Review: Contour Design rE-charge Universal for iPod & iPhone
How much do an extra inch or a few millimeters really matter when you're comparing two otherwise similar iPod and iPhone charging devices? If your answer is "not much," then you'll have a better chance of liking Contour Design's rE-charge Universal ($40), a combination wall and car charger with two USB ports that directly competes with Incase's Combo Charger for iPod & iPhone. Both companies have tackled the exact same concept with their products, but Incase -- blessed with both hindsight and additional development time -- has executed decidedly better.
A little history: Incase was amongst the first companies to create an all-in-one wall and car charger for iPods, and initially released the functional but physically somewhat awkward Incase Charger in 2004. Contour was much later to the game, first showing prototypes of rE-Charge Universal back in 2008, but didn’t get the subsequently tweaked final design out until later in 2009. Though the finished product initially looks like an oversized black plastic pen case, pulling off the big protective cap on one of its sides reveals a car charging plug, and flipping twin wall blades out of its back enables you to plug it in at home, dangling significantly down or pointing up from a wall outlet. Everything’s finished with soft touch black plastic, save for the glossy car plug, a blue light that comes on to indicate that the unit is powered, and a single included USB-to-Dock Connector cable. This cable is around two inches shorter than Incase’s, measuring roughly 38” long.
With the protective cap on, rE-Charge Universal measures roughly 5” long versus the 4” Incase Combo Charger, and when the two units are turned in the same direction relative to a car’s charging port, Contour’s version sticks out 0.75” more and is modestly thicker, but equally narrower than Incase’s design. Moreover, while Incase’s USB ports face directly outwards in a car and either upwards or downwards in a wall socket, Contour’s go in the opposite direction, facing straight outwards in a wall socket and upwards, downwards, or off to a side in a car outlet. Apart from its smaller size, Incase’s design strikes us as more practical and sexy, but some users may prefer Contour’s chosen USB orientation; the difference will come down to where you plan to use the accessory, and how much strain you want to put on your cable or cables.
One place where the two chargers notably differ is in electronics. Incase’s Combo Charger guarantees 1 Amp of power to be available for each of its two USB ports, enabling two iPhones to quickly recharge at the same time as per Apple’s faster charging standards. rE-Charge Universal, by contrast, offers 1 Amp total between both of the ports, and caps each one at 500mA, which means fast charging isn’t an option. This is a notable disadvantage for users who need to refuel their iPhones as quickly as possible, offset only by the modest additional heat and noise generated by the Combo Charger. Finally, by contrast with older single-port combo chargers released by companies such as Incase back in 2004 and 2005, neither of these chargers offer audio output for in-car use; they serve solely to recharge one or two USB devices at once. Of course, you can use them with any USB-charging accessory that includes its own cable.
Having tested numerous car and home chargers for iPods and iPhones over the years, there’s little doubt in our minds that neither of these designs is worthy of our A-level high recommendation, but all things considered, the Incase Combo Charger offers a two-degree-better overall experience than rE-Charge Universal for the same $40 price tag. Were the differences merely cosmetic, favoring the smaller, sleeker, and twin-colored Incase product, rE-Charge Universal would still fall short a little due to the speed of its charging. It might be relatively recent to stores, but given that Contour’s design is actually a couple of years old at this point, it would definitely benefit from the reduction in size and increase in power that newer parts have proved possible. In its current form, we’d recommend rE-Charge Universal only to users who have a specific need for the twin USB ports to face directly outwards from the wall plugs rather than the car charger.