Review: Griffin XL 3 Meter USB to Dock Cable
There are very few reasons to pay a lot for cables; more often than not, inexpensive ones from companies such as MonoPrice work just as well, even if they look and feel comparatively disposable. Apple Dock Connector cables, particularly ones for the iPad, are sometimes an exception. MonoPrice doesn't even sell them, and Apple has been known to threaten and occasionally sue companies that produce Dock Connector accessories without its permission -- and a licensing fee that jacks their prices up. So when we mention that Griffin's new 3 Meter USB to Dock Cable (aka XL USB to Dock Cable) is $40, and yes, that's a regular old USB plug on one end and a Dock Connector plug on the other, you might be turned off immediately by the price. But if you fit into a specific, small niche, you might consider paying it anyway.
The first thing that’s obvious when comparing the 3 Meter USB to Dock Cable against one of the ones Apple gives away with every iPod, iPhone, and iPad is the extraordinary thickness of Griffin’s version. Apple’s 3.3-foot-long cables are slender and in a light shade of gray that’s often mistaken for white. Griffin’s cable is 9.8 feet long, darker gray, and uses what the company has alternatingly described as 16-gauge or 20-gauge conductors—it’s actually 20-gauge, which is roughly the thickness of a pencil, only soft and flexible. The Dock Connector at one end fits any iPod, iPhone, or iPad, but has a hard plastic jacket that’s as tall as long-since-discontinued Apple versions, and twice as thick. Since it’s nearly the same width, only a millimeter or two wider, it’s less likely to have problems connecting to the bottoms of devices inside cases, but the added thickness will introduce some compatibility issues.
Is all of the extra thickness really necessary? Though there are ways to achieve a similar cable length—see Apple’s iPad 10W USB Power Adapter, which places its power adapter roughly 2/3 of the way up a 9-foot-long cable system—the short answer is “yes,” at least, for how Griffin’s doing it. Thick cabling enables the 3 Meter USB to Dock Cable to reliably carry 2.1 Amps of power from an iPad wall charger, or properly synchronize the iPad with a computer that’s nearly 10 feet away. Though you can achieve nearly the same charging distance with Apple’s Adapter, this is the only solution we’ve seen that provides such long-distance synchronization for iPads, and it works with iPods and iPhones, too. We tested it with 2.1-Amp and 1-Amp power sources, as well as with a computer, and it worked perfectly.
That said, Griffin’s $40 MSRP for the 3 Meter USB to Dock Cable is ridiculous, even by the standards of frequently overpriced Apple Dock Connector accessories—it says something that even Apple’s own solution delivers better value at a lower price. For $10 less, the official iPad 10W USB Power Adapter includes not only the cabling but also the power adapter, which Griffin suggests you buy separately for an additional $25 or $30—a total of $65 or $70 just to charge your iPad at a distance. Shopping online may save you some money on Griffin’s cable, but this is the rare situation where Apple’s own price can’t be beat. Consequently, the 3 Meter USB to Dock Cable is a well-made but decidedly niche accessory that should only be considered by people who both have iPads and really need to synchronize with a computer or charge in a car from nearly 10-foot distances, two things Apple’s less expensive solution can’t handle. Thinner cables will work for lower-powered iPods and iPhones, while shorter ones such as Apple’s pack-ins will obviously be fine for the vast majority of people, too.