Review: CableJive dockXtender for Lightning Devices
On the surface, there's nothing particularly exciting about CableJive's new dockXtender for Lightning Devices ($25). Just over two feet in length, it's a jet black plasticky cable with a silver Lightning plug at one end and a boxy, plastic-enclosed Lightning port at the other. CableJive's web site depicts the port connected to Bose's SoundDock speaker, while the plug is attached to an encased iPhone 5s. The message: you can now keep your device's case on when charging, listening to music, or whatever else a Lightning docking device may be capable of doing. As questionably worthy of $26 as that feature might seem to some people, the new dockXtender also turns out to have another virtue, at least for now: it enables iPad users to play games with first-generation Lightning game controllers.
Although dockXtender isn’t an Apple-licensed accessory, it’s nicely built by unauthorized standards, and doesn’t give away that detail in any way besides the lack of a ring around the Lightning port. CableJive’s housings on both sides of the cable were obviously designed to last: each of the connectors is inside a tapered hard plastic jacket, built with bulging ridges that lead to reinforced cabling. Jackets on the cables and the thicker-than-typical-Apple-cabling both seem ready to withstand frequent flexing; dockXtender feels comparable to Apple’s 0.2m Lightning to 30-Pin Adapter in sturdiness. The Lightning port on the larger side has a footprint only slightly larger than a typical USB plug, which enables it to connect to virtually any Lightning accessory, though the port’s base is notably a couple of millimeters thicker than its iPhone 5/5s-sized top. Similarly, the Lightning plug side has a big base, but its top is tailored to fit inside all but the least accessory-tolerant cases.
Functionally, all dockXtender does is to extend an accessory’s Lightning port to connect with a Lightning device at a distance of up to 26.5” away. All of the accessory’s features should work just as if the device was docked: audio, data, and power are passed through the dockXtender, so it wasn’t any surprise that the accessories we tested worked just fine, without triggering iOS device incompatibility or warning notices. Under typical circumstances, this would neither be remarkable nor worth noting, but Apple’s well-known predilection for breaking unauthorized accessories with iOS updates casts its typical cloud here; there are no guarantees that dockXtender will continue to work perfectly with future updates. Notably, if you connect it to an iOS device without an accessory at the other end, you’ll trigger a compatibility warning, but if an accessory’s plugged in, no warning comes up.
The single most impressive trick dockXtender enabled was one suggested by a reader: using this cable, Lightning game controllers recently released by MOGA and Logitech suddenly become compatible with the fourth-generation iPad, iPad Air, and both iPad mini models. Although the $100 asking prices of these controllers make them hard enough to recommend even for compatible devices, and the $26 dockXtender elevates them to virtually the same price level as a complete Nintendo 2DS handheld console, controller-desperate iPad gamers may consider this an option. Similarly, dockXtender might serve as an insurance policy against accessory incompatibility with future iOS hardware, assuming again that an iOS software update doesn’t stop it from working.
Overall, CableJive’s dockXtender for Lightning Devices is good enough to merit the same rating as its Dock Connector predecessor. There’s no doubt whatsoever that this is a well-built and useful little cable, even though it isn’t cheap, and exists primarily to remedy incompatibly issues that Apple has created. To the extent that it continues to work as expected, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to readers with Lightning accessories, though in the long run, it may be safer and less expensive to invest in Bluetooth wireless accessories with fewer compatibility challenges.
Updated September 15, 2014: CableJive has released a six-foot version of dockXtender, shown above, for $33. It looks substantially like the version we reviewed last year, but with an even more tapered Lightning connector housing.