In past years, we’ve really liked Griffin’s car and home charger accessories for iPods and iPhones: the company has consistently produced comparatively affordable and/or feature-rich alternatives to accessories developed by Apple, and we’ve repeatedly recognized them with awards for their benefits over the “official” solutions. But for this year’s release of the iPad, the story’s different. Griffin has debuted iPad-ready versions of its earlier wall charger PowerBlock ($30) and car charger PowerJolt ($25), both cosmetically near-identical to their iPod and iPhone predecessors, and neither offering a price advantage over competitors. That leaves a single, obvious question: why prefer the Griffin products over other alternatives?
The answer is a little easier for the PowerJolt car charger—it jumped $5 in price from its 2008 iPhone predecessor while preserving the old industrial designs for both its cable and cigarette lighter adapter, but there isn’t yet a less expensive option if you want high-speed iPad charging in your car. Kensington already offers a same-priced, similarly-named PowerBolt Micro Car Charger, which is roughly half the size of PowerJolt—small enough to sit nearly flush inside a car’s power outlet, while possessing the same single USB port, three-foot cable, and full iPad compatibility.
Both use USB cables with slim but long Dock Connector plugs that Apple has shrunken in its own versions, and both chargers are primarily made from black-colored plastic.
Griffin’s extra size enables PowerJolt to include a fancier ring-shaped power light, which is dim enough to be hard to spot in a sunlit car. But unless you consider its ability to stick out more from the car’s power outlet to be an advantage, it offers no other benefit over the Kensington design. Both are capable of switching between 0.5 Amp, 1 Amp, and 2.1 Amp power output modes to safely and quickly charge iPods, iPhones, and iPads alike, fully refilling their batteries in 3-4.5 hours, depending on the model. Neither car charger has an audio output feature, which means that you’ll need to pull audio from your iPad, iPhone, or iPod headphone port, or rely on its internal speaker if it has one.
The story with PowerBlock is a little more complicated. As with PowerJolt, the industrial design and basic PowerBlock package comes from a 2008 Griffin design, the PowerBlock for iPod and iPhone, which similarly sold for $30 and included a glossy plastic wall adapter with a three-foot matte USB-to-Dock Connector cable.
Griffin previously released PowerBlock in white or black versions; the iPad-ready one is presently sold only in black with gray accents, and has a small green power light to let you know that it’s receiving wall power. It’s also very similar cosmetically to Griffin’s subsequent and only slightly larger PowerBlock Dual, which includes two USB ports for simultaneous charging, but no cables and no fast iPad recharging, selling for $5 less.
Though the electronics in the iPad version of PowerBlock have been updated to match the new PowerJolt’s 0.5 Amp, 1 Amp, and 2.1 Amp variable output capabilities, thereby offering the same basic functionality that you’d get in Apple’s iPad 10W USB Power Adapter, Apple has two advantages over Griffin this year: size and versatility. Even though Apple reused a 2006 design for its 10W Adapter, the casing is considerably smaller than Griffin’s similarly reused 2008 PowerBlock enclosure, and thereby fits more easily into confined power outlets. More importantly, Apple includes a six-foot extension cable that neither Griffin nor other competitors such as Incase includes, giving the official iPad adapter a nine-foot maximum reach that the three-foot Griffin and Incase cables can match. Our tests of the PowerBlock with iPads and iPhones showed no performance differences between it and Apple’s charging capabilities, apart from the longer cable length of the official solution.
Our buying advice is therefore relatively straightforward.