Review: Global Source Retractable USB & FW Data Cables
Pros: They match the iPod’s design, retract properly and conveniently for travel purposes.
Cons: They cost nearly as much as Apple’s official accessories, have possibility of reduced functionality in future.
Companies that master the concept of “old concept, new packaging” can make a fortune: people are frequently willing to buy the same things they already own if a new version is smaller or offers a slight aesthetic improvement. In this review, we look at two old cables with a new twist: Global Source’s spring-loaded In-Sync Retractable FireWire and USB cables actually outperformed our expectations, and even displayed a nice proprietary Dock Connector innovation we hope to eventually see in other companies’ products.
Global Source’s In-Sync cables consist of two parts: white, grey and silver cables that wrap around white and orange plastic hubs. One of the cables, the $16.99 In-Sync FireWire cable, has a six-pin FireWire connector at one end and a proprietary Dock Connector plug at the other. Predictably, Global Source’s $15.99 USB cable has a full-sized male USB connector at one end instead of the FireWire connector.
Each cable shrinks from roughly 31 inches fully extended to a mere four inches when retracted. Their spring mechanisms permit user-adjustable lengths ranging across the four-to-31 inch spectrum, so the cord can be kept relatively taut or loose at any extension depending on your preferences. As a final impressive feature, Global Source’s proprietary Dock Connector plugs actually taper off in thickness towards their bottom edges, becoming safely thin enough at the iPod side to squeeze into cases with small Dock Connector port holes. We wish these plugs were used by companies like Monster - it would make in-car accessory attachment so much easier.
Unlike many products we’ve tested, Global Source’s cables worked as well as promised - and in one case, better. Both cables retracted and expanded properly out of the box, and worked with our Mac and PC test computers with no problems. After testing, we felt that both USB and FireWire cables were perfectly suitable for our travel needs.
We were initially concerned only because Global Source promised very little on its web site and packaging for the USB cable, not even guaranteeing USB 2.0 support, but we found that it worked quite well - first, it sent files at USB 2.0-enhanced transfer speeds generally comparable to Apple’s own USB cable (3.8MB/sec versus Apple’s 4.2MB/sec in a few brief tests), and second, as with Apple’s cable, our iPod mini indicated that it was recharging through our test PowerBook and PC’s USB ports. This USB recharge feature is most likely undocumented by Global Source because it works only with the iPod mini, and not current-model full-sized iPods.
We also liked the length of the Global Source cables: at slightly under three feet when extended, they provided more than adequate distance for the majority of our applications, and given their small size when retracted, we didn’t hesitate to toss them into a bag for a trip to Arizona this past weekend. They caused less clutter than Apple’s standard cables, a welcome improvement.
Having previously tested JAVOedge’s eBuds, which displayed problems with their retracting mechanism right out of the box, we felt thankful that Global Source’s FireWire and USB cables had all of the eBuds’ design advantages and none of their disadvantages - at least, as of now. For travel purposes, we’d recommend these cables as suitable replacements for Apple’s own accessories, and give them a Happy rating based on our experiences to date.
However, we have become somewhat skeptical of retracting cables as a whole given our experience with the eBuds, and realize that there is potential for big problems if the relatively inexpensive spring mechanism of these cables ever breaks. JAVO’s and Global Source’s cables may come from different manufacturers, but then, they might not, given that they are so similar in aesthetic design and could easily be rebranded by different vendors for different markets.
Therefore, if you really need the retracting feature, our advice would be to purchase these cables from a company with a reasonable return and replacement policy, just for your protection. While we have no reason to suspect that Global Source’s cables would disappoint you like JAVO’s eBuds disappointed us, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.