Review: SendStation smartCharge iPod Car Charger (2007)
When we tested SendStation's car charger smartCharge for iPod shuffle and USB iPods (iLounge rating: B-) back a year and a half ago, we pointed out several issues with the $30 device: its pricing, its lack of a cable for non-shuffle iPods, and the fact that it became surprisingly hot to the touch while in use. Now SendStation has released an updated, superior version called the smartCharge iPod Car Charger ($25), which remedies virtually all of our concerns, and thereby merits our high recommendation.
Though it was also marketed towards users of full-sized iPods, the original smartCharge was conspicuously designed for use with the first-generation iPod shuffle. It fit snugly into a car’s cigarette lighter-slash-power port, and included an integrated iPod shuffle USB dock designed to mount the shuffle right beside the outlet. Since this mightn’t be an optimal location to access the shuffle’s controls, SendStation highlighted the fact that smartCharge’s body could be tilted through 72 degrees of freedom to provide easier access to the shuffle’s Control Pad. Other iPods, it explained, could be connected with a self-supplied USB cable for charging, and mounted wherever you preferred.
Despite the discontinuation of the first-generation shuffle, the new smartCharge preserves the 72 degree ratcheting feature, though it’s not as important as it was before. Most iPod users will instead want to connect the completely flexible included white USB-to-Dock Connector cable, which SendStation has customized with a Velcro cord manager and promises will deliver both power and an audio signal at the same time. Consequently, you can connect the cable to smartCharge and your iPod, then connect smartCharge’s single line out audio port to a cassette tape adapter, or if you’re lucky a stereo’s line-in port, and hear the iPod’s music through your car stereo while it’s charging. A smoke-colored translucent Dock Connector cover is included to keep the cable’s exposed end protected when not in use.
The good news is that smartCharge does what it’s supposed to do, and better than the prior version. It charged our iPods without becoming burning hot to the touch, and did in fact enable the iPods to output audio through the direct line out port on its body.
Our only issues with the new smartCharge were small ones: though its line output delivered pretty good sound quality, we noticed a hint of noise in the signal when testing it with our best cassette adapters. Unlike hybrid car chargers and mounts that have more recently emerged from companies such as Griffin, and volume-adjustable chargers such as the Auto Kit from Belkin, smartCharge also doesn’t have a switch to attenuate the audio signal for different types of car stereos it’s connecting to. This feature gives users extra control over bass and overall volume levels, and has worked well in a number of top chargers we’ve tested.
That said, smartCharge sells for $5 less than the prior version, making it one of the more competitively-priced car chargers we’ve seen with a line-out port, and its build, looks, and sound quality are all good enough that the vast majority of iLounge readers will appreciate the functionality that SendStation is offering for the dollar. smartCharge may not be perfect, but by iPod car charger standards, it’s a very good value, and nicely designed.