Review: Griffin PowerBlock Plus Universal
Over the past couple of years, several of the companies that previously specialized in iPod and iPhone power adapters decided to take their products to the next level, initially releasing car and wall chargers with two USB ports rather than one, and later, units with one super-powered USB port capable of quickly recharging even power-hungry iPads. Now Griffin is trying something new: a series of "PowerBlock Plus" wall chargers that have one USB port and a pass-through port for any other non-USB wall power cord you may have. Confusingly, there are two lookalike PowerBlock Plus models with different specifications, only one of which we review here: PowerBlock Plus Universal ($30).
Both of the PowerBlock Plus units are glossy white wall power adapters with one USB port on the bottom and a pass-through AC port (the “Plus” feature) on the face. As with Griffin’s earlier car power adapter PowerJolt Plus, the new PowerBlocks are designed to add a USB port to an existing wall outlet without precluding you from connecting something else to that outlet, as well. It bears mention that the new PowerBlocks are a little shorter than their predecessors, similar in thickness, but without retracting wall blades. The pass-through power port is a two-blade North America-style design without a third ground port. While less bag-friendly than earlier PowerBlocks, the new models are seemingly designed to be plugged into a wall at home and stay there.
The version shown here is called “Universal” because it includes a 1-Amp USB port and no cable. It is capable of working with virtually any USB charging cable you may have for a device—iPod, iPhone, cell phone, or accessory—while still providing full power to its AC port. We tested the two ports simultaneously, using an iPod or an iPhone while simultaneously recharging a camcorder, and even tried plugging Griffin’s latest iPad-compatible PowerBlock charger into the AC port while recharging an iPhone with the USB port. It worked without complaint, and the iPad charged from the AC outlet at full speed.
One big caveat: as contrasted with the AC outlet, which can handle power cords and chargers demanding up to 5 Amps of power, PowerBlock Plus Universal’s 1-Amp-capped USB port is not capable of serving as a full-speed iPad charger. Griffin is instead selling a second version called just PowerBlock Plus, subtly adding faster 2.1-Amp charging to the USB port and including an iPod/iPhone/iPad-ready Dock Connector cable. As we haven’t tested this version of PowerBlock Plus, we can’t speak to its performance, but Griffin’s offering a non-trivial set of bundling and electronic changes at a $5 premium.
In sum, PowerBlock Plus Universal is a very simple, utilitarian accessory that isn’t going to amaze anyone, but does make USB charging easy without forcing you to give up a wall outlet. While its lack of a third ground hole precludes it from being used to connect to common Apple computer power supplies, and its USB port is limited to 1-Amp output, it’s good enough for most uses. Users requiring more power can consider the $5 upgrade to the 2.1-Amp PowerBlock Plus, which we’ll review in the near future.