Review: Apple Computer iPod nano Dock
Pros: A small, attractively designed white glossy plastic dock for the iPod nano that lets you charge and sync through your computer when connected to Apple’s included USB 2.0-to-iPod cable, or listen to high-quality stereo audio. Reasonable price.
Cons: Because of nano’s design, there’s no way to use a remote control with this Dock when nano’s inside, a serious limitation that didn’t exist with Apple’s prior iPod and iPod mini Docks. Best suited for use with a computer, no long-distance track control when connected to a stereo. Only available in white.
Since the release of the third-generation iPod, there have always been easy and advanced ways to connect your iPod to a computer or a stereo system: use the headphone port for audio and Apple’s included cable for data, or use a white glossy plastic Apple Dock that mounts your iPod and provides higher quality audio-out.
At one time, Apple’s Docks were entirely predictable: from black-and-white to color iPods and iPod minis, if you didn’t get a Dock with your iPod, you knew pretty much what to expect. But with the release of the iPod shuffle, that changed: for one iPod only, Apple dropped the way-too-high $39 price to a more reasonable $29, yet also left out one of only two reasons to purchase it. Like all other Docks, the small shuffle Dock held your iPod upright, but did nothing more than connect the shuffle to a computer; it lacked an audio-out port.
Amazingly, the new iPod nano Dock ($29.00) appears at first to have the best of all worlds: it preserves the computer syncing and line-quality output features of its $39 predecessors, plus the lower price tag of the iPod shuffle version. And like the iPod nano itself, it’s physically smaller than what’s come before. Apple’s kept the nano Dock’s curves the same as the prior rounded rectangular Docks, but reduced its footprint to a smaller square size that doesn’t visually overpower the nano inside. It also moves its Dock Connector off to the left, so that the nano sits properly in the Dock’s center, rather than off to one of its sides, and reduces its height by around 1/8 of an inch. Like all of its full-sized and mini predecessors, it comes with no cables, but interfaces with any stereo minijack cable, Dock Connector-to-USB or FireWire cable, and/or any Apple Power Adapter if you want to connect them.
Apple’s Docks have never wanted for quality; in more than two years of using them, we have yet to see one fail to work perfectly for data or stereo system synchronization. The iPod nano Dock we’ve tested worked perfectly for both audio and data, as expected. And though numerous competing products have been released for larger-than-nano iPods, there has not been a decisively better-looking option - just cheaper ones, and ones with additional features (integrated remote controls, variable line-out ports, and so on). Apple initially told iLounge that the nano Dock would include a variable line-out, but that’s turned out not to be the case in the final product: volume comes out of the unit’s true line-out port at a constant level, and you can only adjust it with a separate amplifier, not the iPod’s own volume control. Audio purists may initially rejoice, while others may feel disappointed.
However, this decision is somewhat less controversial than it may initially appear. Having a standalone dock with variable audio-out is actually less useful for iPod nanos than prior models, because there’s no way to control the volume level from a distance: nano has no way to mount a remote control on its top. Said another way, if you buy this Dock, you can’t use a remote control with your iPod. If you think about that for a second, you’ll realize that Apple’s newest product is more limiting than its iPod and mini predecessors, an offset that cripples what otherwise would have been a higher rating for this Dock’s lower price. Unfortunately, it also means that if you want to use a remote control to change both tracks and volume on nano, you’ll now need to look elsewhere to products such as Kensington’s Stereo Dock (iLounge rating: A-) or DLO’s HomeDock (iLounge rating: B). We’re sure that other companies will be releasing additional alternatives over the next few months, as well.
Given the historic uses of iPod Docks for both audio output and computer docking purposes, Apple’s nano Dock is still a useful and good product for the price. It works well for both tasks, and looks good too. However, based on evolving consumer demands - including the pronounced difference in demand for black nanos versus white ones - we hope that Apple gets a black version of the Dock out in the near future, and that either Apple or third-party developers will create an equally small but more fully-functioned dock that incorporates support for a RF-based remote control.