Review: Kensington Nightstand Charging Dock for iPhone
In the nearly eight years that we've been covering accessories at iLounge, we've seen a number of doozies, even in just the iPod and iPhone charging category. Cables that doubled as necklaces, batteries that damaged iPods, and connectors whose only differentiation from Apple's was length or small cosmetic tweaks. As a general rule, these accessories have been inexpensive, and Apple has regulated chargers less aggressively than other types of Made for iPod and Works With iPhone products.
This week, Kensington released an accessory of first impression—a charger that is specifically designed and marketed as a way to transform an iPhone or iPod touch into a full-screen desktop clock: the Nightstand Charging Dock for iPhone ($40). In order to achieve this feat, Kensington developed both an accessory and a piece of clock software called Rise & Shine that can be downloaded from the App Store. Users are supposed to buy the accessory, then go to the App Store and get the clock for free. It’s worth noting that Kensington had several choices: sell the accessory for $35 and the software for $5, more improbably give the accessory away with every software purchase, or give the software away to accessory purchasers—plus anyone else who happens to discover Rise & Shine in the app store. Because of Apple’s policies on App Store software, Kensington went with the latter model, a choice that effectively means that you can get Rise & Shine without a purchase. We’ve reviewed it here (iLounge Rating: B), leaving the Nightstand Charging Dock to stand alone, as it does in the box when you purchase it.
As an iPod or iPhone charging solution, the Nightstand Charging Dock is extremely straightforward. At one end of a black cable is a white and gray plastic dock with a rubberized bottom and sides; the other has a USB plug that can connect to your computer or an included black wall charger. Kensington has designed the dock with a slightly extended Dock Connector, enabling iPhones and iPods to connect to the charger without being removed from certain cases. Additionally, due to its rubberized sides, the Charging Dock can be laid on its side or kept upright, depending on the orientation you want your iPod or iPhone screen to be on. Rise & Shine rotates its clock display to match either position.
The good news is that the Nightstand Charging Dock does exactly what it’s supposed to do, with or without use of Rise & Shine. Plug in an iPhone, iPod touch, or even virtually any other iPod—save the 2001-2003 models and iPod shuffles—and they’ll charge, without a nag screen or other complaint about incompatibility. Similar words can be said about Apple’s $29 charging cables and dozens of others that sell for a little bit less; thus, to be clear, we would not recommend this accessory’s purchase for users of non-touchscreen Apple devices. Activate Rise & Shine, and it will stay running whether or not the charger is plugged in, smoothly transitioning back in and out of focus when an iPhone’s telephone calls arrive, and continuing to run while providing familiar pop-ups for push notifications. The primary advantages of the combined solution are the fact that your device remains upright and visible, and that the screen can stay on continuously unless it burns out.
But will it? Eventually, all backlit displays lose their ability to illuminate, and based on what little technical data exists about the various screens that Apple has sourced, a fair guess is that they are capable of running for roughly 3-5 years—quite possibly longer than other key parts of the device—before requiring repair or replacement, and that’s assuming that the device’s screen is kept on 24 hours a day. Most users won’t put their iPhones or iPod touches through so many hours of on time, but you can decide for yourself whether to do so, as well as whether the higher than standard asking price is justified by the software and dock design considerations. Our feeling is that the price is a little on the high side, but given street price fluctuations for Kensington’s products, it will be possible to find the Nightstand Charging Dock for $30, at which point it becomes a superior alternative to Apple’s rarely if ever discounted $29 USB Power Adapter set. With the exception of the fact that this Dock is not useful for line-out or video purposes, our view is that this is a nice combination of software and hardware, if relatively simple and alternately replicated; along with cables, full-featured docks, and using speakers as chargers, it’s just one of many good charging options available to iPod and iPhone users. Similarly, the software may be a free download, but it’s a nice selling point, and more attractively priced than Kensington could have chosen under the circumstances.