Review: Keyspan AV Dock for iPod
Pros: A do-it-all Universal Dock for the iPod that can charge, sync, and integrate your iPod with a home AV system, including a solid RF remote control that packs 13 face buttons and a rear on-off switch for power management. The most aggressively priced RF dock package we’ve seen to date. Available in white or black.
Cons: Video support is ideosyncratic, with no video cable in the box, and no video output from the dock’s minijack variable line-out port; you’ll need to supply your own S-Video cable or buy a composite cable, connecting the latter to the iPod’s top rather than the dock’s back. Color options aside, aesthetic design is plain and noticeably larger than Apple’s docks.
Since Apple debuted its separate Universal Dock and Apple Remote (iLounge ratings: B+/B) last year, and subsequently decided to package them together with a wall charger, AV cable and USB cable for $99 last year, many companies have released new iPod docks with remote controls. The majority of them have been like Apple’s, using well-established but decidedly limited Infrared technology as a bridge between their remotes and docks, and many have tried to follow Apple’s lead by offering super simple remote controls. For third-party developers, however, following Apple’s lead isn’t always a good idea: unless the price is dramatically lower, what’s the value in offering the same thing as Apple, months later and in a different package?
Thankfully, Keyspan’s AV Dock for iPod ($80) isn’t just a me-too duplicate of what Apple released last October - it actually diverges from Apple’s existing offerings in four important ways. First, its package - consisting of an iPod Universal Dock, three Dock Adapters (mini #3, and iPod 4G #4 and #6), a remote control, wall power adapter, USB cable, and audio cable - sells for $20 less than Apple’s similar bundle. With these pack-ins, you can charge, synchronize, and/or listen to your iPod’s music through a stereo without making any additional purchases. Second, Keyspan sells the AV Dock in black or white versions, to match your iPod and/or home AV system. Third, the company uses superior radio frequency (RF) broadcasting technology to wirelessly link its dock and remote control, so you can control your iPod at greater distances than with Apple’s Docks, and through walls. Fourth, its remote control is more fully-functioned than Apple’s, with dedicated buttons for all the standards - volume, track backward, forward, and play/pause - plus additional buttons for toggling between repeat, shuffle, playlists, albums, and audiobook chapters. For this reason, the AV Dock’s remote is roughly the equal of TEN Technology’s old naviPro EX remote control in functionality, only with a much smaller body and superior technology inside. It even has an on/off switch on the back to conserve battery power, something that we haven’t seen on any other iPod remote control to date.
Color options aside, Keyspan’s dock isn’t the sexiest we’ve seen, and it has some technical ideosyncracies: though the Universal Dock in its center is the same as the one in Apple’s current Dock, and still works with the Dock Adapters found in iPod 5G and nano boxes, its large glossy plastic base is about twice the size of Apple’s, and physically more interesting only to the limited extent that there’s a small green light on its front to let you know that button presses are being received. Its back is very simple: there’s a minijack-style variable audio-out port that looks like Apple’s, an S-Video output port like Apple’s, and a mini-USB port. This is actually generally good news: Keyspan’s decision to include a USB port and USB cable in this package sets AV Dock apart from Kensington’s $100 Entertainment Dock 500 (iLounge rating: B+), which also includes a RF remote control, but can only be used with AV systems, and won’t synchronize with your computer. On the flip side, Keyspan doesn’t include any video cable with the dock, so if you want to use the dock to output iPod video or photo content to a TV, you’ll need to buy a cable of your own. (Radio Shack sells S-Video cables for around $5, and separate iPod composite video-ready AV cables sell for $15 and up, in either case less than you’d spend at most stores for a comparably or less-equipped Apple or Kensington dock.) The video cable omission appears to be for an odd reason: unlike’s Apple’s Universal Dock, the AV Dock’s variable audio output port doesn’t carry a video signal, so if you don’t use the S-Video output port, you’ll have to connect an AV cable to the iPod’s headphone port. Other than aesthetics, Keyspan’s unusual handling of video is probably the single biggest knock on AV Dock’s design.
These omissions are greatly overshadowed by the company’s remote control, which completely blows away the Apple Remote under both challenging and typical test conditions. Under certain types of lighting, Infrared remotes stop performing near their peaks, but RF remotes such as Keyspan’s are unaffected - under test fluorescent lighting next to the Universal Dock, the AV Dock’s remote worked flawlessly at a 30-foot distance, while Apple’s Remote started to exhibit problems at around 10 feet. Similarly, Keyspan’s remote worked from a room away with a wall separating it from the dock, something Apple’s Remote and other IR remotes can’t do. Finally, when taken outdoors, the AV Dock’s remote worked reliably with the dock at a 50-foot distance without physical interference, or a little over 40 feet with a wall as a barrier. This distance measurement is fine, not incredible, by RF remote standards - ABT’s iJet remotes are generally capable of doubling that performance - but sufficient for most typical usage scenarios.
Overall, though we were on the edge of B+ and A- ratings for the AV Dock for iPod, we ultimately felt that it was a highly recommendable alternative for users interested in integrating their iPods into home stereo or AV systems: with an aggressive price, IR-beating remote control performance, and more buttons than other RF remotes we’ve tested for the iPod, this package should be one of your top options unless aesthetics or video output are critical to your needs. As of the date of this review, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better overall package than this one if you want a dock that features an RF remote control and can charge, computer sync, and/or integrate into a stereo system as you prefer - potentially superior options are weeks or months away, and there are no guarantees that they’ll work as well as this does. That said, if video’s important to you, expect to buy your own cable for that purpose, and if you need something that’s smaller or looks better, Apple’s Universal Dock may fit your bill. Just expect it to be more expensive and lack for a couple of the AV Dock’s best features.