Review: Griffin Technology PowerDuo travel International USB Charger and AC Adapter Pack
First, there was PowerBlock, Griffin's white alternative to Apple's iPod USB Power Adapter, complete with its own iPod USB cable. Then, there was last year's PowerBlock travel, which added three additional sets of international wall blades and a carrying case to the prior PowerBlock package for a $5 premium.
Today, there’s a new PowerBlock travel for the same $35 price, with several changes that might be of interest to some readers. And there’s also a new PowerDuo travel ($40), which adds an iPod car charger to the prior package for another $5 premium. Since these products are virtually identical to one another, we’re reviewing them briefly together. Both are designed to appeal to iPod owners who need international power blades for overseas charging; you can find less expensive chargers without the blades from Griffin and other companies.
PowerBlock travel and PowerDuo travel come with the same five base pieces: four sets of wall blades, a USB-to-iPod cable, and a voltage-adjusting power adapter that is supposed to guarantee electronic compatibility with power standards in various countries. The blades attach one at a time to the cube, which attaches to a wall outlet and the USB cable, which attaches to your iPod. All of these parts are jet black in color, and both the cable and wall cube are branded with the Griffin logo. Neither set comes with the prior PowerBlock travel’s carrying case; it’s assumed that you’ll carry around only the parts you need.
PowerDuo travel adds only a car charging bulb to the PowerBlock set. Mostly black, the charger comes from Griffin’s former PowerJolt bundle, and has a light on its gray face to indicate that it’s receiving power from your car. In conjunction with the included USB-to-iPod cable, the bulb works properly, though unremarkably, to keep your iPod’s battery topped off in a car. If for whatever reason it encounters a power spike from your car, a replaceable fuse nestled in its nose will pop, sparing your iPod from damage. Otherwise, it’s a no-frills design, more clean than interesting, and lacking for a line-level audio input or cable to attach to Griffin’s iTrip for charging; therefore, you’ll use it only if you have a spare mini-USB cable for iTrip, or want to pull audio from your iPod’s headphone port rather than its superior bottom connector.
The major issue we had with both PowerBlock travel and PowerDuo travel was a high-pitched noise we heard in their wall power adapters. When plugged into wall power with their USB cables, the adapters both let out audible squeals, an issue we’d never had with the products’ white-bodied predecessors. One of the adapters was a little quieter than the other, but both adapters made the noise. Unplugged from the wall, or connected to an iPod, the noise stopped, but when it’s there, it doesn’t exactly make you feel confident about the adapters’ quality. Thankfully, they charged our iPods without apparent issues.
From a value standpoint, both PowerBlock travel and PowerDuo travel are better buys than Apple’s current iPod USB Power Adapters and its separate sets of international wall blades, and it’ll typically cost you an additional premium - greater than Griffin’s - to add a car charger to that package. However, by using these less than totally satisfactory wall chargers, dropping the PowerJolt pack’s mini-USB cable for accessories such as iTrip, and leaving even simple carrying cases out of their bundles, Griffin’s latest offerings fall a step or two behind last year’s packages in our view, and don’t live up to Griffin’s past reputation for delivering definitively better products than Apple’s at equal or lower prices. Because of their noisy adapters, we consider them worthy of only our limited recommendation; fixes would bump them up into higher B territory.