Review: iKit NuFlow Charger Dock + Amp
Developing a real iPhone speaker requires substantial engineering talent -- the reason so few companies have released them, relative to the earlier flood of iPod speakers -- so several companies have come up with cheaper, simpler alternatives with similar capabilities. iKit's NuFlow Charger Dock + Amp ($40) follows on the heels of Griffin's year-old AirCurve, using a passive waveguide to amplify the speaker of an iPhone without electronic assistance. Plastic dock inserts for the iPhone and iPhone 3G/3GS are included, working only with unencased devices.
Unlike AirCurve, which looked like a clear block of plastic with a snaking horn-like path for speaker audio, NuFlow is a rounded-off black plastic diamond with a speaker grille on its front and a light on the top. The light only comes on if you connect the unit’s included USB cable to a power adapter—the one in the box only had European power tips—or to a computer, and then, it glows blue when an iPhone’s docked or green when nothing’s connected.
All the USB cable offers is charging and synchronization capability for the docked iPhone, so if it’s unplugged, it doesn’t have any impact on NuFlow’s ability to make the device’s audio output louder. We had no issues with charging or syncing using the included cable, but couldn’t test the wall adapter due to the lack of U.S. blades, an omission that may well limit the accessory’s appeal outside of Europe.
Though iKit deserves some credit for including the USB cable and wall adapter in the box, parts that Griffin left you to self-supply and then feed through AirCurve’s bottom in a less impressive way, you’ll pay twice as much for NuFlow, and it isn’t a great accessory for that $40 asking price. Part of the issue is build quality: its base is supposed to be stabilized on a flat surface using rubber and hard plastic prongs on its bottom, but our review unit was a little wobbly for no good reason, helped little by the thin plastic shell’s light weight.
Sonically, it performs like AirCurve, taking the fine-but-not-great speaker output of an iPhone and increasing its amplitude, not its fidelity or frequency response. Plug an iPhone in when music’s playing and the song will multiply in volume by a factor of two or three, going from “no problem hearing that” to “maybe I should turn it down a little” at the peak output level of an iPhone 3G or 3GS. Though the microphone is deliberately blocked by the plastic dock insert, you can use speakerphone functionality: the iPhone mic still manages to pick up sound without significant interference from NuFlow’s base. iKit also goes a step further than Griffin by letting you turn NuFlow on its side for louder audio when the iPhone’s in widescreen video viewing mode, however, a nice little touch that explains the unit’s diamond-shaped design.
Overall, iKit is a B- level audio accessory for iPhone users: it does what it’s supposed to do in the sense that it legitimately amplifies iPhone speaker audio, and adds a charging option, as well, but between its somewhat unimpressive stability, the so-so sound quality, and the absence of a U.S. wall power option in the package, it’s hard to recommend over any number of inexpensive powered pocket speakers we’ve tested. Virtually any alternative speaker will benefit from using the iPhone’s headphone port as a cleaner starting point for amplification, though without the one-way improvement in speakerphone functionality offered by NuFlow. If that feature or the pass-through charging feature is enough in your mind to justify the $40 asking price, it’s otherwise a fine option.