So there’s good and bad news to report on Jensen’s new JiPS-250i Rocker ($100), the second iPad-ready speaker we’ve been testing in the wake of last month’s release of the exciting, award-winning iHome iA100. The good news: Rocker is, at least for the time being, a fine start to what will most likely be a flood of starter-level speaker and charging systems for the iPad — a better than decent value for its relatively low asking price, and much earlier out of the gate than rival products. Unfortunately, it has a few rough edges that preclude it from being the ideal $100 audio accessory for Apple’s tablet, giving Jensen and other developers some easy opportunities for improvement.
Jensen’s Rocker design is one that will likely become widespread: it includes two total speaker drivers in a plastic base, which has just enough weight to support some but not all of the angles that its large silver and black iPad cradle can tilt on. The cradle rotates, moving what starts out as an iPad-supporting bottom—with volume and power buttons, a power light, and an Infrared sensor for its included remote control—90 degrees to the right side.
Rocker has video-out, line-in, and power ports on the base’s back, requiring the use of an included wall adapter for power; there’s no battery compartment on the bottom.
Plugging an iPad in leads to the first of three related issues with Rocker: it downloads a free application from Jensen called Jensen Rocker, which is a nicely designed clock, voice message recorder, alarm, sleep timer, Internet radio tuner, and weather station all in one. While the concept behind this app is great—turn your speaker into an iPad clock radio—it’s currently only an iPhone application that upscales with the 2X button to the iPad’s screen, and the features are somewhat wonky; the Internet Radio feature didn’t work properly in our testing, for instance, and as is the case with all alarm apps, you need to be actually running the app in order for the alarms to function. Some patches are going to be needed to make this as good as it should be; it’s currently not even in the same league as iHome’s iHome+Sleep app.
The other two issues are different but similarly unfortunate. Plugging the iPad into Rocker automatically starts music playback even if the iPod application isn’t running, a behavior that some users may like, but others won’t.
A bigger problem for us, and any other iPad user with a case, is Rocker’s case-unfriendly cradle design, which requires the tablet to be inserted bare rather than inside any sort of protective skin or shell.
Sonically and functionally, Rocker is good enough for the price. While the speakers fire off to the sides, an acoustic decision that anticipates the fact that the iPad would likely be physically blocking front-firing speakers in a base of this size, they sound acceptable—midrange-focused with hints of bass and treble that won’t blow anyone away, but dramatically improve upon the comparatively low-volume, limited-frequency integrated speakers inside the iPad. We also liked the ability to tilt and rotate the docked iPad inside the cradle, which strikes us as the best possible model for iPad-docking audio systems, and offset only by Rocker’s instability on certain low iPad viewing angles.