Review: TEN Technology FlexDock
Pros: A perfectly designed iPod mini in-car charger, cradle, and audio output device, with clean audio feed that leads into either a car’s line-in port or cassette deck.
Cons: Cassette tape adapter isn’t great, coloration doesn’t match iPod (though it may better match your car).
After a very quiet 2004, early iPod accessory developer TEN Technology has re-emerged with a bang - actually three of them, in the forms of the FlexDock mini car accessory, NaviPro EX remote controls, and long-delayed NaviPlay Bluetooth wireless broadcasting system. Today’s review of the FlexDock mini ($49.95) strongly suggests that TEN has become an iPod accessory design force to be reckoned with.
Frequent iLounge review readers may recall our discussion of Belkin’s TuneBase (iLounge rating: B-), a beautiful-looking but flawed iPod mini car accessory that combined charging, cradling, and iPod line output into a single elegant package. With a metal gooseneck support, the TuneBase did a great job of charging and holding the iPod mini in our choice of in-car locations, but its audio was plagued by a bit of noise that rendered the sound less impressive than Belkin’s older Auto Kit (iLounge rating: B+).
The FlexDock mini is an aesthetically different but technically proper implementation of the exact same concept. Black in color rather than white and gray, TEN’s product otherwise resembles the TuneBase on many levels - there’s a small iPod mini cradle, a long metal gooseneck, and a plug that goes into your car’s power charger. Once plugged in, you run a cable from the front of the FlexDock mini to your car stereo’s line-in port or cassette adapter to hear the iPod’s music. Because the audio’s coming off the iPod mini’s Dock Connector line-out port, it’s as clean as it can be. Charging is continuous while your car is turned on, and indicated by a bright green LED on the FlexDock mini’s power plug.
TEN also includes a few frills that Belkin doesn’t: locking pins to hold your iPod mini on the cradle (with depressable buttons to release the mini), a two-position audio boosting switch, and even a free cassette adapter that renders the FlexDock fully compatible with most car stereos right out of the box. The locking pins work perfectly, and the switch is better left in the low (distortion-free) position unless your car stereo really needs the extra volume boost, in which case you can expect elevated but moderately distorted bass and midrange as a consequence. When the volume’s not boosted, the FlexDock’s audio sounds truly great.
Except for one thing: TEN’s free cassette adapter is a disappointment. It emits a high-pitched buzz all the time that our reference Sony CPA-9C cassette adapter doesn’t, and the buzz is only overcome (or overwhelmed) when you flip the FlexDock’s switch into the higher-volume, higher-distortion position. While a nice idea - and included for “free” in the sense that the FlexDock sells for the same price as Belkin’s TuneBase, which came without an adapter - we popped the TEN cassette right out and put the Sony back in. If you’re really looking for clean audio through your cassette deck, you’ll probably have to do this, too.
Stability was also very good. We tested the FlexDock mini on a series of straight streets and sharp turns, and found its sturdiness to be more than acceptable under most circumstances. Unlike the TuneBase, which includes a detachable rubber washer and plastic rings to accommodate different types of cars, the FlexDock mini attempts a one-size-fits-all solution that seemed to work just as well as the TuneBase in our experiences. All of the suspended iPod car cradles we’ve tested are susceptible to at least a bit of give during really sharp turns, but the FlexDock and TuneBase are the best we’ve seen.
Overall, the FlexDock mini is an excellent product for iPod mini owners. Its dark coloration is likely to match the dark interiors of many cars, whereas the TuneBase provides the standard and distinctive iPod clash. On balance, we would personally pick the TuneBase’s look by a hair, but the FlexDock mini looks great, too. More importantly and less subjectively, it sounds and works great - we had no complaints about the sound of its audio when used with a proper cassette adapter. We only wish TEN would include a better one in the box.
For $49.95, TEN’s gooseneck design, charging features, and line output is a killer combination for an iPod in-car accessory, and one that we continue to want in a 4G iPod-compatible product. For now, the FlexDock mini alone basically justifies making our iPod mini our go-to iPod for in-car use.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.