Review: SendStation smartCharge for iPod shuffle (and USB iPods)
Pros: Perhaps the most attractive-looking iPod shuffle (and general iPod USB) car charger, with a LED power indicator and a ratcheting arm to partially position your shuffle on an angle of choice (72 degrees of freedom). Includes audio-out port.
Cons: Only provides audio-out for iPod shuffle, charger becomes surprisingly hot to the touch when in use. Though marketed as useful with other USB-charging iPods, is more expensive than other USB car charging alternatives, and you’ll need to supply your own charging cable.
Over the course of testing many iPod car chargers, several things have become apparent: first, it’s not hard to make a bland-looking car charger; second, it is hard to make one that doesn’t work properly to recharge an iPod, but tougher to make one with audio output; and third, there’s not much flexibility in pricing. if you can design something that looks good, sells for $20-$30, and works properly to both charge and provide audio from an iPod, you’ll have a stand-out accessory.
SendStation’s smartCharge ($30) is primarily marketed as an iPod shuffle car charger, but the company also points out that it’s capable of recharging any iPod with USB charging capability, specifically 4Gs, minis, nanos, and 5Gs. Plug any of these iPods in and the same thing happens: a small green light lights up on smartCharge, and lo and behold, the iPod’s battery begins to recharge. No great surprise there - it works properly. You just have to provide the USB cable yourself, which is different from other USB car chargers, which typically include their own cables.
Despite its multi-iPod capability, you’ll most likely buy smartCharge to use with an iPod shuffle: not only does it look the best (and quite nice, at that) with the shuffle, but it offers two features that aren’t usable with other iPods. First, it works a mount, providing 72 degrees of total freedom through a ratcheting joint in its center. This actually means 36 degrees of freedom north or south of a flat extension from your car’s power adapter port. While we were initially not blown away by this limited amount of flexibility, and found it useless with other iPods, it turns out that you really don’t need much more for the shuffle - without a screen to view, all you need is control access, and smartCharge adjusts enough to make that possible.
Second, there’s an audio-out port on the mount, so you can keep a cassette adapter or line cable plugged into smartCharge at all times, rather than plugging and unplugging it to and from the shuffle. Since the shuffle doesn’t provide a true fixed level line-out, you can control the volume level on the shuffle’s body. Regrettably, this audio output doesn’t work with any other connected iPod besides the shuffle: buy smartCharge for them, and all you have is a charger.
It’s rare for a car charger to score higher than a recommended (B-level) mark from us, and the most serious factor weighing against a general recommendation for smartCharge is this: the portion of the charger closest to the shuffle (and your hand, if you want to remove the shuffle) becomes quite hot to the touch in the process of charging. We don’t use the word “hot” lightly; smartCharge runs more than warm, but on a positive note did not appear to harm our test shuffle in any way.
For that reason, smartCharge gets our limited recommendation: if you’re willing to live with the heat factor and want a car charger that’s customized to the iPod shuffle, at a slight premium over the price of an uncustomized one such as Griffin’s PowerJolt, give it a try.