Review: i18 Technology i18-A-5L iPowerStation
It turns out Lightning-based accessories can be pretty inexpensive when they're made without Apple-certified connectors. Released by i18 Technology, a sub-brand of computer peripheral maker nMedia, the new i18-A-5L iPowerStation ($20) costs only a dollar more than one of Apple's USB cables or wall adapters, yet also includes an all-in-one stand. There are some oddities about the accessory, and there's no question that it feels inexpensive, but it's providing functionality that otherwise can't be found for the price. iPowerStation comes in black, white, or pink.
Measuring 2.5” wide, 2” deep, and 3.25” tall, the stand has a lip that juts out from the bottom, making it look like an L when viewed from the left side, and creating a 3/4” shelf. An microsuction adhesive pad lines the rear wall to help hold an iPhone or iPod in place. Directly beneath the pad is the Lightning plug. Located on a positionable plastic housing, it’s clear upon inspection that it’s not identical to the connectors Apple has been supplying. The white plastic in the center of the plug slightly overlaps the pins, and the whole thing is tilted slightly to the right. They’re small details, but obvious if you take a close look.
Not using Apple’s plugs means not having to follow Apple’s sometimes perplexing guidelines. Unlike Apple-licensed Lightning peripherals we’ve seen so far, the ring of supporting plastic around the Lightning plug is small enough to be compatible with quite a few iPod, iPhone, and iPad mini cases—always a plus when it comes to docking. The flexibility of the plug also makes it easy to put any device in place without issue. When not being used to charge, a hidden stand can be pulled out of the back for extra support. While the base is sturdy on its own, the reinforcement is reassuring, especially when using an iPad mini.
iPowerStation can also be used to charge your device, but not in one of the ways you might expect. Instead of a USB port or cord on the back, it includes a set of flip-out prongs designed to plug into a wall outlet. Because of the stand’s size, it will cover both outlets on a vertical wall plate. Moreover, because it only puts out 1-Amp power, it’s really best-suited to iPhones and iPods, and won’t charge iPads at full speed. iPad minis will still refuel in reasonable times, but not at their peak. We’d have preferred that iPowerStation include a USB cable option, but if you have a convenient outlet, the prongs will be handy.
Although Apple has recently downplayed the value of standalone docks, we think they can be truly useful. iPowerStation isn’t exactly like Belkin’s Charge + Sync Dock, currently its biggest competitor, but it’s noteworthy that it sells for half the price and ensures greater case compatibility—although it also looks and feels less premium. The fact that it needs to be plugged directly into the wall will be its biggest limitation for some people; the same accessory with a USB cable coming out the back would have easily earned a place on our desks, particularly due to its case compatibility. But as it’s designed, this isn’t really a desktop dock so much as an alternative 1-Amp wall adapter. With that in mind, iPowerStation earns a qualified general recommendation. It’s a good product, but as an unofficial accessory, it risks the possibility that a software update from Apple could kill its functionality. Unless that happens, it’s worth considering.