Review: Bluelounge Sanctuary 4
Looking back over iLounge's past dozen years, there are only two or three accessories that we wish we'd rated even a little differently, and Bluelounge's The Sanctuary is one of them. Debuted as a 9.125" rounded square plastic box with a velvet top, the 2008-vintage accessory was designed as a cable-managed charging tray, meant to refuel multiple devices at once with zero clutter. The design and concept were appealing, but the $130 price was not: it came with 11 different device cables and one USB port, so a phone, Palm Pilot, iPod, and a mini-USB accessory could all rest on Sanctuary at once — assuming you had such a disparate collection of items to charge. Now Bluelounge has released the reconfigured Sanctuary 4 ($100), which implements a variety of improvements to the original design, as well as pulling one key asset to achieve a more appealing price tag.
With the same just-over-9” square footprint as its predecessor, Sanctuary 4 still comes in a two-textured design — glossy outside, soft matte top surface — but the materials have been tweaked a bit for the better. Bluelounge now offers it in an all black version alongside the original white and black combination, each replacing the velvet top and foam insert with a hard plastic lid that won’t absorb or show as much dust. A large black metal railing is now found on the lid’s back, providing upright or angled support depending on how you adjust a hidden thumbscrew; a hole in front of the railing lets you pass a cable through to a tablet or phone that’s standing on your choice of orientations. This lets you place a full-sized iPad or iPad mini in the back while leaving room for two or three other items in the front, a very nice space-saving improvement on the original model.
Apart from the physical accommodation for tablets, Sanctuary 4’s internal power source has been tweaked to supply 20 Watts of power — enough, Bluelounge says, for two iPads, one iPad and two iPhones, or four iPhones to recharge at once from four separate USB ports. Interestingly, the company doesn’t guarantee the 2.4-Amp power that 2012-vintage iPads are capable of demanding, which is to say that you shouldn’t expect to achieve peak speed iPad third- or fourth-generation charging with Sanctuary 4. Instead, only one iPad can charge at 2.1-Amp speed, while two will fall to 2.0-Amp speeds. If this sounds like a major problem, bear in mind that the original model’s connectors were all capped at 0.5-Amp speeds, half the peak recharging rate of iPhones and so little power for iPads that they would claim not to be charging at all. Consequently, being able to hit close to full iPad speed with Sanctuary 4 is another definite improvement, though we’d have preferred that more power was guaranteed across all of the ports.
Bluelounge’s other compromise is that you need to self-supply all of the Apple cables, or whatever other cables you prefer besides micro-USB. The company includes a single fabric micro-USB cable in the package, and a wall power supply capable of fueling Sanctuary 4, but everything else is up to you. Although this may add some expense on your side, this model is $30 less than its predecessor, and Bluelounge offers 30% discounted fabric Lightning ($12) and 30-pin ($6) cables to Sanctuary 4 purchasers should you not already have spare cables to use. The company’s cables are short at under 8” in length, roughly 1/4 the length of Apple’s official cables, and should fit nicely within Sanctuary’s chassis.
Without cables installed, the inside of Sanctuary 4 starts out far less cluttered than the original Sanctuary. A block in the center lines up the four full-sized USB ports, two labeled with a phone icon, the other two with phone and iPad icons, suggesting “up to 1-Amp” power on the left and “up to 2.1-Amp” power on the right. After plugging in the wall adapter and running it through a hole in Sanctuary 4’s back, a bright green light lets you know that the power is on, and you can connect the USB cables of your choice to the ports. We had no problem connecting full-length USB cables, as well as ones with relatively thick-jacketed USB plug housings. There’s enough space inside Sanctuary 4 to stuff or wrap the cables around, and once the lid’s on, you see nothing but the tips popping out.
Although there’s an argument to be made that Griffin’s PowerDock 5 is a more appealing product on sheer specs — it offers 5 USB ports that can simultaneously recharge at 2.1-Amp speeds — Bluelounge’s approach with Sanctuary 4 is more closely targeted towards the needs of mainstream users. Griffin provided no cable management, leaving wires all over the place without any way to dock even one tablet, while Sanctuary 4 provides both a visible resting place for one tablet and a clean flat surface for three more devices. So yes, PowerDock 5 can accommodate more devices at once with greater power, but Sanctuary 4 more appealingly handles a real-world one- or two-person collection of devices, with enough space to cleanly hold one tablet, one phone, a small Bluetooth speaker or headset, and some car keys. They each have their own assets, and PowerDock 5 will be better-suited to institutional applications, but typical users choosing between these same-priced options should generally go with Sanctuary 4. We certainly would encourage Bluelounge to make further under-the-hood improvements to boost the power output, and would love to see some Lightning cables bundled in, but Sanctuary 4 has enough other improvements on its predecessor to merit our general recommendation.