Review: Pacific Rim Technologies iCradle
Pros: Replaces certain Apple 3G and mini Docks at a lower price, providing full data and line-out access to supported iPods, and includes a USB 2.0 cable.
Cons: Released a bit late for all but legacy iPod users, not designed to be used with 3G 30GB/40GB and 4G iPods, larger than Apple’s official Dock.
(Updated 9-24-04, 2:30PM PST): In the beginning, it was easy to connect an iPod to a computer: both the iPod and compatible Macintoshes included FireWire ports, so all you needed was a FireWire to FireWire cable. When Apple changed the iPod (and iPod mini) to include Dock Connector ports and use optional Dock cradles, everything changed. Every iPod now has its own Dock ($39) and proprietary Dock Connector-to-FireWire or –USB 2.0 cables (up to $19), and if you change iPods, you’ll likely need to change Docks, too.
Pacific Rim Technologies’ new iCradle might just have the solution you need. It’s a single replacement for certain official Apple Docks, and can be used with multiple types of iPods - a great concept. And unlike the Apple Dock, it uses standard FireWire and USB ports on its back instead of a Dock Connector port. Pacific Rim even tosses in a free USB 2.0 cable with every iCradle.
As a result, if you own an iPod mini or the right full-sized iPod and don’t have a Dock, the iCradle may give you a very easy and affordable way to cradle and use your iPod wherever you go. Slightly larger in size than a standard Apple Dock, it preserves all of Apple’s functionality – even including the audio line-out jack – at a lower price of $28.99. (After publication of our original review, Pacific Rim dropped the price of the unit from $34.99, making it a more viable competing option.)
It’s also white in color, made from plastic similar enough to the Apple Dock, and easy on the eyes. Two rubber feet on the bottom keep the iCradle steady on a flat surface. The top rear features a large Pacific Rim logo, and the top front includes a small glass jewel that illuminates only when connected to a FireWire port.
A somewhat more serious issue is that the iCradle is currently compatible only with certain iPods - the 10/15/20GB versions of 3G and 4G iPods, and iPod minis. The iCradle wasn’t designed for use with 30 or 40GB iPods of any vintage, so it’s not a complete Dock replacement, and though higher-capacity iPods always come with their own Docks, the iCradle can’t serve as a travel or office backup for such larger iPods.
That means that the only people who are likely to have a use for the iCradle are iPod mini owners and those with 10GB 3G iPods, those 15GB iPods that didn’t include a cradle, and current model 4G 20GB iPods. That may not be a big problem, though, as the iPod minis and lower-end iPods have been among Apple’s biggest sellers because of their $299 and lower price tags, so even if it seems as if the iCradle is useful with only a handful of iPod models, these models likely represent a reasonable percentage of the iPod user base.
Limitations aside, the iCradle works as promised. It’s a full substitute for the iPod mini’s official Dock, and the official Dock for thinner iPods, too. If you have a need to use cheaper (or included) USB-to-USB cables or FireWire-to-FireWire cables instead of Apple’s proprietary iPod cables, the iCradle gives you that option, and it does provide a less expensive route than Apple’s to tap directly into the iPod’s line out audio with a cradle. Like Apple’s Dock, the iCradle permits full iPod-to-computer syncronization via a FireWire cable (not included) or the included USB cable, and works without a hitch.
For these reasons, we see the iCradle as a useful device for certain iPod users, particularly people who own both lower-capacity and mini iPods, or currently own lower-capacity iPods and are considering purchasing an iPod mini in the near future. It’s not right for everyone, especially given that it has come to market only after some of its supported products have been discontinued, and that it can’t serve as a spare Dock for higher-capacity iPods, but certain people may like what it has to offer. We really hope that Pacific Rim will consider making another revision of the iCradle – one perhaps with interchangeable iPod docking plates – so that all 4G and larger 3G iPod users can take advantage of a less expensive and fully functional Dock replacement.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.