Review: Bosch Power Box Dock for iPod
Pros: A hard plastic shell for your iPod that attaches to a Bosch Power Box construction site speaker system, providing battery charging and audio output from the iPod, as well as protection from certain types of job site-related damage. The Power Box itself is impressive, with good AM/FM tuning, speakers, and optional CD/remote control features.
Cons: Dock denies users access to iPod’s controls either physically or with the optional remote; you’ll need to open the Dock box up to use the iPod in any way. Interface with the Power Box is limited, so you basically have to push play button on iPod, switch Box to auxiliary mode, and listen continuously without interruption or pause; Dock does little better than a case, minijack cable and separate power supply would do, and doesn’t hold as firmly on Box’s side as we’d prefer from a ruggedized audio system.
Though it’s not difficult to add an iPod dock to an existing speaker system, there are ways to do it right, and ways to do it wrong. We’re pained to say it, but Bosch’s Power Box Dock for iPod ($50) is an example of the wrong way - a merely passable alternative, and only acceptable (rather than outright bad) because of how worthwhile the company’s Power Box (PB10, $266) and Power Box Advanced (PB10-CD, $320) speaker systems are as standalone, construction site-ready audio products. Please note: our brief review below looks separately at both the Power Box Advanced and the Power Box Dock, but rates only the iPod-specific Dock as an attachment.
The Power Box Concept
Unlike the vast majority of iPod speakers we’ve seen in the past, Bosch built both of its Power Box speaker systems for a narrow purpose: they’re designed to be used on construction sites as multifunction audio and power systems. Part of their appeal is that they’ve been built to withstand tough conditions: weighing 21 pounds and measuring 14” in each cubic direction, both models feature generally ruggedized plastic and metal bodies, aluminum roll cages designed to protect themselves from 10-foot drops, and sealed buttons, speakers, and power ports.
Then there’s the power feature: each boasts a set of four GFCI power outlets - the equivalent of a power strip - built into one of its six sides - and an internal battery charging compartment that can recharge Bosch’s power tool battery packs. Sold separately, one of these packs can be used inside a Power Box to provide hours of music playback, a nice bonus if you’re not around a live outlet for some period of time.
Both Power Boxes are amply equipped in the audio department, as well. Each box includes two large speakers, an AM/FM radio with 20 FM and 10 AM Presets, bass and treble controls, and an auxiliary audio input port. The Advanced version we tested also includes a CD/MP3CD player with 40 seconds of skip protection, as well as a nice Infrared remote control. Bosch’s hard plastic and rubber remote fits into a large carrying handle on the unit’s top, and features track, play/pause, volume, power, mode, and mute buttons, as well as a spring-loaded mechanism that allows you to attach the remote to a key ring or chain. The remote looks and feels nice in your hand, and works well - we successfully controlled the Box from a distance of 30 feet away when the unit’s screen was facing us, and around 10 feet away when it wasn’t, regardless of whether fluorescent bulbs were near the sensor.
We were generally quite impressed with the unit’s audio performance, finding its AM/FM radio reception to be comparable to that of Tivoli Audio’s very good iPAL (iLounge rating: B+), but with substantially greater speaker power: the two four-inch drivers can belt out louder, bassier music than the single one found in the smaller Tivoli unit, which sounds better only in the treble department. The unit’s performance in these regards is apparently a substantial improvement over earlier versions of the Power Box, which were said to be weak in radio and speaker performance; we had no significant complaints. Radio, CDs, and auxiliary audio all benefit from the unit’s inclusion of four equalizer presets, and our only minor audio gripe was that although there’s a custom EQ option, we couldn’t figure out how to tune it, and the manual didn’t explain it. All of the unit’s user-adjustable features, from radio and CD track tuning to EQ and presets, are accessed through a blue-backlit, circular and central LCD display, which is otherwise easy enough to use, and features a digital clock when you’re not doing something else with the on-Box or remote controls. Overall, the Power Boxes are very good speaker and power systems, and more than worthwhile for virtually anyone other than an iPod user.
