If you want a way to connect your second-generation iPod shuffle to a computer’s USB port, you now have four options. Incipio’s IncipioBud (iLounge rating: B) and Carrot Idea’s USB Flexible Dock (iLounge rating: B-) are inexpensive, unauthorized alternatives sold for $6-10. Apple’s official iPod shuffle Dock comes with the shuffle or can be purchased separately for $29, and now Marware’s USB Travel Dock for iPod shuffle ($20) has arrived.
So why would anyone want to pay Apple’s price for an accessory that could be had for as little as $6? There are two reasons: safety and aesthetics. Rather than rushing to release the cheapest, simplest dock possible, Marware designed the USB Travel Dock to follow Apple’s second-generation iPod shuffle docking guidelines, using a thick plastic base that prevents non-shuffle devices from being connected to the headphone plug and electronically damaged as a consequence. As we’ve noted in the IncipioBud and USB Flexible Dock reviews, these products work just fine to charge and synchronize the new shuffle, but if they’re plugged into the headphone ports of any other device, they can seriously damage that device – a risk that iPod owners with younger kids might want to avoid.
Since Marware followed Apple’s design template pretty closely, it hasn’t been able to achieve quite the same size economies of its unauthorized competitors: it’s actually taller than Apple’s Dock, and a little wider, besides, which makes it the biggest chunk of plastic in this category. But other than the Marware logo on the bottom, it’s basically indistinguishable from a minimalist, Apple-designed part, and certainly nicer looking than the plain jane IncipioBud and USB Flexible Dock. Its lack of a USB cable also means that it packs down small – only a little bigger in overall volume than the USB Flexible Dock, and less space-consuming than Apple’s version.
Marware includes both a headphone plug cover and a USB plug cover to keep these parts safe during travel. Like Apple’s Dock, however, the fact that the headphone plug and base are perpendicular isn’t really ideal for travel: though the headphone plug is pretty strong, you’ll need to be especially careful that it isn’t subjected to too much strain in your bag, and accidentally snapped off. Ideally, the plug could fold down for travel and pivot upwards only when needed.
All in all, we think that the USB Travel Dock for iPod shuffle is roughly on par with the IncipioBud – safer for use around kids, but also substantially larger, and more than three times as expensive. Whatever benefits it packs in looks and design are offset by the fact that you can buy two extra IncipioBuds as spares and still come out ahead on price, a significant factor in our ultimate rating. That said, it’s a nice alternative to Apple’s official Dock, and priced $10 less, so if you’re looking for an equally shuffle-safe replacement or alternative, it’s worthy of your consideration.
[Editor’s Note: Our review originally listed the price of Apple’s optional dock as $19 rather than $29, and has been corrected.]
Company and Price
Model: USB Travel Dock
Compatible: iPod shuffle (aluminum)