Review: Belkin Power Dock
Over the past week, Belkin has released four iPod accessories that surprised us a little -- not for their innovation, but for their simplicity. Two of the accessories are simple iPod chargers: Belkin's Power Adapter ($25) and Charging Kit for iPod ($35). The other two are iPod docks, the Power Dock ($35) and the Power Dock AV ($50).
Power Dock is a silver and white plastic alternative to Apple’s iPod Universal Dock, packaged with a USB cable for connection to your PC or Mac, and Dock Adapters for the 5G iPod and both versions of the iPod nano. Power Dock AV has those parts, plus a composite audio/video cable, and a wall charger in the box. Both versions of the Power Dock are the same, and have rubberized bottoms for anti-scuff stability on a flat surface; the only differences are the pack-ins. The standard Power Dock is ready to sync your iPod, while AV’s components let you sync, wall-charge, and output both audio and video from it.
Though Belkin’s relatively late to market with each of these options, the ideas here are fairly obvious: go after low-priced product categories that have been dominated by Apple or Griffin, offering slightly lower prices and/or more limited features. Consequently, Belkin’s dock portion of the Power Dock and Power Dock AV packages is more interesting for its cosmetics than its features. Though its silver portion isn’t made from aluminum, like the bodies of Apple’s Cinema Displays or Griffin’s competing, more expensive AirDock, it’s hard to tell the difference. Consequently, the Power Docks are the least expensive docks we’ve seen that visually match Apple’s Pro series computers and silver home AV systems.
The standard Power Dock’s packed-in USB cable is interesting in that Apple doesn’t include a cable with its own iPod Universal Dock; you’re supposed to use the one that comes with the iPod. But most competing low-end iPod docks include a USB cable for the same reason Belkin has: Power Dock’s integrated mini USB connector doesn’t electronically interface with either side of Apple’s cable.
They’re not quite the rivals of Apple’s or Griffin’s docks electronically, though. Neither Power Dock nor Power Dock AV includes a remote control or remote control sensor, so if you decide in the future that you want to control your iPod from a distance while it’s inside the dock, that’s not an option here. Belkin also doesn’t include an S-Video port on either unit’s rear: the ports are solely for composite AV and USB. AirDock has a similar limitation, but includes a good RF remote control in the box, which is missing here.
Performance-wise, all of Belkin’s accessories do what they’re supposed to do. The car and home chargers charged our iPods just as they were supposed to, and the docks worked properly with both computers and TV/wall outlet combinations. Audio and video output from the Power Docks’ ouput ports was trouble-free. Our only complaints were their limitations: thanks to the chargers’ crippled USB cables and the docks’ lack of remote features, none of these accessories is a complete rival for the best accessories we’ve seen from Belkin’s competitors. But they are all nice-looking and functionally good enough to merit our standard-level recommendations; consider them worthwhile more on looks and basic functionality for the dollar than anything else.