Review: Belkin TuneDok
Pros: Simple and serves its purpose for some users, better than some commonly available alternatives.
Cons: Expensive relative to its components; simple tweaks would have made it more universally useful and a better value for the money.
Addiction binds iPod owners together; shirt- or pants-pocket portability is so inherent to the appeal of Apple’s little white music devices that many users carry their iPods wherever they go, creating an endless stream of background music for everything from lonely nights at home to intercontinental travel. Recognizing both iPod owners’ addictions and generally deep pockets, Belkin has gradually developed a series of moderately-priced, Apple-sanctioned accessories, many of which extend the performance of the iPod for travelers.
Enter the TuneDok
Belkin’s new TuneDok is a $29.99 accessory designed for a single purpose: it mounts iPods in cars. This feat, which has been attempted with various levels of complexity and success by several companies and industrious individuals, is accomplished by the TuneDok with five relatively simple components - a collection of three hard plastic cups, a screw-in plastic iPod holder, and a suction cup. One or two of the differently-shaped TuneDok cups slide into a car’s cup holder, the iPod holder screws into the top TuneDok cup, and the suction cup holds the iPod in place inside the holder.
Notably, those are the only contents of a TuneDok package. The iPod holder is designed to be used in conjunction with other accessories, particularly iPod-to-cassette tape player adaptors and auto power kits, which work together to enable iPod users to easily sift through and play their music on the road.
Having tested other potential in-car solutions, ranging from $19.95 iPod-compatible cellular telephone mounts available from Radio Shack to the damage-resilient but mountless $29.95 iSkin eXo, we were anxious to try the TuneDok, particularly because Apple had implicitly endorsed the device by choosing it as the iPod mounting solution for its Volkswagen New Beetle ‘Pods Unite’ promotion. Besides the fact that it is explicitly designed for mounting iPods, which these other options are not, the TuneDok is also attractive in that it requires no physical modification of the vehicle in order to serve its purpose for many users.
Results May Vary
The two hard rubber cups and one hard plastic cup included in the TuneDok package are a “large-diameter cup,” a half-height “normal-diameter cup,” and another half-height “adapter cup” (hard plastic) which can connect to the normal-diameter cup to add a bit of height. We had trouble getting the large cup to combine with the adapter, and initially found the normal cup and adapter difficult to separate once coupled. But the inflexibility of these cups is a more serious issue. Designed generically from hard plastic to drop into the cup holders of most cars, the TuneDok cups won’t fit them all, or necessarily tightly. The lack of even inexpensive rubberized components left the TuneDok cup bases just a little less snug and adaptable to certain cup holders than we would have hoped, though the fit will unquestionably vary from car to car.
Though the diameters generally matched the cup holders we tested, height was another issue. Even at maximum extension, the screwed-in iPod holder was more than a bit too low for our liking; and in a regular cup holder forced us to position the iPod horizontally, on a 90 degree angle from the vertical base. A longer screw for additional height would have seriously helped the TuneDok. It’s fair to say that a prospective buyer should feel comfortable with at least one cup holder’s horizontal and vertical position before trying to fill it with a TuneDok, and should be cautious attempting to install it in any vehicle that has an open or large adjustable multipurpose cup holder.
Assuming that one of the cups fits into a car’s cup holder, and that the height is acceptable to the user, the TuneDok works pretty well. Despite the use of a relatively simple suction cup, the TuneDok’s mount does hold the iPod quite firmly, providing easy access to the dock connector, headphone jack, and hold switch. Again assuming that the cup holder affords the necessary height, a sturdy ratcheting neck theoretically enables the iPod to be pivoted anywhere between 0-90 degrees from the horizontal position of the mounting screw. Additionally, the mounting bracket includes a small rear cable holder that pulls the headphone cord along the back of the accessory, keeping both an iPod remote cable and an in-car dock connector power cable streaming down the bottom of the mount.
If we have any complaint about the mounting bracket, it’s one that will not be universal: we would have preferred rubberized grips for the iPod instead of hard plastic, because the TuneDok as currently designed cannot hold an iPod encased in a iSkin eXo or other protective case. Unlike similar Radio Shack mounts, the TuneDok will force you to pull off and put on your protective case every time you move the iPod from the car, which may be acceptable to people who plan to leave their iPods in vehicles, but not for those of us who savor portability.
An Acceptable Interim Solution
Having said all of this, the TuneDok is likely to be a superior mounting option for people whose only other options are Radio Shack cup-mounting devices or iSkin accessories. Radio Shack’s air vent and goosenecked pipe mounts won’t fit some cars well, making the former device questionable for many people, even though their rubberized and adjustable holding bracket is superior to the TuneDok’s. And the iSkin, despite its superior protection of the iPod hardware, has no in-car mounting apparatus and merely makes the iPod safe to leave in an existing recessed area of a car. The only potentially better options we have seen are more expensive than the TuneDok, and most are not widely available in the United States.
Particularly given Belkin’s solid reputation for other iPod accessories, including their power- and amplifier-supplying Auto Kit, we expected a bit more from Belkin than five inexpensive plastic parts that will deliver mixed results for vehicles other than the New Beetle. But for $29.99, the TuneDok does what it’s supposed to do in some (if not many) cars, and may thoroughly satisfy those people who want to keep their iPods in their cars without additional protection.
Jeremy Horwitz is a consumer electronics fanatic who practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school -ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.