Review: Belkin Car Charger with Lightning Connector
As fun as it would be to say that Apple-specific car chargers are "a dime a dozen," Dock Connector licensing fees implemented years ago by Apple guaranteed that no major manufacturer's charger would be inexpensive -- $20-$25 chargers became the norm, assuming that all you wanted was a charging bulb and a cable to connect to the bottom of your iPod, iPhone, or iPad. In debuting the new Lightning connector, Apple is pushing for even higher accessory prices; simple Lightning car chargers now start at $25 and go upwards from there, generally without adding any real additional value over their predecessors.
Belkin and Griffin raced to market with two new basic Lightning car chargers: Belkin’s is called the Car Charger with Lightning Connector ($30), and Griffin’s is called PowerJolt SE with Lightning Connector ($25). They’re both jet black, with a bulb that plugs into your car’s power adapter, a roughly 4-foot cable in the middle, and a Lightning connector on the end. Each has a different power indicator light on the power bulb, a different styled cable, and a slightly different plastic housing around the Lightning plug, but no extra frills: neither includes audio output functionality, a detachable cable, or anything other than the ability to supply power to your device.
Electronically, these chargers are basically the same: they each supply up to 10-Watt/2.1-Amp power to an iPad, falling back to 5-Watt/1-Amp charging for the iPhone or 2.5-Watt/0.5-Amp charging for iPods. This is the same as every other iPad-ready car charger we’ve seen over the past nearly three years, except that Apple enables the more power-hungry third- and fourth-generation iPads to refuel even faster at 12-Watt/2.5-Amp speeds. No car chargers have yet been released with this capability, but Scosche has announced that it’s moving to 12-Watt chargers, and we suspect that 10-Watt versions may fade in prominence over the next year.
The only reasons to prefer one of these chargers over the other are pricing and styling. PowerJolt SE is decidedly fancier, with a coiled cable that retracts from a maximum 48” length down to 23.5” to reduce tangling, and a bright white power indicator on its larger charging bulb. Its Lightning plug housing is just a little narrower and thicker than Belkin’s, but both worked with new iPhone and iPad cases we tested, though Apple’s housings are decidedly tinier. Charging worked just as expected with each model.
Belkin’s Car Charger with Lightning Connector is appealing solely in that it’s utterly straightforward. There’s nothing fancy—the wiring is as plain as one of Apple’s Lightning to USB Cables, just slightly longer and permanently grafted to the shorter, simpler charging bulb. Belkin uses a much smaller yellow power light that seems almost underdesigned, though the bulb occupies a little less space.
Generally, the choice between plain and fancy options comes along with a price break for the plain version, but that’s not the case here. At $30, Belkin’s Car Charger with Lightning Connector doesn’t give you anything that Griffin’s option provides for $25, and even $25 is pushing the edge of acceptability for a simple car charger. PowerJolt SE with Lightning Connector merits a flat B and general recommendation on the merits of what it offers, namely last-generation charging technology with a new connector at the end, and Belkin’s Car Charger with Lightning Connector falls behind it with a B- given the higher price and lower frills. Many users will be just as well-served using one of Apple’s Lightning to USB Cables with an old USB-based car charger as buying either of these accessories; it’s now up to developers to come up with something more compelling, or find a way to more aggressively price these commodity accessories.