Review: Apple iPhone 3G Dock
When Apple released the original iPhone at prices of $499 and $599, it took a step that it has previously taken with similarly expensive iPods: not only did the device come packed with a USB charging and synchronization cable, but it also came with a wall adapter and a white plastic dock called the iPhone Dock. Like past Apple and third-party docks, the iPhone Dock was designed to hold the device upright on a slight recline, letting you see and use the screen while it was charging, synchronizing, or outputting audio from one of the two ports on its back. Unlike older docks, this one had specially designed vents on the bottom that let the iPhone's new speakerphone features breathe.
With the release of the iPhone 3G, Apple left a dock out of the box, now selling an updated official alternative called the iPhone 3G Dock for $29. As before, it is a plain white plastic piece with a rubber bottom that can stand the iPhone 3G up on any flat surface, outputting audio from its bottom Dock Connector port to a line-level 3.5mm port rather than forcing you to use the device’s headphone port. It also still provides pass-through Dock Connector functionality for connection to the iPhone 3G’s included USB cable and wall power adapter, and has special ventilation for uninhibited speakerphone use.
The changes in this year’s version are small and not incredibly important. Ever conscious of size, Apple has designed the new Dock to be even smaller
physically than last year’s iPhone Dock, which previously was amongst the tiniest yet released for an Apple pocket device. Due in equal parts to this size and the specially molded grooves it has to fit the iPhone 3G, it doesn’t allow you to fit the device if you’ve placed it inside any third-party case—except for ones that come partially or entirely off—and it doesn’t feature the more sophisticated Infrared remote-friendly features of an Apple Universal Dock, either. The iPhone 3G Dock remains solely for charging, synchronization, raw line-level audio output to amplified speakers, and speakerphone audio.
In our iPhone to iPhone 3G Dock tests, we found no difference between the performance of the docks when it came to line-level audio or speakerphone audio: both passed through what the devices gave them. Since the iPhone 3G has a slightly louder bottom speaker than the iPhone, the speakerphone sounded louder through the iPhone 3G Dock, just as it does without the Dock. Callers told us that we sounded the same when talking to them through both Docks, as they switched back and forth between our calls on two lines at once. These Docks do a very good job of letting the iPhones’ speakerphone features work as intended; third-party attempts at similar pass-through docks have not been so successful.
Only one other change between the Docks is worth noting. Simple audio and synchronization docks for iPod nanos have sold for the same $29 price as this one, however, Apple last year opted to sell extra iPhone Docks solely at a $49 price bundled with spare power supplies and synchronization cables. Given that the individual parts sold for more than that, it was a good deal, but not everyone wants to spend close to $50 every time they want to add another dock to their accessory arsenal. This year, the iPhone 3G Dock is sold without other parts for $29, a fair, not aggressive price; if you need another power supply or cable, you can get it elsewhere.
If you’re still willing to spend $49 on a dock for the iPhone, you can get the device-agnostic Apple Universal Dock, which comes with an Infrared sensor and remote, works with iPods and iPhones, and even allows you to dock an iPhone 3G inside of most cases, but has no special ventilation for the devices’ speakerphone functionality. Universal Docks are intended primarily for audio and video output, but feature the same rear ports as the iPhone 3G Dock for computer synchronization and line-level audio output. On the Universal Dock, the line-out audio is variable and can be adjusted with the remote; on the iPhone Dock and iPhone 3G Dock, the audio level is fixed and can’t be adjusted with on-screen swipes or side button presses.
The only other limitation of the iPhone 3G Dock is is coloration: for the fifth year running, Apple still offers its official docks solely in white, despite the fact that 75% of the iPhone 3G models it sells are black. It wouldn’t hurt for Apple to offer a version that physically matched most of the devices out there, and though white’s nice, black is of course a slimming color—that should be reason enough for this style- and thinness-obsessed company to take the plunge.