Review: Monster iAirPlay Charger
Pros: Provides both safe power and battery recharging for Dock Connecting iPods in both cars and airplanes - the best combination of these features we’ve seen yet.
Cons: Large Dock Connector plug may be an insertion/removal challenge with certain iPod cases; no way to get audio output from bottom of iPod as with other car chargers; black and gold design doesn’t match most iPods.
As of today, there are two iPod-to-airplane charger adapters on the market: the first we reviewed was BTI’s Auto/Air Adapter (iLounge rating: B+), and Monster Cable is now selling a very similar alternative called iAirPlay ($29.95) at a slightly higher price. One key feature and a host of other modest differences differentiate the two products.
First, the similarities. Both cables let you connect your iPod to airplanes and cars via a two-piece cable system, and run your iPod while connected. The first piece is a cable that connects any Dock Connector-equipped iPod to an older airplane power port, an unusual plug that’s less and less common in newer planes. A second piece converts the old airplane adapter into a standard car power adapter (cigarette lighter) plug, which is also being used in newer airplanes for power charging.
Monster’s iAirPlay is black and gold, uses a thin but sturdy three-foot length of cable, and includes a red LED light to show that it’s connected to power. We found the red LED to be difficult to see in a car, but it’s not especially necessary once an iPod’s plugged in and running, as noted below. The company’s logo appears on the vehicle power adapter portion, and the iAirPlay name is written on each of the old and new airline adapters.
iAirPlay also uses one of Monster’s oversized iPod Dock Connector plugs. Certain iPod cases we’ve tested (and typically noted in their reviews) have problems with Monster’s plugs because of their larger size. That issue aside, and though it doesn’t match the color of most iPods, iAirPlay is the superior industrial design by a hair.
(By comparison, BTI’s Auto/Air Adapter is white and silver, interrupts its cabling with a breakout box, and uses one of Apple’s smaller Dock Connector plugs, which renders it somewhat more compatible with various cases we’ve tested. You’ll have to decide whether to trade off BTI’s slight added bulk because of the breakout box for its superior case compatibility.)
The biggest difference between the two cables is one that BTI attributed to a request from Apple: the iAirPlay powers -and- charges an iPod, while BTI’s cable does not. Why Apple made this request remains a mystery, but the practical consequence is that BTI’s cable offers half the functionality of Monster’s, albeit at a lower MSRP.
Not surprisingly, both devices performed properly as iPod power sources. When connected to the Auto/Air Adapter, the iPod indicates a full iPod battery meter without a lightning bolt charge indicator, while the iAirPlay makes the iPod’s battery meter move to indicate that it’s charging. Both cables enable a “dead” iPod to operate in a running vehicle, but once the car or plane stops providing power, only the iAirPlay-connected iPod will keep running, thanks to its fresh charge.
Both designs also suffer from the same limitation - they offer no line-out audio access from the iPod’s bottom, so you’ll need to use your iPod’s headphone jack to listen while they’re connected. As such, neither is a full replacement for the in-car audio and charging adapters released by Monster, Belkin, and other companies, so iAirPlay is a good purchase only for those that don’t mind headphone-quality output in the car, and/or really need an adapter for use in an airplane.
As a final note, given the scarcity of charger-equipped seats in airplanes, we recommend that you contact your airline to determine their availability before you fly. We’ve seen at least as many airplanes without them as with them, and it’s common to find only one wired portion of a given plane - sometimes only business or first class. However, if you have the right seat, you’ll definitely appreciate iAirPlay’s performance.