plus package.

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    Ian – I don’t believe that was the case. Here’s how it happened:

    I was talking with someone at Dension (this person did know who I was) and it became obvious that my Ice-Link required serious support by an expert on the product. So I was transferred to the support line. This person had no idea of who I was or that I had just been talking with someone in sales. We went through the issues I had and he quickly decided that I needed a new unit. After a quick exchange of information I was told the new unit would be to me in a few days. probably one of the most painless support calls I’ve ever dealt with. At no time did I ever get the impression that this person knew this unit was for a review or who I was. Maybe I got lucky in who I was talking with but from my experience Dension’s support was 1st rate.

  • ChrisW

    Please allow me to retract, with my apologies to DensionUSA, a dig in my earlier post. After calling Dension and being told by Tom that the Ice-Link was indeed available at Best Buy starting today, I called a couple of local stores again to confirm. (While I had Tom on the line I should have asked the ID3 tag question again…)

    The guys in the car stereo department still had not heard of the product (I had called them last week after seeing the Best Buy news on the DensionUSA website). But they did have the Monster iCruze (note to Dension: many customers may go to the car stereo department as I did; you may want to have Best Buy get the word out to their mobile audio departments).

    I then spoke with someone in the Wireless department (where they carry the iPod accessories), and they do in fact now have the product in stock, including the BMW/MINI model!

    Excellent! Now I can pick one up with confidence, because if I have a problem I can just exchange it at Best Buy rather than getting sucked into the (reported) customer service black hole at Dension that some have encountered per some online reports (Gabe’s excellent experience notwithstanding).

  • http://www.rknrll.net/minipics Jared/pezboy

    I wonder if they sell the one that plugs into the CD-changer thing, or the radio-end plug. Might as well keep everything stuffed up behind the radio…no use running it from the boot.

  • ChrisW

    Hmmm, the part number Best Buy gave me is I20-BMW-T. Is that the trunk-mount version? I didn’t realize there were different adapter models for the same vehicle. :(

    I agree, I’d rather not run a cable from the boot.

    Bummer, and I was going to zip over there at lunch and pick one up…

  • Mike

    Jared, both options for connectivity are available. Nice review, Gabe! I think it’s spot-on given my experiences with the product.

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    Gabe, does iTunes see that a track played from the iPod via the ice>Link: Plus (that’s a lotta work typing that…) has been played? I mean, do the last-played date and the play count attributes get updated?

    Yes – just confirmed.

  • http://www.rknrll.net/minipics Jared/pezboy

    Mike, I know Dension sells both…was wondering about Best Buy.

    I would look on the site, but I can’t even find the “shop” link anymore on the Dension page…and the Sox game is going to start, so you are on your own Chris – if you can get to that page it does show model numbers if you add a product to your cart.

  • blalor

    You rock, Gabe! Thanks!

    It’s amazing to me that the best answer I could get out of Dension was “prolly not”. They were kinda-sorta wrong. sigh :-)

  • mclaugh

    Re: playcounts and last played, someone said in the Mini2 forum thread that those were only updated if you using the icelink plus in “manual” mode. Gabe, when you checked this out, were you playing songs in manual mode or were you just using the headunit? Thanks for the review- I’m waiting for my Mini, and this was one of my last decisions to make, official adapter vs icelink.

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    It was not in manual mode when I confirmed it.

  • ChrisW

    Checked my local Best Buy. They have radio mount kits (which I assume are indicated by the model name ending in R?) for VW, Honda, and Audi, and only the trunk mount kit (T?) for BMW-MINI. Bummer.

    Oh, and all have the cradle mount, so no cable-only kits. It’s a different kit if you don’t want the cradle mount, correct? I didn’t realize there were so many variations. Guess I’ll have to order directly from Dension after all. :(

    P.S. Thanks for the playcount update Gabe. That’s great news.

  • http://www.squirty.com/minis Kurt Collins

    I’m sorry but I have to disagree with this review – from the gist of the review Gabe it sounds like you had some problems with firmware – that should’ve knocked it down at least to a three. That on top of the questionable attitude from Dension regarding future product functionality with ID3 info on the Head Unit. Sounds like an expensive product when the BMW product does a lot of the same functionality for a better price.

  • SB

    Having purchased and tried, not one but two ICE-Links (and returned them), I am a bit weary of hearing “these issues will be resolved with the next update”. I know some are pleased with their ICE-Links and I am happy for them.

    I was planning on getting the iCruze by Monster Cable … but they too are having difficulties and delays in getting all the required cables, modules, and the still-impossible to get, display. I have a compromise that works for me at this time. I mounted an Apple iPod case (the kind with the belt clip) inside my glove box. I use the MINI/Apple iPod adaptor which gives me access to 5 “MINI” playlists and the Library. I have also installed a MINI auxiliary input jack … but with a twist. Instead of simply mounting the jack inside the glove box, I found a RETRACTABLE extension cord with stereo mini jacks on each end. This retractable cord is also mounted in the glove box and makes hookup a snap. I usually use the MINI/Apple iPod adaptor and leave the iPod in the glove box, but if I (or a passenger) wish to listen to a specific artist, playlist, genre … or just see the display, I simply unplug the MINI/Apple iPod adaptor and plug in the retractable extension cable, and then swich from “CD” to “AUX”. It takes but a couple of seconds, and the cable is three feet long which gives a passenger the oportunity to “play” with the iPod. While some of the covenience features are lost with the extension cable (like charging, steering wheel control of FF, next track, etc., auto pause) … it does partially solve some of the display and access limitations of the MINI/Apple iPod adaptor. My car is an ’03 MCS without nav or HK. I bought the retractable extension at a computer store called Micro Center. Hope some find this helpful.

