Review: Pacific Rim Technologies nano iCradle
Pros: Comparatively low-priced combination of a black or white iPod nano charging/audio dock and Infrared remote control with a matching USB cable; the first black iPod nano dock we’ve seen.
Cons: Dock has a few cheaper-than-competitor touches, such as a lightweight feel, a non-reclining iPod mount, and an audio output that uses nano’s headphone port rather than its Dock Connector. Remote works only from very short (six-foot) distance under challenging light conditions, which is less than half the performance of Apple’s Remote and other top competing options.
With Kensington’s release of Stereo Dock and Apple’s release of Universal Dock and Apple Remote, the world of iPod docks has been changed for good. Old school docks - those that can charge, synchronize, and output audio from an iPod, but lack remote control compatibility - are now destined to sell for under $30, like Apple’s iPod nano Dock. The next wave of docks will either take commands from an optional remote control, or come bundled with one.
Pacific Rim Technologies’ nano iCradle ($50) is an example of the new dock order: the package includes an iPod nano-specific dock shaped like a half-circle, an Infrared remote control, and a USB cable for charging or synchronization. For the first time in any single iPod docking product, you can choose your own color (white or black) and the remote control will generally match; the white dock’s remote is white with gold accents, while the black one has white accents.
While they’re passably designed, neither the dock nor remote are things of beauty on look and feel. Each remote’s front text, which reads “iPod Cradle Remote,” is off-center, for instance, and the white dock has a blue logo that the black dock does not. Some may also not like that the dock is lightweight and holds the nano straight upwards, monolithically, unlike the majority of iPod docks, which are built heavy, and with a 15-degree recline that makes the iPod’s screen easier to read. We’d call these small but legitimate issues, not rendering nano iCradle bad, but not making it all that great, either.
Unlike Kensington’s Stereo Dock, but like Apple’s Universal Dock, nano iCradle lacks both a power supply and audio-out cables; you supply them yourself if you want to use them. Moreover, unlike all of the docks we’ve tested to date, nano iCradle doesn’t pull audio from the iPod nano’s Dock Connector port. Instead, it relies on nano’s headphone port for audio output, which renders the device less than ideal for connection to high-end stereos. You’ll need to play with the iPod’s volume level, setting it to between 60-70% of its maximum, to reach a level comparable to the iPod’s line-out; go higher and you’ll get distortion.
Why do this? Volume control from a distance is one of the key features of today’s remote and dock solutions, and there are two ways to achieve it: take the iPod’s cleanest audio from its Dock Connector port and then reduce the volume level with some extra electronics, or use slightly less impressive audio from the headphone port. The former approach offers superior quality, but also requires circuitry that’s not necessary if you just connect to the nano’s headphone port. Apple and Kensington chose the superior quality solution, Pacific Rim the cheaper one.
Pac Rim’s remote also includes track forward and backward controls, and a play/pause button. On the bright side, like the volume control buttons, these controls are easy to use on nano iCradle’s face, arranged in an iPod shuffle-like circular pattern. Not so great is the remote’s range. As noted in our reviews of other iPod remotes, we test in a stressful environment with fluorescent lighting that puts Infrared sensor strength to the test. Apple’s official Remote gets around 15 feet of distance under this test; Pacific Rim’s failed at around the 6-foot mark. By iPod remote standards, this is bad; in line with the worst remotes we’ve tested.
Assigning a rating to the nano iCradle is a challenge: on several levels, it feels like a “you get what you paid for” solution, offering commensurately less impressive functionality than what you’d get by spending $39 for Apple’s Universal Dock and $29 for its new Remote. The dock is less versatile, can’t be used with other iPods, and lacks a true variable line-out port, while the remote doesn’t look as good or work as well as our top solutions. But for a lower total price of $50, some people will be willing to accept less than Apple’s quality and performance. Speaking for ourselves, we’d sooner recommend the more future-proof Universal Dock or the value-laden Stereo Dock, but would understand why some value-conscious nano devotees may feel differently.