Review: Incase Combo Charger for iPod & iPhone
A round of applause for Incase's engineering team this time out: the company has finally improved considerably on its classic Incase Charger, which we first reviewed back in 2004: the original model and its subsequent follow-up sold for $50 and semi-successfully combined a wall charger and car charger into a single, slightly awkward enclosure. Now there's the Combo Charger for iPod & iPhone ($40), which drops the price, improves the enclosure, and adds a new feature -- dual USB charging -- while dropping one feature that may be of importance to some users.
Way back when, iPod accessories were “supposed” to be white and gray, so Incase’s prior design stuck with that color scheme but emphasized gray rather than white—a difference from predominantly white competitors. Things have changed somewhat over the years, and since soft touch rubber is all the rage, Incase offers the Combo Charger in a mostly soft touch-coated black version with dark gray Incase branding, using a subtle white leaf power indicator on the glossy black surface with the USB ports. A glossy white version with a similarly bright white leaf is also available for the same price, now using light gray only for the Incase branding.
Most notable cosmetically is the Combo Charger’s substantial improvement in shape: the old models had an odd body that extended far past a car’s cigarette lighter or wall power port, but the new version sticks out only two or two and a half inches from a car outlet, with a total length of roughly four and a quarter inches. The prior awkward shape has given way to a simple rounded square with roughly 1.5” width, which while larger than current nearly flush car chargers is impressively small for a combination wall and car solution—contrast this with Contour Design’s rE-Charge Universal for a sense of what the same dollars can buy with a less sexy body. Like Contour, Incase includes a single USB-to-Dock Connector cable with the Combo Charger; you can supply the second one yourself if you need it.
The Combo Charger also has something impressive under the hood: the ability to pump out 1 Amp worth of power to both of its USB ports, which makes for faster iPhone charging; most of the chargers out there these days use less powerful 0.5 Amp ports, which run cooler and take longer to replenish a connected device’s battery. As a result of Incase’s use of the more powerful ports, the Combo Charger runs a little warm to the touch when two devices are plugged in and simultaneously charging, but having tested chargers that became even hotter when a single 1 Amp charge was taking place, we’d call this one acceptable.
There are a couple of less than thrilling elements to the redesigned Combo Charger. First, it loses the line-out audio port that was found on the prior Chargers, enabling iPod users to get higher-quality audio out of the bottoms of their charging devices than the headphone port allows. The absence of this feature makes sense given that two devices can be connected at once, but may well limit the Combo Charger’s appeal to some in-car users, including those who are looking to just plug in one connector for their power and sound. Another, smaller issue is a high-pitched whine that can sometimes be heard from the Charger when it’s in use. If your ears are sensitive and you’re using the Charger indoors, you’ll hear it; in a noisy car, you probably won’t. This noise is the only reason that Incase’s latest version didn’t merit our high recommendation.
Overall, the Combo Charger is worthy of our strong general recommendation: it uses a superior form factor and more powerful charging capabilities to improve upon the single-device version it replaces, and comes at a lower price, besides. Yet it drops one feature that some users might expect, and puts out a little noise that may bug those with good high-frequency hearing. Given all that it accomplishes in its form factor for $40, it’s easy to recommend to everyone save for sonically critical users.