Review: Griffin PowerBlock Dual Universal AC Charger
With only a couple of small caveats, there has never been anything magical or difficult about recharging an iPod's battery: sure, the charging accessory needed to have been engineered not to send too much or too little power to the iPod, and there were other small considerations, but creating an iPod home or car charger was virtually the same as creating a USB charger for other devices. Then the release of the iPhone changed this a little, adding a couple of small hurdles, most notably a higher maximum power demand. iPod chargers could still charge iPhones, but new chargers designed for the iPhone could conceivably do a better job under certain conditions.
For the last few years, Griffin Technology’s car and home iPod chargers have been some of the most popular accessories on the market; thanks to more favorable pricing, its PowerBlock series of home chargers have sometimes surpassed even Apple’s own USB chargers in sales. This year, Griffin has overhauled its entire lineup of car and home chargers, including two-charger combination packs, resulting in an array of options that may be a little confusing for some users. Though this review is focused on PowerBlock Dual ($25), we start with a look at Griffin’s standard PowerBlock so that their similarities and differences can be understood; a separate review explains PowerDuo and PowerDuo Universal combo packs featuring these charges.
The standard $30 PowerBlock for iPod and iPhone is Griffin’s latest alternative to Apple’s USB Power Adapter; both are plastic in-home wall chargers with a single USB port on one side and flip-out metal power blades on another. Each comes with a USB-to-iPod cable. While Apple’s is a smaller rounded square, and has a detachable wall blade design that can interface with an optional, expensive set of international wall blades, the latest PowerBlock is only slightly larger in total volume, wide rather than square, and includes a power light missing from the Apple unit. Griffin offers PowerBlock in white or black versions, each with a gray center, and a more attractive design than the original PowerBlock. Though $1 more expensive than the $29 Apple part on paper, PowerBlock is typically sold for the same price as or less than Apple’s adapter. Our review unit had no problem charging an iPod or an iPhone.
PowerBlock Dual is a somewhat more interesting product. Late in 2007 and early in 2008, a number of companies began to show off wall and car chargers with two separate USB ports, so that a single charger could feed power to two iPods or an iPod and an iPhone at the same time. PowerBlock Dual uses the exact same shell shape as a black PowerBlock, only elongated by half an inch and possessing two USB ports where PowerBlock has one. It sells for $5 less than the standard PowerBlock, but doesn’t include a USB-to-iPod cable; Griffin calls it the “PowerBlock Dual Universal AC Charger” because its twin ports can be used for pretty much any sort of USB devices you may have, assuming that those devices, like iPods and iPhones, came with their own USB cables.
There’s only one subtle issue with PowerBlock Dual: its USB ports each put out only half an Amp of power, for a total of 1 Amp. This isn’t a huge problem, but official “Works With iPhone” chargers are supposed to be able to supply 1 Amp to the iPhone alone—enough power to charge its battery even when two of its wireless antennas and other features are in use. PowerBlock Dual instead provides enough power to refuel the iPhone when it’s not in active use, which is the same as any standard iPod charger. You can decide for yourself whether this is an important enough reason to hold off on the purchase; given the ways that wall chargers are typically used, our feeling is that most users won’t care.
Our feeling about all of the company’s Power series iPod and iPhone chargers is positive, but not more than that. While the prices of each of the charging packages have stayed roughly the same from their predecessors, spare cables have disappeared from certain packages, industrial design has improved across the board, and features have remained constant except for under the hood tweaks. These changes are a modest net positive, but we’ve never been comfortable with the idea of $30 wall chargers, and rather than providing more aggressive alternatives to Apple’s expensive products, Griffin’s now just offer something different unless you find a store that prices third-party accessories more aggressively. That said, with the exception of the PowerBlock Dual and its combo pack PowerBlock Universal, which will work fine for iPods and iPhones except under unusually demanding iPhone conditions—the reason for their slightly lower, flat B ratings—we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of these items to all of our readers. They work as expected, look good, and make iPod or iPhone charging convenient.