Review: Bluelounge Kii Lightning Cable
No company's new products have been impacted more negatively by Apple's recent Lightning transition than Bluelounge's. Previously known for beautiful but slightly too expensive docking and charging solutions, Bluelounge used CES to debut a lineup of new Lightning products, including a novel new keychain-sized cable called Kii ($40) and a desktop iPhone charging dock called Saidoka ($50). The company's representatives seemed to know that the prices weren't right -- Dock Connector versions would each be offered for a whopping $20 less -- but Bluelounge suggested that it didn't have any choice given Apple's higher fees for Lightning connectors. So what we're left with today are two accessories that are both quite nice, but just too expensive for what they offer.
Calling Kii brilliant would be a stretch, but there’s no doubt that Bluelounge has come up with the best take yet on an idea that’s been circulating for years—a way to mount an Apple device cable on a keychain. Macally, Scosche, and iBattz are just three of the companies that previously sold keychain-ready retractable Dock Connector cables, and each was roughly the size of a modern wireless car key fob. By comparison, Bluelounge has managed to fit the entire Lightning to USB cable inside the footprint of an actual key, using a housing made from a combination of plastic and metal.
A black version comes with three black parts and a silver keyring, while a silver, grey and white version alternates colors for each component. Each 2.8” long by 0.95” wide Kii starts with a metal top piece containing a hole for the keyring, a spring-loaded lock, and a slot. The thin slot is where the top and bottom pieces come together, protecting and securing Kii’s Lightning connector when it’s not in use. Push the locking switch up and the bar-shaped 1.95”-long bottom half of the key comes off, including the silver Lightning plug, a slightly flexible hard rubber core, and finally a glossy metal-encased USB connector. This piece serves as the tiniest Lightning to USB cable we’ve yet seen, too small for use with most desktop computers but entirely sufficient for ports on laptops. Bluelounge also includes the aforementioned metal keyring, plus a rubber tag that sits between Kii and real keys to prevent the accessory from being scratched.
Kii’s biggest selling point is the fact that it looks and feels quite nice. Unobtrusive when paired with real keys, it’s solidly constructed and conveys a sense of durability, with color options that work well with either white or black Apple devices. There’s nothing to retract or screw around with, as in most prior keychain Apple cables, since you merely pop the bottom off the top and put it to use, going in the opposite direction for storage. If there is only one “right” way to design an accessory like this, Bluelounge has come as close to it as any company to date.
There’s also no question that Kii can be useful. Just like Macally’s past KeySync and other rivals, it enables you to quickly connect your iPhone, iPod, or iPad to a computer at any time you’re carrying your keys, without the need to worry about separately toting around a cable. While the ultra-short size limits its computer compatibility, the tapered Lightning plug extends outwards from the hard rubber frame enough to work inside many cases, guaranteeing that it will work with a broad array of iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
The problem is that Kii is certainly not worth $40—the $20 asking price of the Dock Connector version is the correct point for an accessory like this, and we’re pretty sure Bluelounge knows as much. However they’ve managed it, Apple-licensed developers are now selling short Lightning cables such as Kenburg’s Lightlinez XS for $19, while Monoprice has budget-friendly versions for as little as $12. So even though Apple’s higher Lightning connector pricing is partially to blame for Kii’s $40 tag, something else is going on as well. Until and unless that’s resolved, and the Lightning version of Kii becomes as affordable as the Dock Connector version, it merits only a limited recommendation. Consider it solely if you’re willing to pay more than three times the cost of a budget Lightning cable for keychain-ready convenience.