Review: Atech Flash Technology (AFT) iDuo Hub
Pros: An iPod dock with a built-in three-port USB 2.0 hub, included Infrared remote control, wall power adapter and audio/video cables. Great value for the dollar; functions equally well as a multifunction data dock and as a powered audio/video dock. Remote works well from 25-foot distances. Consumes little extra desk space relative to standard iPod Universal Dock.
Cons: Requires wall power for remote connectivity, audio output, and most data features. Line-out port in rear is audio only; won’t work with composite video cables unless they’re attached to iPod’s headphone jack. Doesn’t adjust iPod headphone jack volume at same time as variable line-out port’s volume is adjusted. Fewer USB ports than prior hybrid device.
Atech Flash Technology - aka AFT - specializes in unusual hybrid iPod docks. The company’s first iPod product, iDuo, blended an iPod dock and flash card reader into a single accessory that our editors still find useful today, while its notorious iCarta combined an iPod dock with speakers and a toilet paper holder. Now, following up on Belkin’s earlier, conceptually similar TuneSync (iLounge rating: B-), AFT has released iDuo Hub ($60), a single unit with a three-port USB 2.0 hub and a remote controlled Universal Dock for iPods inside.
When we reviewed TuneSync back in late 2005, we noted that Belkin had dropped the ball in several ways: though the company had successfully grafted a five-port hub and iPod dock together, the resulting product was large enough to provide virtually no space savings on a desk, cost the same as buying both parts separately, and didn’t include support for photo- or video-ready iPods. iDuo Hub is different.
First, it’s a much better iPod dock. Just like Apple’s $39 Universal Dock, there’s an infrared port on the front, a variable line-out audio port on the back, and an S-Video output, besides. It accepts standard Apple Universal Dock Adapters, lets you dock and sync all current iPods, and also includes a wall power adapter of its own that’s capable of charging a docked iPod without a computer. Bear in mind that you’d have to buy that part for around $29 from Apple. Add to that a stereo audio cable and S-Video cable, both found in AFT’s bundle, and you’re ahead by another $19 or so - in fact, all that’s missing here from Apple’s $100 iPod AV Connection Kit is the ability to output composite video from the rear line-out port: iDuo Hub only sends video through the S-Video port, and doesn’t include a composite video cable or feature.
Then, there’s the remote control. AFT-branded and shaped slightly differently than an Apple Remote, the Infrared design includes standard iPod track, volume, and play/pause controls, plus playlist toggle buttons - nothing else. It works from distances of around 25 feet away under normal light. Again, you’d need to buy Apple’s remote separately for around $29, or get it as part of the $100 AV Connection Kit. While AFT’s solution is not a total replacement for Apple’s design, which controls both the dock’s volume level and the iPod’s headphone port level at the same time - AFT’s controls only the dock’s output - again, this is a small omission.
As a side note, AFT’s remote can mostly control iTunes or Front Row on a Mac equipped with an Infrared port - it’s lacking a Menu button but its volume controls change tracks, and its track buttons change volume. But an Apple Remote can’t control the iDuo Hub; go figure.
Finally, there’s the USB functionality. Three full-sized incoming USB 2.0 ports are found on the device - one on top, and one on each of the left and right sides - while a fourth outgoing mini-USB port is found on the back for connection of iDuo Hub to your computer with an included USB cable. All the ports worked in our testing at normal transfer speeds; obviously, using the iPod dock and USB ports at the same time will slow down but not stop iPod synchronization and other data transfer functionality. You needn’t connect the power adapter in order to use iDuo Hub with one device, such as a connected printer, but you’ll probably get a low power message from your computer if you try to use the unpowered dock with your iPod or multiple devices. In this regard, it’s also a little different from Apple’s Universal Dock, but not importantly so given its intended purpose. Somewhat similarly, while wall power is not necessary for the dock to function properly as a video output device, it is required for the audio port, and for using the remote.
There are two ways to look at iDuo Hub. On one hand, it’s a bit of a confusing accessory - an iPod dock that you can move back and forth from a computer to a TV or stereo, charging your iPod in both places while either outputting data, audio, and/or video depending on your needs, but also requiring you to disconnect all your USB devices every time, and almost always carry around the power supply. But it’s also such a good value that even if you never used it as a USB hub, your only likely complaint as to its AV capabilities would be its omission of composite video output - not a major problem given that it’s $40 less expensive than a comparable Apple iPod AV Connection Kit, and comes with its own S-Video cable. And even though you might prefer to see more USB ports on the unit, when you realize that you’d pay more for an Apple package with zero USB ports, iDuo Hub seems to offer a really good compromise.
Overall, though iDuo Hub isn’t the perfect execution of its concept, it comes really close: for a very reasonable price, it offers similar AV and iPod data functionality to most of its current competitors, neutrally fits into a physical space only slightly larger than an Apple dock, and adds three USB ports worth of connectivity to your computer. Mostly because of its excellent value, we consider it a highly recommendable accessory, especially for those who are space- or USB port-constrained.