Review: Griffin Technology AirDock Docking Station with Remote
Pros: An attractive combination of an aluminum iPod dock, RF remote control, and cables to charge, sync, and output audio and video from iPods. Largely nice dock design also benefits from double the remote control performance of Apple’s iPod remote and docking solutions, superior pricing. Offers variable line-out functionality, Universal iPod Dock in center.
Cons: Lacks S-Video output. Remote is middle-of-pack by RF performance and feature standards. Product’s logo was off-center, imperfect on the unit we reviewed, detracting a bit from otherwise good looks.
Memories fade, so we can’t tell you exactly when we saw Griffin Technology’s AirDock ($70) for the first time. But even though we think it’s been almost two years since a prototype emerged, we’re still pretty impressed by the final product, an affordable, stylish docking station for any 4G or 5G iPod, mini, or nano, complete with a RF remote control and all the necessary cables.
What AirDock does for $70 is what Apple’s iPod AV Connection Kit (iLounge rating: B+) does for $99, only better: in Griffin’s package, you get an AV cable, power supply and USB cable, plus the aforementioned Universal iPod Dock and a matching RF remote control. As with Apple’s parts, Griffin’s come from earlier iPod accessory products: the AV cable’s a HomeConnect, the power supply is a PowerBlock, and the remote control is an AirClick, full reviews for each are found in those links. Do the math and you’ll see that it would cost $85 to buy these three items without the iPod dock, which is AirDock’s most expensive component.
Most iPod docks we’ve seen are nothing special visually. It’s really easy to clone or riff off of Apple’s classic iPod Docks, which is what most companies have done; a couple of notable exceptions are Harman’s The Bridge and AirDock. Rather than using white plastic, Griffin’s built AirDock with a molded single piece of aluminum, stuffing its sides and rear with dark gray plastic and a single blue power light. The central Universal Dock can be resized with included or iPod-packed Universal Dock Adapters to fit your choice of iPods, and works properly with the last three years’ models. With or without an iPod inside, it looks like a charging cradle for a modern wireless phone, but with better build quality, and fits nicely alongside silver AV systems and Apple’s aluminum computers. While its minimalist approach is not awe-inspiring, it’s clean and a really nice change from the docks we’ve seen.
It’s worth pointing out that AirDock can, unlike some of the “audio only” or “AV only” docks we’ve seen, be used for various purposes. AirDock’s rear USB port provides you with the ability to charge using the included PowerBlock wall adapter, or sync with a computer using a detachable included USB cable. Composite video and audio are carried through the minijack port, which like the one on Apple’s Universal Dock is capable of “variable line-out,” putting out a strong audio signal that can be dampened using the remote control.
There are only two things we didn’t like about the dock, one cosmetic and one functional. Poor ink screening onto its face resulted in an off-centered AirDock logo that also appeared not to have been fully screened on, as seen in the photos here. It’s our suspicion that this will be fixed in later AirDocks, but we rate on what we see. And the dock is missing the S-Video output port found on Apple’s Universal Docks and others, an omission that will bother some users more than others. Thankfully, both audio and video through the composite video port look just fine; the sharpness improvements of S-Video sometimes do and sometimes don’t benefit low-resolution iPod video output.
As with Griffin’s AirClick remote controls, AirDock’s major advantage over Apple’s iPod AV Connection Kit and comparable iPod docks is distance performance. Because it uses RF technology rather than Infrared, you can control your iPod from a room away, through a wall, and without pointing the remote directly at a sensor on the dock’s body. We found AirDock’s performance to be superior to typical Infrared by a factor of roughly 2, which is to say that it works from 50-60 foot uninterrupted distances, or shorter distances if a wall or two are in the way.
That said, we’ve seen RF remotes with much greater power, and with more features than AirDock’s: the silver remote controls only the simplest 5 iPod features (volume, track forward, backward, and play/pause), with a hold switch to prevent accidental buttons presses. There’s nothing more going on here; Griffin has removed the rear clip found on prior AirClick remotes, as it’s not really necessary for in-home enjoyment of a remote. While we haven’t had a use for many of the features we’ve seen on display-less RF remotes, such as distance on-iPod menu navigation, buttons for shuffle, repeat, and playlist toggling wouldn’t have hurt here.
Overall, AirDock may be a long time in coming, and it may also lack for a couple of finer features we’d prefer to see in the package, but the value proposition is obvious: considerably less expensive than the company’s more fully-featured TuneCenter, all it lacks by comparison are on-TV menuing, Internet Radio, and S-Video output, while it benefits from added USB connectivity and a smaller footprint. It’s a better aesthetic design than Kensington’s considerably earlier Entertainment Dock 500, and on balance, a better multifunctional dock, as well. Released prior to the invention of iPod on-TV menuing, AirDock might have been a must-have for all iPod owners, but even today, it’s a dock we intend to actually use ourselves—the mark of a highly recommendable new accessory.