Unfortunately, the unit’s many positives are weighed down for iPod owners with an integration kit that can at best be described as half-hearted. Bosch’s Dock literally does three things: it holds your iPod, provides battery recharge capability, and outputs its audio. If those phrases initially sound adequate to you, trust us when we say that they’re not, because of their specific implementation.
Adding the Dock to the Power Box is physically an easy retrofitting job: you need to unscrew a silver plastic panel from one of the Box’s sides using an included tool, replace it with a piece that holds the Box’s protective rubber port guards up while the Dock is plugged in, and then plug the Dock into two ports on the box - the auxiliary audio port, and a power charging port. Finally, you open the Dock to insert one of several iPod-specific inserts - our unit shipped with 3G, 4G, and mini iPod inserts, and Bosch currently provides nano and 5G inserts to customers who call a 1-800 number. These newer inserts will likely be packaged inside the Dock box in the future.
What you get at the end of the process is a big white shell that hangs off of the blue, silver, and yellow Power Box body’s side, with a clear window that lets you see the iPod’s screen. The shell locks closed on its right side, sealing off all access to the iPod’s body - nice for protection - but including its controls. This is the point at which you recall that the Dock has connected to the Box’s auxiliary input port, not a port that can communicate with the iPod for control purposes. And thus it’s no surprise when you discover that the nice included remote control can’t control the iPod at all. In other words, you’re supposed to insert your iPod, press play, close the Dock, and walk away. Want to listen to the iPod? Press the auxiliary button on the Box, or the remote control, and you’ll hear whatever’s playing at the moment. But you can’t pause the iPod, change tracks, or anything else unless you walk over to the system, open the Dock, and fidget. For a $300-$400 total MSRP speaker system, especially one that’s equipped with such an able remote for other purposes, that’s just not acceptable by today’s iPod speaker standards.
We also have to note that we didn’t find the Dock to be especially stable on the Box’s side. Rear clips designed to secure it did not reliably hold it tight against the Box, such that if the unit drops, the iPod will shake a bunch in the process rather than staying stably attached to the unit’s side. We had to keep pushing the Dock against the box after each use to make sure that it stayed in place. While it did not appear that the Dock would ever fall completely off the Box - it’s connected for power purposes with the equivalent of a car charger’s worth of plastic - the Dock’s attachment wasn’t anywhere near as bullet-proof in feel as the rest of the Bosch chassis.
Value and Conclusions
For the Dock’s $50 asking price, we weren’t impressed by its level of iPod integration - charging and audio-out are necessary, but not sufficient components for an iPod docking experience, and some level of interface interaction is basically mandatory. By locking your iPod up and stripping it of even iPod shuffle-level access to its music, unless you open up the Dock’s latch, Bosch’s solution is only a hair better in execution than the easiest alternative: buying a ruggedized OtterBox or old Speck ToughSkin case and a cheap Griffin charger, then connecting them to the unit’s auxiliary-in and power ports yourself. You’d actually do better with that solution, as you’d preserve the ability to use your iPod’s controls without opening up a hatch. Regrettably, no current Power Box alternative will provide iPod users with what they really want here - full-time and remote-controlled access to their music - because there’s just no pass-through data port on the unit. Another Box, and another Dock, will likely be needed to remedy that problem.
This is a shame for one and only one reason: street prices on both versions of Bosch’s Power Box have fallen enough to make them excellent work site options for everything but iPod listening - they can be as little as half of the MSRPs - with the Advanced version’s remote and CD player providing perhaps the most compelling overall audio feature set for the dollar. There’s similarly no comparison between the Boxes’ integrated power charging and routing options and any other speaker we’ve tested; if these features matter to you, the Power Boxes will stand apart from all other iPod-ready alternatives out there. But as iPod speaker systems, the Power Boxes don’t deliver the interface experience we’d expect for the dollar.