Pros: Tiny alternative to Apple’s official Dock enables direct line-out audio from the iPod, includes great-looking audio cables, compatible with USB cables commonly included with printers, scanner, and other accessories.
Cons: Doesn’t include its own USB cable; a more expensive option than some FireWire-based alternatives.
A year and a half ago, Germany’s SendStation released PocketDock (iLounge rating: A-), an inexpensive way to use standard FireWire cables with Dock Connecting iPods. Subsequently, SendStation released two new versions of PocketDock, one with both FireWire and USB ports, and another with a FireWire port and an audio line-out port. The main advantage of each of the PocketDocks is portable convenience – they’re small enough to carry anywhere, and make your iPod compatible with a wider variety of everyday cables. But a PocketDock with a line-out port also gives audiophiles and tinkerers access to a higher-quality audio source than the iPod’s headphone output, which in some minds alone justifies the expense of the accessory.
In recent months, Apple has started to emphasize USB connectivity for iPods rather than its own FireWire standard, and SendStation has followed suit with the PocketDock Line Out USB ($29.95), an alternative to both its $29.95 FireWire & Audio Line Out accessory, and Apple’s own $39 iPod Docks. From a design standpoint, little has changed: it’s still a rounded white plastic nub that attaches to the bottom of any Dock Connecting iPod, and there are still two ports on the bottom: a 3.5mm audio line-out port, and plus a small D-shaped USB port rather than a standard FireWire port. The Line Out USB version of the PocketDock is a little thicker than the FireWire one, but not enough that anyone will care.
As with the earlier FireWire Line Out PocketDock, the USB version includes two “free” cables, which are most likely the reason for the unit’s $30 price. Their attractive, glossy white plastic casings and six-foot gray cords look great, both featuring a 3.5mm stereo plug at one end. One has stereo RCA plugs at the other end, while the second ends in another 3.5mm plug. Each cable includes a soft gray Velcro and metal band for cord management.
These cables enable the new USB PocketDock to live up to its name: the tiny adapter simultaneously enables the use of a USB cable for data transfers and a stereo line-quality audio output for connection to speakers, just as Apple’s official Dock does, but in a cheaper and much smaller package. You can’t stand your iPod up on a desk with PocketDock, but many people have found SendStation’s prior Line Out product to be a superior way to connect an iPod in a car.
The bigger difference between SendStation’s and Apple’s docks is that you’ll need to use a USB cable with the PocketDock to make your computer-to-iPod connection, which shouldn’t be a challenge if your home or office has a scanner, printer, or other device with a USB port on its back. If not, you’ll either need to buy one or just use Apple’s packed-in iPod-to-USB cable with your iPod, which for some users would eliminate the reason for carrying the PocketDock around in the first place.
Both ports worked pretty much as expected in our testing. Line out from the iPod’s bottom is clear and loud, modulated by the speakers and amplifier you connect. The PocketDock’s USB port also worked perfectly as an iPod-to-computer synchronizer when it was connected to a USB 2.0 port, but wouldn’t synchronize when connected to a USB 1.x port – a low USB power notice came up on the computer.
New to the PocketDock package is a small translucent black Dock Connector protector that SendStation calls a Keyring Guard. It’s fairly snug on the PocketDock, though it doesn’t lock in place in any way, and has a small hole that you can use to mount the PocketDock on a keychain if you’re so inclined. We wouldn’t, but it’s a nice guard to find in the box anyway, and certainly makes the PocketDock safer to carry around in a pocket or in a bag. That said, something that protects the PocketDock’s other ports wouldn’t have been a bad idea, either.
Back when we reviewed the FireWire PocketDock, we noted that there was a device (SiK’s din, also sold as part of the company’s imp system) that was available at a cheaper price without charging capabilities, or the same price with an included car charger. With the Line Out USB PocketDock, that’s not the case – there’s no other option we’re aware of that provides portable line-out audio and USB ports in a single portable device.
Given the recent increase in USB home and car chargers for the iPod, and the larger number of people whose home and office computers use USB, we think this new PocketDock will be even more useful than the FireWire version that preceded it. As such, it’s a highly recommendable offering – a little pricier than we’d prefer, given that someone can still take the FireWire route and get more value for the dollar with SiK’s products, but it’s well-made and still an accessory that many people will find useful.
Company and Price
Company: SendStation Systems
Model: PocketDock USB Line Out
Compatible: iPod 3G, 4G, iPod mini, iPod photo