Review: Apple iPad 10W USB Power Adapter
Apple's new iPad 10W USB Power Adapter ($29) should look familiar to iPod and iPhone users: an almost identical accessory debuted in September, 2006 as the iPod USB Power Adapter, complete with the same 1.75" square white glossy plastic wall charger and a very similar USB-to-Dock Connector cable. Yet subtle refinements inside and outside make the new version a better value and smarter first choice than its predecessors: Apple has kept the price the same while improving the Adapter's internal circuitry, and augmenting the cables in its package.
Back in 2005, Apple sold the larger original iPod USB Power Adapter for $29 without any cables, pushing it primarily as a charging solution for the recently-released first-generation iPod shuffle. The price seemed high, but the design was elegant, featuring detachable, folding wall blades that could be swapped with others if you bought a separate Apple international adapter kit. Rivals showed up with less expensive alternatives that included their own USB-to-iPod cables, so for the late 2006 sequel, Apple shrunk the adapter and bundled one of its iPod cables in the package. In mid-2008, it further miniaturized the adapter—for certain countries—and gave it away with iPhone 3G phone, phasing it in elsewhere over time.
The iPad 10W USB Power Adapter cosmetically reverts to the 2006 design, but contains enhancements that have never been seen in an Apple product of this size and price before. New circuitry inside enables the 10W Adapter to work with every iPhone and iPod released since 2005, as well as the comparatively power-hungry iPad, dynamically switching between 0.5 Amp, 1 Amp, and 2.1 Amp output levels so that any of these devices can recharge at its maximum possible rate—roughly 3 hours for iPods and iPhones versus 4 or 4.5 hours for the iPad. Electronic testing of the 10W USB Power Adapter revealed no surprises: it worked just as expected to recharge the iPad, as well as earlier compatible Apple products. Other companies such as Griffin and Incase have released similarly iPad-compatible wall chargers, but no longer have any price advantage over Apple’s version; this is a shame given that $29 continues to be steep for something as simple as a spare power adapter.
On the other hand, Apple at least equips this particular accessory with something that no current rival offers: a six-foot long rubber extension cable that replaces the wall adapter’s slide-off blades, extending the total length of the iPad 10W USB Power Adapter to nine feet. You can still use the compact wall blades if you don’t need the rubber cable’s extra reach, achieving a three-foot distance from the Adapter to the iPad, iPod, or iPhone, but the additional length helps the 10W Adapter serve as a key addition to Apple’s official iPad Dock and iPad Keyboard Dock for users who want to mount their iPads on desks and in other places that mightn’t be so close to wall outlets. Our testing actually found the added length to be useful, but the fact that you can use this Adapter in either configuration—for travel, home, or office needs—is handy. For sake of completeness, it’s also worth a brief note that Apple’s official USB cable has also received some relatively modest tweaks, most obviously a slightly redesigned USB plug with different plastic corners than its predecessors.
The real advantages the iPad 10W USB Power Adapter offers over its current competitors are its small size, which enables it to fit into relatively tight wall outlets—something its current competitors can struggle with—and its rubber extension cable, which lets it plug into even the tightest outlets while expanding its reach quite a few feet past rivals. It was clear years ago that Apple could push its adapter from a B-level general recommendation into A territory by cutting the price or adding more to the package; not surprisingly, it took the latter route instead of the former. At this point, the company finally offers enough value and quality for the dollar to justify the higher rating, and could only improve upon the iPad 10W USB Power Adapter with an even lower price and slimmer profile.