Review: Silex Technology wiDock Wireless Dock for iPod
Pros: A dock that lets you keep your iPod permanently connected to a home AV system, updating and spooling its contents wirelessly using your 802.11b/g network. Compatible with the Apple Remote (sold separately), Macs, and PCs; includes audio cable, Universal Dock Adapters, and software.
Cons: Initial configuration may be confusing for novice to intermediate computer users. Wireless functionality is very limited, permitting only data transfers, and with strings attached - the requirement of pressing a Link button on the dock, and slower-than-cable speeds - that make the use of any free iPod cable smarter, especially given the $150 asking price.
A wireless iPod? Sign us up. How about a wireless dock? Well, maybe -what would it do? The list could conceivably include some interesting features - the ability to broadcast music to wireless speakers, or perhaps - with really sophisticated software - let you make iTunes purchases without a computer. Like many other companies, Silex Technology has grasped the potential of a wireless iPod dock, but its new $150 wiDock Wireless Dock for iPod does little to harness it: wiDock is designed solely to let you transfer files back and forth from an iPod to a computer without using a cable, assuming you have an 802.11b or 802.11g wireless network already in place.
Stated in the most positive way possible, with wiDock, you might never need to disconnect your iPod from your home AV system again. You can just dock it and, thanks to the unit’s integrated Infrared port and Universal iPod Dock, use it with a $29 Apple Remote (sold separately) and either iPod or iPod nano, update its contents periodically through the wireless link, then output them through wiDock’s rear minijack audio port and S-Video port. It requires Mac and PC software, plus an audio cable, both included in the box; you’ll have to provide the S-Video cable yourself.
If the idea doesn’t strike you as brilliant from the start, that’s probably because you - like most iPod users - don’t keep your iPod sitting in a dock most of the time. After all, Apple designed it as a portable media player, occasionally docked for recharging and synchronization, but mostly to be carried around and enjoyed. Since you can’t listen to the iPod while you’re synchronizing - except under one situation - why not just connect it to your computer with the included cable, then pop it into any regular dock when you want to listen with your stereo?
In an ideal world, the answer would be that wiDock makes the process more convenient. But in practice, it doesn’t. In order to get wiDock working at all, you’ll need an Ethernet cable and a router with both wired and wireless capabilities. Once you connect wiDock with a cable to the router, you’ll go through a somewhat confusing initial set-up process, which thanks to the included software had us trying two different routers and multiple solutions before discovering what was wrong: even though the software and one router appeared to quickly succeed in configuring wiDock, a process that the device should really be able to handle mostly on its own, it had never searched for or found the SSID of our wireless router, and was erroring out because we hadn’t entered it manually. If needing to cross-reference various sections of a manual to fix problems like that isn’t appealing to you, stop reading now. But with that problem solved - a day-long frustration - plus Windows Sharing turned on, and a mandatory restart of our Mac, we were ready to see the dock in action, and connected a set of speakers.
As it turns out, wiDock’s execution isn’t really all that smart, either. If you want to use the dock’s synchronization functionality to beam iTunes music over to the docked iPod, you’ll first need to go over to the dock and press a white button on its top to place the system in Link Mode. At that point, the dock will be ready to talk over the network to your computer, and launch iTunes just as if you’d connected the iPod with a cable. The real question is this: if you have to walk over to the dock every time you want to make a wireless connection to your computer, why not just bring your iPod back instead of firing up a slower wireless connection?
We have only one answer to that question. Putting aside the generally not-so-important ability to update your iPod’s music library from afar, which it handles at roughly half normal speed, you do gain the potentially useful ability to access iPod-stored content through iTunes. In other words, hook wiDock up and place your iPod several rooms away, and you can treat it like a wireless portable hard drive, which is pretty cool - in concept. The only problems are that the connection isn’t fast enough for cable-smooth video playback, and occasionally drops frames, especially if you’re skipping around a lot in the video. For audio, it’s generally problem free, assuming that you’re willing to walk those several rooms away to press the Link button every time you want iPod access.
In our view, most users will find that it makes a lot more sense just to pick up their iPods and connect them with their free, fast cables, particularly given the $150 price tag Silex has placed on wiDock. Our C rating is not meant to suggest that wireless iPod docking technology isn’t ready for prime time, or that there won’t be people who find even meager applications like these to be interesting; it’s largely due to the less than fully intuitive set-up process and troubleshooting documentation, which will confound less than tech-savvy users, because it does so little to justify its wireless technology for the price. We expect that Silex - say nothing of Apple and other vendors - will come up with more useful and aggressively priced wireless solutions in the near future.