Review: Octa TabletTail: Monkey Kit
Nearly a year ago, we reviewed and liked Octa's original TabletTail, an unusual but neat handle and stand for iPads. For $60, Octa bundled a whale-shaped tail with a circular suction cup base and a carrying bag, a price point that was high but not crazy if you needed both of TabletTail's features; it later dropped to $50, and was renamed TabletTail: Whale Kit. Now Octa has a new version called TabletTail: Monkey Kit ($100), which replaces the whale tail and carrying bag with a flexible "monkey tail." In short, this new version is a somewhat tougher sell because of its higher price and more questionable functionality, but if you're looking for something different, you'll find it here.
Once again, the core piece of this TabletTail package is Octa’s Vacuum Dock, a large black and silver suction cup base made primarily from rubber and hard plastic. Measuring 3.5” in diameter, the cup is too large to attach to any iPod or iPhone, but fits easily on the wider backs of the iPad mini and full-sized iPad. To use it, you’re supposed to attach the suction cup to the back of your iPad, then repeatedly press a silver button to suck the remaining air out of the gap between the cup and your device, creating a pressurized seal. When you want to remove the iPad, you pull up on two tabs at the edges of the cup, some air gets in, and the grip is released. Both the suction cup and plastic frame feel reasonably solid, improving the likelihood that someone might feel comfortable relying on something so simple to prop up a reasonably fragile computer.
As a general statement, the Vacuum Dock worked as expected with our iPads and minis. When the suction cup is placed firmly on the back of an iPad, you can generally expect that no more than three pumps of the button will be necessary to remove the air gap and bond the tablet securely to the mount. In most cases, only one pump will be necessary, and in fact, if you push your iPad solidly onto the cup, you mightn’t need to use the button at all. Completely flat-backed, smooth iPad and mini cases can also work with the suction cup system, though you’ll want to really make sure that the grip is secure before trusting your iPad at any significant height.
The only noteworthy problem we had with the Vacuum Dock was limited to a single fourth-generation iPad, and then only when the suction cup was centered entirely around the Apple logo—a piece of the rear shell that is apparently capable of flexing just enough under some circumstances to let air in. On one iPad, we could not make the suction cup stick around the logo no matter how hard we tried, but found just enough space underneath it to secure the mount off-center, making the iPad a bit less stable. Another fourth-generation iPad worked without issues, though, as did multiple iPad minis and some cases.
While the Vacuum Dock’s accidental detachment or drop risk wasn’t negligible with the original TabletTail, the stakes weren’t quite as high as they are with this version. That’s because the Monkey Kit’s second piece, a flexible tube called the MonkeyTail, is specifically designed to elevate your iPad significantly above a flat surface. Octa depicts it being used as a desktop stand, a flexible bar that can be wedged between two surfaces, and as a wraparound option for “poles, bars, and railings.” Made from what appears to be a metal gooseneck so significantly wrapped in smooth rubber that you’d only guess its contents from its weight and timbre when tapped, the MonkeyTail looks and feels totally soft by comparison with typical goosenecks, which almost invariably show each of their numerous spiny joints.
The Vacuum Dock and MonkeyTail come together using a simple, metal-based locking system that feels completely secure, so you needn’t worry about these parts disassembling inadvertently. Moreover, the MonkeyTail does a pretty good job of holding its position once it’s settled into a given curvature, and the weight of even a full-sized iPad isn’t enough to disrupt it. Unfortunately, we did note that iPads of all sizes were subject to a bit of shaking during touchscreen interactions, an issue that typically isn’t found in desktop stands. This TabletTail kit is thus better suited to mostly passive iPad use, such as video viewing, than active application use such as typing or gaming. Though the MonkeyTail is around 35.5” long, it’s capable of stably holding a full-sized iPad five or six inches off the surface of a table, depending on the iPad’s orientation.
Our bigger issue with the Monkey Kit is the “everything else” question—apart from sitting on a desk, what does this accessory really offer that you can’t achieve with a simpler, less expensive stand? Octa’s web site suggests that it can wrap around poles, but when we went to actually twist the MonkeyTail, we found that it wouldn’t hold a spiral shape tighter than a roughly six-inch diameter; this isn’t enough to actually grip or even meaningfully double around the types of poles you’d likely find in most settings. Industrial piping or indoor columns might be an exception, but typical desks and poles will be smaller. So while there are certain “once in a while” situations it might work in—wrapping around a railing or fence where additional friction from slats might secure a given position, or forming a circle around one’s neck for second head telepresence, the MonkeyTail doesn’t really justify a premium price given what it brings to the table. Octa suggests that you can self-supply other items as a wedge to hold the MonkeyTail, but this underscores its limitations when used on its own.
Judged strictly on the basis of what it really offers for its $100 asking price, TabletTail: Monkey Kit is only okay. Yes, it’s an iPad stand, but you can get those for $15 and up, generally with the advantage of a less shaky mount and with the disadvantage of less positional versatility. And sure, it enables your iPad to reach several inches above a desk, but the same dollars can buy you a similarly capable mounting solution such as VersaStand—including a full iPad case. Our advice would be to consider this solely if you have an extremely specific use for the gooseneck mount, and are willing to self-supply the additional components necessary to secure it where you’re using it. Monkey Kit isn’t a bad mounting solution, but it’s hard to recommend given the wide variety of good and great options that already exist for iPads.