Four months after Apple officially introduced the Lightning connector, the number of third-party accessories supporting the new standard is steadily increasing, but still incredibly limited, as the connectors’ limited supplies and high costs have proved prohibitive for many developers. Consequently, Apple’s Lightning to USB Cable ($19) was 2012’s only real option for connecting a fourth-generation iPad, iPad mini, iPhone 5, iPod nano 7G, or iPod touch 5G to a computer or charger via USB. But in recent weeks, early third-party alternatives have started to arrive, including Griffin’s Lightning Connector Cables ($17-$25), and Scosche’s strikeLine Pro ($30). From an electronic standpoint, these cables all work identically for charging and syncing, so the only reasons to prefer a certain model would be size, cosmetics, case compatibility, or pricing. However, Apple’s licensing fees for sync-capable Lightning cables are so high that developers can’t charge much less than the “official” price for their own options — a fact that the developers bemoan, but are apparently powerless to change.
Simple in concept and available in white or black versions, Scosche’s strikeLine Pro is a retractable Lightning to USB cable, serving as a pricier but more compact alternative to Apple’s version. You still get a Lightning plug on one end and a USB plug on the other, but the center has a retracting mechanism to wind the flat cable up for easy storage. The housing around both plugs is noticeably thicker than those on Apple’s cables. This is a particular issue with the Lightning end, as it’ll prevent the cable from being able to be used with some cases. However, both the housing and cable feel sturdier than one might guess, given the huge number of cheap Dock Connector versions of this retractable cable concept that have been sold over the years.
Retracted, the unit measures about 4.5”, while fully extended, it’s about 42” long; a little over two inches of that comes from the plastic housing in the center. To lengthen strikeLine Pro, you simply pull at both ends—instructions printed on a sticker on the back make it clear to not pull from only on side—until the cable reaches the desired length. Once you let go, it’ll retract a little bit until clicking into place. You also wind it up by pulling, but instead of letting go, you must prevent the cable from catching. We found that the last few inches don’t always automatically get sucked up, but instead have to be gently pushed back into place.
Most of the accessories we review are easy to rate as “great,” “good,” “okay,” or “bad,” but due to Apple’s Lightning pricing policies, these cables aren’t quite so simple to summarize. There’s nothing worth nearly $20 in any of these accessories, and people who aren’t Apple users will reasonably scoff at paying an $17 premium for a glorified Micro-USB cable. Unfortunately, extra Lightning cables will be mandatory for most Apple users going forward, which means that customers will be forced to eat the costs while understanding that everyone’s being gouged by Apple, developers and users alike. While the best of these cables—Apple’s own, and two of Griffin’s—are just barely worthy of our general recommendation, there’s less reason to consider paying a third-party developer the same or more money for less cabling than Apple’s; strikeLine Pro offers only a little extra convenience at a very high price premium. It’s deeply regrettable that Apple has forced the prices of Lightning connectors to be so unnecessarily high, and no surprise that developers and users are now considering other options because of it.
Company and Price
Model: strikeLine Pro
Compatible: All Lightning-equipped iPads, iPhones + iPods