Review: Griffin PowerDuo + PowerDuo Universal for iPod and iPhone (2008)
With only a couple of small caveats, there has never been anything magical or difficult about recharging an iPod's battery: sure, the charging accessory needed to have been engineered not to send too much or too little power to the iPod, and there were other small considerations, but creating an iPod home or car charger was virtually the same as creating a USB charger for other devices. Then the release of the iPhone changed this a little, adding a couple of small hurdles, most notably a higher maximum power demand. iPod chargers could still charge iPhones, but new chargers designed for the iPhone could conceivably do a better job under certain conditions.
For the last few years, Griffin Technology’s car and home iPod chargers have been some of the most popular accessories on the market; thanks to more favorable pricing, its PowerBlock series of home chargers have sometimes surpassed even Apple’s own USB chargers in sales. This year, Griffin has overhauled its entire lineup of car and home chargers, including two-charger combination packs, resulting in an array of five options that may be a little confusing for some users. Since two of those options—Griffin’s PowerDuo and PowerDuo Universal—are two separate combo packs with different pieces from three other products, this review steps through all five offerings; separate reviews of the other individual products, PowerBlock, PowerBlock Dual, and PowerJolt, go into less detail.
PowerBlock for iPod and iPhone ($30) is Griffin’s latest alternative to Apple’s USB Power Adapter; both are plastic in-home wall chargers with a single USB port on one side and flip-out metal power blades on another. Each comes with a USB-to-iPod cable. While Apple’s is a smaller rounded square, and has a detachable wall blade design that can interface with an optional, expensive set of international wall blades, the latest PowerBlock is only slightly larger in total volume, wide rather than square, and includes a power light missing from the Apple unit. Griffin offers PowerBlock in white or black versions, each with a gray center, and a more attractive design than the original PowerBlock. Though $1 more expensive than the $29 Apple part on paper, PowerBlock is typically sold for the same price as or less than Apple’s adapter. Our review unit had no problem charging an iPod or an iPhone.
PowerBlock Dual ($25) is a somewhat more interesting product. Late in 2007 and early in 2008, a number of companies began to show off wall and car chargers with two separate USB ports, so that a single charger could feed power to two iPods or an iPod and an iPhone at the same time. PowerBlock Dual uses the exact same shell shape as a black PowerBlock, only elongated by half an inch and possessing two USB ports where PowerBlock has one. It sells for less than the standard PowerBlock, but doesn’t include a USB-to-iPod cable; Griffin calls it the “PowerBlock Dual Universal AC Charger” because its twin ports can be used for pretty much any sort of USB devices you may have, assuming that those devices, like iPods and iPhones, came with their own USB cables.
There’s only one subtle issue with PowerBlock Dual: its USB ports each put out only half an Amp of power, for a total of 1 Amp. This isn’t a huge problem, but official “Works With iPhone” chargers are supposed to be able to supply 1 Amp to the iPhone alone—enough power to charge its battery even when two of its wireless antennas and other features are in use. PowerBlock Dual instead provides enough power to refuel the iPhone when it’s not in active use, which is the same as any standard iPod charger. You can decide for yourself whether this is an important enough reason to hold off on the purchase.
PowerJolt for iPhone ($20) is a rapid replacement of last year’s PowerJolt for iPhone and iPod, a car-only charger that we noted was subject to becoming hot to the touch when used to recharge an iPhone. In an apparent rush to get one of the first authorized iPhone chargers into the marketplace, Griffin had shoehorned the iPhone’s more power-hungry charging circuitry into the shell of a previously excellent, if not stunningly beautiful iPod-specific PowerJolt. The new PowerJolt is smaller and better looking than before, now equipped with a ring of light surrounding its USB port to indicate charging status—green for connected to power, amber for currently charging. But it no longer includes both a USB-to-iPod/iPhone cable and a USB-to-mini USB cable for accessories; only the iPod/iPhone cable is included.
Thankfully, Griffin’s new PowerJolt doesn’t suffer from the same issues as its immediate predecessor. We had no problem charging an iPhone, even when it was actively using its Bluetooth and GSM/EDGE hardware, as this PowerJolt delivered power and didn’t become hot to the touch. iPods also had no issue when charging. The smaller design looked better in our test vehicle, and the amber ring around the USB port made it easy to see with a quick glance that the iPhone or iPod was still charging. The only reason this PowerJolt doesn’t rate as highly as the 2006 model is its omission of the USB-to-mini USB cable, which enabled accessorized iPods and iPhones to charge as easily as unaccessorized ones.
PowerDuo for iPod and iPhone ($40) is a combination of PowerJolt and the standard PowerBlock in a single package, along with a single USB-to-iPod cable. It is sold in either black or white versions, and though Griffin’s web site said at press time that it comes with a USB-to-mini USB cable, that part was nowhere to be found in the box. The idea here is that you save $10 over the cost of buying both chargers separately, and get one less USB-to-iPod cable in the process.
PowerDuo Universal for iPod and iPhone ($35) is a combination of PowerJolt and PowerBlock Dual in a single package, without any included USB-to-iPod or USB-to-mini USB cables. Only available in black, this set lets you charge a single iPod or iPhone in the car and two devices at home. Again, you save $10 versus the price of buying the two chargers separately, but you lose the USB-to-iPod/iPhone cable you would have gotten in the PowerJolt package.
Now that Griffin has remedied last year’s PowerJolt issue, which knocked that model out of our general recommendation category, our feeling about all of the company’s Power series iPod and iPhone chargers is positive, but not more than that. While the prices of each of the charging packages have stayed roughly the same from their predecessors, spare cables have disappeared from certain packages, industrial design has improved across the board, and features have remained constant except for under the hood tweaks. These changes are a modest net positive, but we’ve never been comfortable with the idea of $30 wall chargers, and rather than providing more aggressive alternatives to Apple’s expensive products, Griffin’s now just offer something different unless you find a store that prices third-party accessories more aggressively. That said, with the exception of the PowerBlock Dual and its combo pack version PowerBlock Universal, which will work fine for iPods and iPhones except under unusually demanding iPhone conditions—the reason for their slightly lower, flat B ratings—we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of these items to all of our readers. They work as expected, look good, and make iPod or iPhone charging convenient.