Review: Belkin TunePower
Pros: A thin, small external rechargeable battery back for all current model Dock Connector-equipped iPods, with nice silver and translucent white design.
Cons: One-third to one-fifth the power performance of comparably priced (and cheaper) iPod batteries, providing only 8-12 hours of run time.
There can be absolutely no doubt that Belkin knows how to design iPod accessories. From its still-valuable Auto Kit to the Media Reader and Digital Camera Link products it co-developed with Apple, Belkin has created add-ons that have expanded the iPod’s abilities in both predictable and unpredictable ways.
TunePower belongs in both camps. It’s a predictable offering in the sense that it does what numerous companies - including Belkin - have done before, strapping an external battery pack onto the rear of an iPod and thereby enhancing its continuous run-time. But it’s unpredictable from the standpoint of its price-to-performance ratio: with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $99.99, TunePower might be expected to perform in line with other rechargeable iPod batteries released in the past half-year, including the 20-32 hour performance of Tekkeon’s myPower ($89.00, iLounge rating: B+), the 55-hour performance of Battery Technology Incorporated’s iPod Battery ii ($99.95, iLounge rating: A-), or the 72+ hour performance of BTI’s original iPod Battery ($99.95, iLounge rating: A).
Belkin neither promised nor delivered comparable performance to those products: TunePower is advertised as an 8- to 10-hour rechargeable external iPod battery, designed (like myPower and the iPod Battery ii) to be compatible with 3G, 4G and mini iPods. Its primary advantage over all of its competitors is that it’s physically smaller than them, using a two-piece design that consists of a translucent white soft plastic, iPod-fitting “sleeve”, with a detachable silver-and-white battery pack at the sleeve’s rear. Especially when strapped to the back of an iPod mini, it adds only the slightest bulk. When asked, Belkin noted that they believe from talking with users that “design and size were more important than extended playtime.”
Belkin includes three such sleeves, one for thin (10/15/20GB) iPods, one for larger (30/40/60GB) ones, and one for iPod minis. All three fit their respective iPods well, though both iPod photo units (40/60GB) are a squeeze. The sleeves are not full iPod sheathes (or replacements for cases), but rather are half-shells that safely and firmly grip the iPod’s top and bottom, overlapping those metal and plastic surfaces with plastic. Sizeable holes are left for top and bottom ports, and as with competing battery accessories, no coverage of the iPod’s screen, controls, or surrounding frontage is attempted.
While the iPod snaps into the front of the TunePower sleeve, the battery pack snaps into the rear. Featuring a gray and white Dock Connector cable at its bottom, the TunePower battery has its own power connector port at its top, and a single circular button that - along with an attractive silver Belkin battery compartment - faces out at you from the iPod’s back. Press the circular button, and a multi-colored LED light in its center tells you vaguely how much battery power remains in the TunePower battery: yellowish-green, orange, and red for high, medium, and low power.
Also in the package is an attractive charging cable that connects to the TunePower and either a FireWire port or the iPod’s packed-in power cube. You can recharge the iPod and TunePower at the same time by connecting both devices to each other, and the TunePower to its cable. Recharge status is shown automatically on the TunePower’s LED light, which goes dark when recharging has finished.
The advantage of Belkin’s design is that, unlike Tekkeon’s myPower, its battery pack detaches entirely from its iPod enclosure, rendering the peripheral useful even with an otherwise encased iPod. BTI’s iPod Batteries offer the same feature, but are clearly larger than Belkin’s, if that’s something that matters to you. Regardless of their dimensions, all of these peripherals are likely to fit in a bag or briefcase without a problem. Only TunePower stands a (small) chance of fitting into a pocket, but then only a large and baggy one.
Clearly, the disadvantage of Belkin’s design is that its small size very dramatically limits its power capacity. While there is certainly an argument to be made that the average person will typically have little need for even eight continuous hours of iPod playback before recharging, and that any additional battery power beyond that is just gravy, it is also unquestionably the case that people often buy these batteries for atypical situations. Extended air traveling situations fraught with layovers, delayed and cancelled flights are just some of the potential reasons - international trips with intermittent iPod recharging opportunities are another.
On the spectrum of iPod battery accessories, TunePower delivers less iPod power than any other external product we’ve tested, and yet sells for the highest price. It ran for 8 hours, 34 minutes on our standard test with a third-generation iPod, and 11 hours, 40 minutes when tested with a fourth-generation iPod, around one-third as long as Tekkeon’s cheaper myPower and about a fifth as long as BTI’s comparably priced The iPod Battery ii. Ironically, TunePower is most competitive with Belkin’s own Backup Battery Pack ($59.99), which is not only cheaper but allows you to pop in rechargeable or non-rechargeable AA batteries at any time to get seven or eight hours of additional iPod run time.
It’s hard to recommend a product on looks alone, and we’re never willing to do that for pricey accessories that are sold as much for their functionality as anything else. Though it may provide just enough extra juice for certain iPod applications, and therefore prove useful to some people, Belkin’s TunePower is considerably less functional than several other options available at similar if not lower prices. (Tekkeon’s myPower, as one example, even includes some iPod Dock functionality.) If you’re inclined to prefer the TunePower’s design, size, and power limitations over bigger but better options, as Belkin hopes you will, we understand. But from our perspective, that it is thinner and smaller will only be of consequence to those with fat wallets and the most stringent portability demands.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge. 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.