Review: Griffin PowerDock Dual
Griffin had a great idea on its hands when it introduced PowerDock Dual ($60) late last year: iPad users are probably iPhone or iPod users, too, so a charging station with one iPad dock and one iPod/iPhone dock just made sense. Next, it added two other features that were clear winners: an angled design so that both devices' screens could be viewed at the same time, and a tray in the center for your other stuff -- wallet, non-iPhone cell phone, coins, and so on. It was really smart, and a great evolution from the company's earlier iPod/iPhone-only PowerDock 2 and PowerDock 4.
Except for one thing. Building an iPad dock turns out to be a lot less intuitive than the iPod and iPhone docks of years past, as Apple doesn’t have a “universal” dock specification for developers to follow—there’s consequently been plenty of experimentation in the speakers and docks released to date. Some leave plenty of room for iPad cases; others don’t. And no one yet has an ideal way of accommodating both iPads and iPad 2s. Rubber and foam inserts, little pads, and raised bits of plastic have all been tried, some with more success than others.
PowerDock Dual gets credit for trying. Both of its docks use spring-loaded, flexible Dock Connector plugs that bend forwards and backwards in an effort to fit inside whatever might be dropped on top of them. Plastic moldings around the metal 30-pin plugs are as small as the ones on Apple’s cables, which should theoretically make them fit nicely inside virtually any iPod, iPhone, or iPad case. But critically, the plugs are only half as tall as on an Apple cable—notably, taller than 30-pin connectors that sit flush with the bottom of a dock well, but too short to make proper connections with certain thicknesses of cases. Consequently, there’s no easy way to tell you whether you’ll be able to use your preferred iPad, iPad 2, iPhone, and/or iPod touch case with PowerDock Dual. Bare devices work fine, but other ones are just a crapshoot.
When PowerDock Dual works, it works well. We had no problem charging a bare iPad or certain encased iPad 2s at full speed on one dock with our favorite iPhone 4 cases on the other dock; again, some cases will obviously work better than others. There was enough space between the docks that the devices didn’t bump each other, or cause problems when one had to be removed and the other was staying put. Moreover, we really liked the central tray, which is matte-finished and concave, nicely holding loose change and small wallet-like items without any concern over damaging the otherwise glossy black plastic casing. Rubber padding on PowerDock Dual’s bottom kept it from slipping around, too.
But when PowerDock Dual doesn’t work, it’s a disappointment. We could never get it to properly accommodate our favorite original iPad cases, which were too thick along the device’s bottom edge to work with the flexible Dock Connector. When we can’t use an accessory with the cases we like, it’s useless to us; we’d sooner change the dock than give up the case. We also found that the clear plastic inserts designed to provide somewhat interesting looking passive supports for the iPad’s front and back were a bit weird, and not as helpful for insertion as they could have been with additional fine-tuning. Inserting the iPad 2 can be a challenge with PowerDock Dual because of the slope of the new tablet’s Dock Connector port, but we eventually became used to doing it—and interestingly found that cases made it even easier to accomplish with this model.
During the first iPad’s run, we wound up relying on iHome’s more accommodating iB969 instead. iB969 has the advantages of including dual iPod/iPhone docks and an iPad dock that can accommodate either iPad model in either orientation, but the disadvantages of requiring you to self-supply an iPad charging cable, and obscuring part of the iPad’s screen with one or both smaller Apple devices. With the iPad 2 now in the marketplace, the two models are basically a draw, each good for its own reasons.
More than a year after the original iPad’s release, there’s still no perfect iPad and iPhone/iPod charging solution out there; each one has some small but very real issues on the iPad side, most often whenever a case is involved. We’d like to see Griffin take another stab at the concept, because we know from experience that it can make great docks for Apple devices, and PowerDock Dual comes close enough to be good for the time being. Users looking for a bedside solution for recharging a bare iPad or iPad 2 along with almost any other Apple device will be more than satisfied with PowerDock Dual; similarly, some iPad case users will have no issues with this design as-is. Ideally, a next-generation version would further extend the Dock Connectors, improve the clear plastic inserts, and make other little tweaks to improve the internal support in the iPad well. This is a fine start, but shouldn’t by any means be the end of Griffin’s efforts to design the ideal tablet charging station.