  • http://fac01.home.comcast.net/ DanTheMan

    Gabe,

    I’ve got a non nav ’04 and have held off buying the ICELink because of the tag issue. I think I heard somewhere about BMW coming out with an upgraded iPod connector, but I’m not sure. Any info, and if it’s true, do you know what the upgraded capabilities are?

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    No news yet Dan. We’ll post something when we hear it. Unfortunately it’s pretty much just speculation at this point.

  • KeViN

    just picked up an ice link plus at Best Buy last night. they were in stock, on the shelf and i didn’t need to even bother the non-existent car audio employee.

    gonna try the install in a few hours…hope it goes smoothly…

    more comments later…

  • ChrisW

    KeViN, what is the model number of the kit you picked up? Is it the BMW-T (trunk-mount) model?

    That’s all my local store had – just wondering if Best Buy will be carrying other variations of the kit.

  • KeViN

    Hey Chris…yes, i got the I20-BMW-T…works great, except i can’t get the name of the songs to scroll on my radio display…

    tempted to upload the text to nav file, but i think i read someone earlier it renders the nav useless?

  • KeViN

    well, i got my ice link (trunk mount version) installed problem free, BUT…there’s a ton of “noise” over the system, probably from all the cabling involved…

    it’s so bad that i don’t even want to listen to my ipod because of it…has anyone else run into this? i asked the Best Buy technician for any ideas, he had none…

    guess i’ll have to order the radio mount version from dension…

    bummer…

    (don’t they test these things before they send them out??)

  • Steve Carlin

    KeVIN,

    When I first installed my ice-link plus, I also got a lot of distortion. I unplugged and plugged it back in the iPod with modest improvement. I then unplugged the ice-link cable and re-plugged it into the ice-link and that helped a bit more. Then I discovered on the Dension web site that noise is sometimes caused by the gain (or output) setting made by the ice-link on the iPod. I reduced the gain setting by a couple of db and the problem went away. You can access it on the ice-link menu. When you plug in the ice-link, select playlist 6 to bring up the setup menu and scroll to (I think) the settings menu. You will find a gain setting somewhere in the ice-link menus.

    Basically, the iPod was putting out too much signal for the HU to handle without causing distortion when it amplified the signal for the stereo.

    Hope this helps.

    Steve

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    I had the same issue with the first Ice-Link Plus I installed. The issue was the firmware (2.01).

    BTW it’s also worth mentioning that it’s important to disconnect your battery during install. That way you reset the headunit completely. I forgot and had to pull the fuses for a reset.

  • KeViN

    thanks for the advice guys…unplugging the unit a couple times definitely decreased the interference (wierd), but it comes back loudly here and there…it’s still noticeable when the volume is really low also or the ipod is paused, similar to using the iTrip or the like…

    i think i’m gonna go for the radio mount model and get rid of the extra wiring…

  • Kurt

    mine had interferance too… it was solved with a call to tech support at Dension, which revealed that the wiring in some of the harnesses was done wrong… fixed very simply in 1 min with tech support help and a pen (really high tech hehe)…

  • KeViN

    Hey Kurt,

    yup, finally got through to Dension tech support and got that same memo…

    i take back my earlier dig about Dension not testing their product first, BUT they did send it out with the wrong wiring!

    mine works fine now…just gotta hide that big ugly cable!!

  • Steve Carlin

    The attached appeared today on the already hard-to-find firmware update page:

    “Important notice !

    Dear Customers, current ice>Link Plus models implement the full desired feature set already, therefore no generic firmware updates released in the future.

    However we are comitted to continue our product support and to make bug fixes available if necessary.

    Feel free to contact Technical Support if you have any issue.”

    Sure sounds to me like they are telling their customers to take a flying leap when it comes to ID3 tage support. Whatever happend to alleged version 2.1?

  • ChrisW

    Huh??? I agree, it sounds bad to me too.

    “By the way, we can’t figure out tag display, so we’ll just consider that an ‘undesired feature’ and call it a day. Thank you for your purchase.”

  • Kurt

    Dension… WTF?!?!

    No further firmware upgrades?! I want my text display working with tags!

    – VERY ANGRY CUSTOMER –

  • Steve Carlin

    Gabe,

    Can you help us out here? The Dension folks at least respond to your contacts. And you have more than fair in your treatment of them.

    Steve

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    Will do.

  • Steve Carlin

    Thanks.

  • http://www.audiovideointregration.com/732253.html Endot

    http://www.audiovideointregration.com/732253.html

    I have the 2nd car on this webpage. This is my friends install Co. I have a Mini 05 S and I took out the cup holder.

  • ChrisW

    Any word on this yet? Or have the Dension reps gone into hiding again?

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe Bridger

    Two comments have been deleted at the request of Tom at Dension. They contained information that was of a confidential nature.

  • http://motoringfile.com Gabe

    I think this matches pretty much everything else Dension has said before. They’re working on the software and ID3 tags will be implemented for the 2005 MINI soon.

  • ChrisW

    I think that legal blurb at the bottom of Tom’s email would make me think twice before posting the message in its entirety to a blog…


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