Pros: A simple, elegant iPod car charger with an internal retracting cable mechanism that extends out to a length of roughly three feet from the bulb. Uses thin, highly compatible Dock Connector plug. Best for use with older (3G/4G/mini) iPods.
Cons: Large charging bulb may be a physical challenge in your car. Lacks audio output port or other functionality, which can be extremely limiting for users of 5G iPods and nanos. Not compatible with 5G/nano accessories from some other companies.
iPod car chargers have become commodity accessories at this point: it’s easy to come up with a device that connects to your cigarette lighter and iPod, transferring power until your iPod’s battery is topped off. In a modest twist on the conventional charger, case maker Marware has released its Car Charger for iPod with Dock Connector ($25), which adds one differentiator to the old formula – an integrated retractable cable.
Unlike many white-bodied competitors, the Car Charger and its cable are black except for two parts: a white Marware logo on the unit’s top, and a power light above the logo. This dark coloration is in keeping with recent trends in iPod accessory development, especially for the car, where black add-ons (and, for that matter, iPods) are becoming more popular.
To house the retractable cable, Car Charger is larger than all of the other simple chargers we’ve seen – the bulb is 4.5” long, versus 3” for XtremeMac’s identically named, recently released product. Marware’s cable is around three feet long at maximum extension, but expands in roughly 2” increments from the bulb, each step locked into place. Pressing a small button on the unit’s top retracts the cable, leaving only an iPod-compatible Dock Connector plug hanging off. The Dock Connector plug is Apple-sized – small and thin, compatible with virtually every case we’ve tested, other than ones specifically marked as incompatible. Not surprisingly, the charger worked properly to recharge our test iPods.
Our two issues with the Car Charger are these: first, the large size makes the bulb protrude a lot more from a cigarette lighter port than the other chargers we’ve tested, which as we’ve previously indicated may interfere with the gear shifters and other things found in some cars. Our photo above illustrates the shifting challenge we faced when it was installed; thankfully, shifting wasn’t prevented, but the shifter did make physical contact with the Charger every time we went to park. It’s worth a brief note that companies such as Pacific Rim Technologies have created functionally identical retractable charging solutions by using separate retractable cables that aren’t housed inside their chargers, which doesn’t look as neat as Marware’s solution, but may prove more compatible for your car.
Second, it’s unfortunate luck/timing that Marware decided to release a vanilla charger at a time when currently shipping iPods have lost their top accessory ports. We’ve previously noted that multifunction chargers – ones with integrated FM transmitters, audio ports, and/or mounting hardware – are becoming increasingly important now that there’s no other place than the iPod’s bottom to connect accessories. At a minimum, the new generation of chargers should really have an attenuated audio port – the Car Charger does not – because connecting them to the iPod otherwise deprives you of access to the iPod’s line-out functionality. On a positive note, the Car Charger will work with certain new accessories, including XtremeMac’s AirPlay2, that have pass-through Dock Connector ports, but it won’t work with accessories such as Griffin’s new iTrip, which uses a pass-through USB port instead.
Though we really liked the simplicity of the new Car Charger’s retracting mechanism, its physical interaction with the shifter in one of our test cars and its charging-only utility relegate it to our limited recommendation category, best for users of specific (older) iPods and certain cars. If it works in your car, you don’t mind the loss of the iPod’s bottom port, and you really need the retracting feature, great. But if we were price-conscious and looking for greater compatibility, we’d sooner opt for a cheaper, functionally similar solution such as XtremeMac’s Car Charger (iLounge rating: B). And given the way that iPods are evolving, we’d more strongly recommend a slightly more expensive multi-purpose charger and audio-out device such as Belkin’s Auto Kit (iLounge rating: B+), SiK’s imp (iLounge rating: B+), or TEN’s flexibleDock (iLounge rating: A).
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod 3G, 4G/color/photo, 5G, mini, nano