Review: Logic3 Pro-Dock Charge Dock with TV & Audio Ports
Some iPod and iPhone accessories are clearly better than Apple's official offerings, others are obviously worse, and still others are basically the same but in different packaging. Developed as an alternative to Apple's Universal Dock and overpriced Composite and Component AV Cables, Logic3's Pro-Dock ($75) is someplace between "slightly better" and "basically the same" on that spectrum, a bundle of a number of docking, audio, charging and synchronization parts that will save some users a little money while offering a little more functionality.
For those who aren’t yet familiar, Apple touted the dockability of its iPods starting back in 2003 with the addition of a bottom-mounted “Dock Connector” port, which when connected to Apple and subsequent third-party accessories allowed the iPods to recline, recharge, output audio, and synchronize with computers—assuming that you had the right, generally inexpensive cables. The first photo and video iPods worked with $19 AV cables, but when Apple realized that there was a lot of money to be made on video accessories, it locked down later iPods and iPhones, selling new authentication chip-laden $49 Universal Docks and $49 cables to boost its profits. Third-party developers have been struggling ever since to find ways to offer more affordable alternatives, but Apple licensing and chip fees have made this difficult.
Though it hasn’t undercut Apple’s individual Dock or Cable prices, Logic3 has come up with a $75 solution that will give some users a little more flexibility. In its package, you get a black and silver plastic dock with the required authentication chip inside, an Infrared port on the front, and ports on the back for power, USB connectivity, audio out, composite video out, and component video out. Since these ports are all standard rather than proprietary, you can connect any mini-USB cable and any standard RCA-style audio and video cables to Pro-Dock rather than having to buy Apple’s; Logic3 supplies stereo audio and USB cables in the package, plus a power adapter with region-specific wall blades. That leaves you with the responsibility of picking up your own video cable for under $5 or using one that came for free with virtually any piece of TV-ready video hardware you’ve purchased—most likely, this will wind up saving you $20 over buying Apple’s parts.
There are a couple of advantages to Logic3’s solution that might or might not be instantly apparent to potential purchasers. With Apple’s solution, you spend $50 for the Universal Dock and get an Infrared remote but nothing else; it’s $50 more to get the cables to connect an old-fashioned composite TV set, and then an additional $50 if you decide in the future that you want to connect a newer component-ready TV or monitor. Here, the incremental cost of changing TVs is going to be $5 or less, depending on whether you can scrounge up the RCA cables for free.
The other advantage is Logic3’s included remote control. Whereas the Apple Remote included with the Universal Dock was designed with only six buttons, Logic3’s version includes iPod menu navigation buttons, a dedicated mute button, and all of the other buttons found on Apple’s design. It’s physically larger, but works quite well from the standard 30-foot Infrared control distance. Should you want to use Pro-Dock without the remote, audio, or video cables, it can also work as a simple data synchronization and charging dock for a computer with just the included USB cable.
Other than its obviously larger-than-Universal Dock size—it’s noticeably taller, wider, and deeper to accommodate all of the required ports—Pro-Dock has only a couple of small issues that users should know about. While the video and audio quality are totally fine, you need to manually flip a switch on the dock’s back to toggle between “TV” (composite) and “RGB” (component) video modes, which the average person will need to do a total of one time unless he plans to repeatedly move the dock back and forth between older and newer TVs. Second, as with many of the authentication chip-bearing accessories out there—including Apple’s Universal Docks—Pro-Dock occasionally brings up the iPhone’s infamous nag screen, and the iPhone will refuse to spit out video until it’s re-seated; iPods tend to behave a bit better. Most of the time, it works without complaint, seemingly because the dock draws a little iPod and iPhone power for both the chip and a blue Logic3 logo that’s on the unit’s front. It even continues to pass through both audio and video even in the absence of a power source, and includes the same variable audio out functionality as the Universal Dock.
While none of the iPod and iPhone video docking accessories we’ve tested since Apple’s lockdown is a great value relative to the 2005 and earlier accessories we reviewed, Pro-Dock offers users an option with superior versatility and overall value than Apple’s solution. To the extent that this is achieved in a package that’s larger, less stylish, and saddled with a higher initial entry price than just buying one of Apple’s accessories and not the other, it may not appeal to all users, but budget-conscious users seeking a video-ready dock with a remote, two output solutions, power, and USB connectivity will find it to be a good alternative. It would have been even better if the required video cables were included in the package along with everything else.