Review: XtremeMac InCharge Sync for iPod, iPhone + iPad
There's no single "correct" way to make an Apple device dock, but there are plenty of clearly wrong ways, and some that are far smarter than others. While it's not without its own limitations, XtremeMac's InCharge Sync ($30) is in the latter camp: it's the rare dock to include not only support for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad -- a serious challenge -- but also for encased and unencased devices alike. XtremeMac's new design has an Apple-like elegance that radically improves upon earlier efforts at accommodating huge iPads as easily as small iPods, and is saddled with only one issue relative to Apple's own device docks: it's solely for synchronization and charging, without any audio-out capabilities.
InCharge Sync is a black plastic and rubber accessory consisting of three key elements: a rounded square base that’s similar in size to Apple’s iPad Docks, a button-assisted sliding rear support with gray front padding, and a detachable three-foot mini-USB to USB cable. As has been the case with XtremeMac’s other designs, InCharge Sync looks really sharp: the top elements are matte plastic, while the thin edges of the base are glossy, interrupted only by a small XtremeMac logo on the front and a mini-USB port on the back. The gray rubber bottom enables the weighted, substantial-feeling base not to slip around on a flat surface, and a small rubber insert is included if you need extra padding around the Dock Connector for your device. iPads benefit the most from it, but it’s not necessary; iPhones and iPods won’t need it at all.
What’s most impressive about InCharge Sync is a subtle but very nicely integrated extended Dock Connector plug on the base. Unlike rivals that have mounted their Dock Connectors flush with the plastic surface, used wide flexing mechanisms, or made other mistakes that preclude iPads from just popping right on with or without cases, XtremeMac’s approach enables the Dock Connector to flex only a little after the rear support has been properly set for your device. We were able to press the button once, slide the support to accommodate our favorite iPad 2 case, and then use InCharge Sync to dock encased iPhones and iPods without any problems. The Dock Connector’s just long enough to fit into the recessed bottoms of typical cases, and unlike some iPad docks we’ve seen, no fidgeting is required. It just works, and that’s great.
Once you’ve plugged in your device, InCharge Sync only does one thing out of the box: connect to your computer for simultaneous synchronization and charging. We had no problems with the tablets or pocket devices we connected, and if you have a spare wall adapter of your own, you can connect it to the included USB cable for charging-only functionality. iPad and iPhone users will likely find this to be a viable option, given that they get power adapters with their devices, but iPod users will have to spring for an adapter on their own. That said, XtremeMac’s $30 asking price is reasonable—far more reasonable than the $29 Apple charges for its cable-less, single-device Docks—though a bundle with a wall adapter would be welcomed, too.
InCharge Sync works well enough as a universal Apple device dock that we wish it had the one additional feature Apple’s official Docks almost always include: an audio-out port. While it’s obvious that the industry is currently transitioning from wired to wireless audio connections, there’s still a demand for docks that physically connect to traditional speakers and amplifiers. Without that capability, InCharge Sync can at best serve as a powered base for streaming to wireless audio systems, but nothing more. It’s also worth noting that while headphone port access is still available for iPads and iPhones, iPod touch and iPod nano users won’t have that option.
Overall, InCharge Sync is a seriously impressive universal device dock—one that’s worthy of an A- rating and our high recommendation. It took a while for developers to figure out a great way to accommodate iPads, iPhones, and iPods with a single docking solution, but XtremeMac’s design has pulled it off, and with the sort of case support we seriously appreciate. If you’re looking for a way to keep virtually any Apple tablet, phone, or media player upright on a desk near a computer or power outlet, start here; all that’s missing is line-out support. Here’s hoping that we see that in a sequel.