Review: Incase Charger - Versions 1 and 2
Pros: Fully functional car and home power charger with clean design, revised version (marked “line out” on its audio output jack) delivers clean, better than average audio.
Cons: Unit is larger and pricier than most iPod car chargers. Original version has dramatic audio distortion defect, and is not recommended.
There are two versions of the Incase Charger: the original text of this review discusses Version 1, and below it is additional text on Version 2, which fixes the biggest problem that plagued the original product. Thanks to Incase for both remedying the issue and sending us an updated unit for testing.
Incase Charger Version 1
As charging devices go, Incase’s simply-named Charger ($49.95) is interesting at the very least. The gray rubber and white plastic power adapter’s claim to fame is that it works both as an iPod wall charger and a car charger, providing a nice soft white power light and silver “audio plug-in” port that function whether you’re inside or driving.
We can’t fault it for its charging features. Its inclusion of a thin and small Dock Connector plug and a plastic cable manager make it easy and neat to plug into any 3G, 4G, mini or photo iPod, regardless of the case they might be inside. Moreover, its recessed flip out two-prong wall plug boasts worldwide voltage compatibility, so assuming that you purchase adapters to fit various countries’ power outlets, you can carry this charger pretty much wherever you go. In our testing, it was easy to plug in, and properly charged iPods indoors and in cars.
There are a few wrinkles, though. The Charger’s “audio plug-in” port produced odd audio effects when we tested it in a car, brightening the treble, adding reverb effects to many songs and changing the staging (separation of instruments, vocals) rather than outputting music as it was performed. Playing U2’s Vertigo, for example, displaced Bono’s vocals to rear center stage, while occasional licks on a guitar became the loudest and most prominent sounds in the song. Faith No More’s rendition of the Commodores’ Easy similarly shifted Mike Patton’s gentle vocals into the background, elevated the instruments into strong prominence and added an echo to all elements of the song.
True, Incase doesn’t describe the “audio plug-in” as a “line out”, which conceivably would have signaled that music would be unaltered as it passes through the Charger. But we’ve never heard an iPod accessory process music quite as dramatically as the Charger’s - without letting you turn it off. It goes without saying that music didn’t sound as good to us as the reference auto chargers we’ve previously tested and liked, but we can think of an audience that might actually like it: Karaoke fans. Distorted though the music may be, it’s easier to sing along to because the vocals fade so dramatically. You’ll notice that we have to stretch to find something nice to say about the audio.
The Charger is also on the large side relative to competing products. While its five foot length of white cable is just right, its gray rubber body is significantly bigger than the small nub chargers offered by Belkin (Auto Kit) and Monster (iCarCharger), and more closely resembles the oversized, inexpensive car chargers that we’ve seen third-parties release for cellular phones. It’s not unbearably huge for a traveler considering that it replaces the need to carry Apple’s power cube; it’s just big.
Some may also question its price. At $49.95, it’s pricey relative to pure car chargers and even some three-in-one car/wall/computer chargers we’ve tested, but its feature set - on paper at least - would partially justify the number. Because of its “audio plug-in” port, you can use it as a Dock replacement indoors (minus, of course, the Dock’s mounting ability), and that’s not a bad thing. The only issue is whether you would want to use something that produces the sort of odd audio that comes off the Charger - for us, the answer was no.
Our recommendation of the Charger is very limited - it’s solely for people who have a legitimate travel use for its hybrid wall and car charging features, and either don’t mind or don’t need the audio port’s output. We’ve seen better (and cheaper) car chargers, and every iPod comes with a free wall charger; Incase’s offering is primarily useful as a moderately simpler charging option to pack, not more. Even then, we’d sooner pop Belkin’s Auto Kit and Apple’s packed-in adapter in a bag; you don’t need to carry an Apple Dock to get better audio quality out of your iPod.
February 14, 2005 Update: Incase Charger Version 2
Following publication of iLounge’s original review of the Charger, Incase contacted us to make us aware that the original Version 1 units - those with a port labeled “audio plug-in” - indeed carried an audio defect and have now been replaced with non-defective units marked with a “line out” label on their bodies. We’ve tested the Version 2 hardware with a collection of songs and found its audio output to be dramatically improved from its predecessor, and overall more than satisfactory.
When compared directly against Belkin’s Auto Kit, however, clarity is virtually identical, but Belkin’s device can be volume-calibrated to offer a bit less midrange and bass distortion than the Charger, and therefore remains a bit preferable for in-car use in our book. Indoors, the Version 2 unit we received does not appear to have the additional noise issues identified by iLounge readers subsequent to our original review.
Nothing was wrong with the charging capabilities of the Charger in its original incarnation, and nothing’s wrong with Version 2’s power, either. It successfully recharged our test iPods in both the car and home without any issue. Therefore, given the company’s audio fixes and the product’s ability to perform as stated as a charging device indoors and outdoors, the new version of the Charger rates a solid B, considerably better than its predecessor, and is recommendable to our readers. We recommend that our readers avoid the older, “audio plug-in” marked version of the Charger, which under iLounge’s defective accessories policy is not recommendable and rates a D- as defective.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.