Pros: The least expensive iPod shuffle-specific four-port USB hub yet released. Like Apple’s iPod shuffle Dock, works with the shuffle alone without incident.
Cons: No power adapter to let you use iPod shuffle when other power-draining devices are connected. Rough seams and off-kilter hidden blue light inside. Short cord.
Though Apple’s iPod shuffle Dock (iLounge rating: B) benefits from both early manufacturing and distribution advantages, it took only months for other companies to release similar or better offerings at lower prices – how hard is it to make a USB cable with a plastic mount that keeps the iPod shuffle vertical? We’ve already reviewed the first wave of new shuffle docks; now a second wave is here, offering similar visual, functional, or price alternatives.
Of the newest three offerings, the Charger and Hotsync Docking for iPod shuffle ($22.99) by JP’s/Pods Plus is the most ambitious. With a footprint smaller than Apple’s own Dock, the Charger actually offers four total USB ports – three on the back, one on the top – just like Belkin’s Hi-Speed 4-Port USB Hub (iLounge rating: B+). But JP’s Charger is considerably smaller and made from all white glossy plastic rather than trying to match the Mac mini, though it narrowly misses a color match with the iPod shuffle and has rough seams on its sides. JP’s also includes a short, detachable white USB cable, which connects to the Charger’s right surface – this cable is more than a foot shorter than Apple’s, and considerably shy of the one included with Pacific Rim’s Shuffle Cradle (iLounge rating: A-).
An interesting and unexpected design touch is the presence of a hidden blue light inside the Charger’s casing – it only lights up when the unit’s plugged in to power. It’s a great idea, poorly executed: the light is off-center on the unit’s top and partially shines through the front surface’s plastic, further revealing a seam between its top and bottom halves. We give JP’s credit for trying, but the light actually winds up cheapening the Charger’s look rather than improving it. Pacific Rim’s Shuffle Cradle pulls off the same feature without the weak execution.
Another little hidden feature: there are four small, low-grip magnets in the Charger’s bottom corners, covered by soft white felt pads. If you’re using a metal desk, the Charger will stay in place, but that’s sort of unlikely.
The Charger doesn’t get the world’s best fit with the iPod shuffle: a little wiggling is necessary to make the parts match up, and then the fit isn’t as good as in other offerings. But it’s adequate. And the unit’s three horizontally-mounted rear USB ports make it quite easy to connect several other USB devices at the same timee, provided that none of them are iPod shuffles.
Most conspicuously absent from the package is a wall power charger – something that was packed-in with Belkin’s Hub, and required if you actually plan to use the iPod shuffle and multiple other USB devices at the same time. As was the case when Belkin’s Hub is unpowered, a computer has trouble recognizing the shuffle’s presence on the Charger when other devices are plugged in and drawing power. To remedy this, there’s actually a tiny port on the JP’s Charger for a separate wall power charger right next to the right USB-out port, but the only mention of the necessary specifications is a sticker on the unit’s bottom – “DC 5V/1.2A or above,” nothing more. Given the hub’s price, we consider this a somewhat killer omission: to make good use of its added functionality, you’ll likely need to hunt down an adapter on your own, and given the odd size of its power port, that might not be so easy.
Rating the Charger is tough. On one hand, it’s more fully featured than Apple’s Dock, and a little cheaper. It works just fine when connected to the iPod shuffle and nothing else. But it’s also missing the power adapter that people will likely want in order to maximize its USB 2.0 hub utility, uses a very short USB cable, and comes across looking a little cheap and unfinished. It’s therefore a step or so under our recommended level, but by no means a bad option for people who don’t mind its compromises over Apple’s and Belkin’s current shuffle docks.
Company and Price
Company: Pods Plus
Model: Charger and Hotsync Docking
Compatible: iPod shuffle