Review: Belkin TuneSync Dock and USB Hub for iPod
Pros: A single device that serves as both an iPod dock and 5-port USB 2.0 hub. Includes power supply and USB cable, dock inserts for various iPod sizes.
Cons: Large footprint is similar to what you’d have on a desk with a hub and a dock stacked on top of each other. Price is roughly the same as buying Apple’s Universal Dock and a 5-port hub separately, which would provide additional functionality, especially for color 4G and 5G iPods with video output.
If there’s any trend we expect will accelerate over the next year, it’s an increase in the number of multi-purpose iPod docks. Because today’s 5G iPods and nanos no longer have top accessory ports, there will be a greater need for iPod mounting and charging bases that also do other things. Developed prior to the 5G’s and nano’s releases, but released only recently, Belkin’s TuneSync ($66) is one of the earliest such multifunction docks we’ve seen, combining an adjustable iPod dock with a five-port USB 2.0 hub.
Made from glossy white plastic, TuneSync is sleek but large, with a larger-than-Apple Dock 5.5” x 4” footprint that includes an audio-out port on its right and a total of six USB ports on the back. Five are normal-sized ports made for most USB devices, while the sixth is a miniature port solely for connection to your computer. A small power port is also on the back, next to the USBs.
Belkin includes both USB and power cables in the box, and both are required for the unit to do anything except output audio. A series of LED lights hidden on the unit’s front indicates what’s connected: a red light on the left shows power, a blue light in the center shows the iPod connection, and separate yellow LEDs indicate USB connections with other devices. We tested TuneSync successfully with multiple USB devices, and as expected, it didn’t exhibit any problems.
Docking an iPod is easy. TuneSync comes with seven different plastic iPod dock inserts, which are not compatible with Apple’s Universal Dock standard, but Belkin makes up just fine for that. The included inserts cover iPod 3G, 4G, mini and nano models, and a coupon in the box lets needy buyers get free 5G inserts through Belkin’s site. (As-is, the 5Gs fit fine, but the new inserts will make them more snug.) After you pop one insert into TuneSync’s Dock Connector-equipped well, then put your iPod on top, you’re ready to sync with a computer. Every iPod save the 3G can also charge while synchronizing; the 3G requires a FireWire connection, which TuneSync doesn’t supply.
The concept behind TuneSync isn’t entirely new: other than a few particulars, it’s similar to the company’s earlier iPod shuffle-ready Hi-Speed 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub (iLounge rating: B+), a cheaper product that included an iPod shuffle dock and three other USB ports. Its two extra ports aside, a couple of other differences are quite important: TuneSync costs roughly as much as you’d pay for a video- and remote-ready Apple Universal Dock (iLounge rating: B+) and a separate USB hub - a key factor in our limited recommendation here - and they’d likely consume a comparable amount of space on your desk, unlike Atech’s iDuo. Then there’s the fact that TuneSync lacks a S-Video output port, which both iDuo and Apple’s own Universal Dock include - a loss for users of color 4G and 5G iPods.
From our perspective, the savings you achieve by using TuneSync is small, but if you’re a computer user without a need for video output, Belkin’s combination of features into one box might just be enough to justify the purchase. If you can find TuneSync discounted substantially from the $66 price we’ve seen on the web already, don’t mind the space it will require, and don’t need S-Video output, you’ll find its execution pleasant, not perfect. For the price, and given its footprint, we’d be inclined to go with an Apple Universal Dock and separate hub instead, but we do think that some people will like and be willing to pay for what Belkin’s put together here.