Review: Belkin Express Dock for iPad
One year after the Lightning connector standard debuted in new Apple devices, case compatibility remains the single biggest issue with Lightning-based docks. Belkin's new Express Dock for iPad ($60) attempts to solve that problem with a unique, adjustable Lightning plug. Although it still has a wide, Dock Connector-sized base around it, the plug raises and lowers as you turn a dial on the back of the dock. Because most fourth-generation iPad cases are also designed to fit prior Dock Connector models, the openings should be large enough for this device to work when encased or bare; however, encased iPad mini, iPhone 5/5s/5c, and iPod touch 5G compatibility will be more limited. The integrated USB cable is four feet long, and supports both syncing and charging.
The design of this dock is based heavily on that of Belkin’s earlier Charge + Sync Dock for iPhone 5. As with that option, the simplest way to sum up the Express Dock for iPad is as a fairly long Lightning to USB Cable with a basic stand permanently attached. A black-jacketed USB plug and cable run into a silver metallic plastic and matte black rubber stand with a flexible Lightning plug in the center. Around and behind the Lightning plug, there’s a rubber coating that helps prevent scratches to the iPad’s casing. Similar material is found on the underside, adding some grip. Express Dock is notably physically larger than the iPhone version, measuring about 3” tall, 3.25” deep, and 3.25” wide; it makes sense that an accessory designed to support a larger device would be larger.
Express Dock for iPad’s key feature is the dial, located behind the tablet support. It’s used to raise and lower the Lightning plug so as to better accommodate cases. At its lowest, the base around the plug sits flush with the material on either side of it. Spin the dial all the way, and the plug will raise about an eighth of an inch. Following Apple’s odd design dictates, Belkin has the Dock Connector-sized base move up with the Lightning plug, so cases with tight Lightning plug-sized openings won’t be able to make a physical connection. This system can help with full-sized iPads when the case material is too thick to otherwise support docking, but it’s not a perfect solution, particularly for encased iPad minis.
We appreciate that Belkin is trying to do what it can to increase case compatibility while dealing with Apple’s design mandates. Unfortunately, Express Dock for iPad doesn’t go far enough in solving the issue. It may be sufficient for fourth-gen iPad users depending on the case, but otherwise the adjustable plug won’t help iPad mini users with cases; we suspect that it won’t be of much assistance for next-generation iPad cases, either. The design is quite nice, and the integrated Lightning cord is appreciated, but at $60, you’re paying more than you would for your choice of great iPad stands and a Lightning cable. It earns a limited recommendation primarily because it’s one of very few docks compatible with the current full-sized iPad, but if you’re using any other Lightning-based device, there are better, more compatible options.