Essential accessories: Clutter busters and travel-bag basics
Oodles of options for iPhones, iPads, and iPods
When Apple’s new Lightning connector debuted with the most recent iPhones and iPods, it meant that iPhone and iPod accessories originally designed for the older 30-pin dock-connector port would no longer work with the latest devices. And, of course, scads of devices out there still use the 30-pin port. If you don’t want to go out and buy new speakers and chargers for your new iPhone, hold on: We’re starting to see adapters for newer devices to work with older gear. And many vendors are still making new accessories for older devices.
Lightning adapters: Apple sells a $29 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter and a $39 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter (0.2 m), a 20cm cable version of the adapter. Both let you use older audio and charging accessories with the latest iPhones and iPods. But if you need something longer, CableJive’s $30, 20-inch DockBoss+ is designed to let you use your iPhone 5 or new iPod with 30-pin-dock speakers and chargers. You connect the DockBoss+’s 30-pin female connector to your speaker or charger, and then connect your iPhone’s Lightning-to-USB cable to the DockBoss+’s USB port—suddenly you have audio and power. (If your speaker dock is older and employs analog audio, use the included 3.5mm audio cable, which connects from your iPhone’s headphone jack to a separate audio plug on the DockBoss+.) It’s not elegant, but it works.
Dock-connector audio: If you want to pipe high-quality audio to your stereo or speaker system, look to CableJive's updated $11 LineOut Pro, which is a 3-foot cable that connects to the 30-pin dock-connector port on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad to grab that port’s higher-quality line-level audio output (in lieu of connecting to the device’s headphone jack). The other end of the cable sports a 3.5mm stereo miniplug for connecting to a speaker system, receiver, or car stereo.
Another one of my favorites, also recently updated, is CableJive's $26 DockXtender. This 2-foot extension cable allows you to connect an iPhone, iPad, or iPod to any speaker dock or other 30-pin accessory. It’s great for using an iPhone or iPod in a bulky case with a dock that wouldn’t otherwise accomodate it, as well as for using an iPad with a dock made for iPhones and iPods. The updated versions of these two cables have a much thinner dock connector that should work with any case that fits Apple’s stock dock-connector cable. CableJive says that it has also upgraded the internal wiring of each cable.
Long-distance charging: I’m a huge fan of long dock-connector cables, which give you room to move when you want to use your iPhone, iPad, or iPod while charging. I previously covered a couple options, including Griffin Technology’s $30 3 Meter USB to Dock Cable. Another recent alternative, available for the same price, is StarTech’s 3-meter Dock Connector to USB Cable. The StarTech version has a slightly thinner (but still heavy-duty) cable that’s more flexible than Griffin’s product, but the bigger advantage is that while Griffin’s dock-connector plug is too thick to work with many iPhone, iPad, and iPod cases, StarTech’s plug has a stepped design that’s thinner at the end for better case compatibility.
If you're a music maker who wants to connect an XLR microphone or mixer to an iPhone, a Mac, or an Android tablet, you can do so easily. All you need is CableJive’s $35 ProJive XLR. This cable lets you connect your mic or mixer by way of a 3.5mm microphone input. The cable even sports a headphone jack for connecting a set of headphones or studio monitors to keep track of the audio input. The only hitch here is that the ProJive doesn’t support mics that require phantom power (power over the microphone cable).
For many people, a good USB hub is still an essential part of their computer setup—they simply have more USB devices than their computer has ports. A hub is also useful for keeping your desk clear, as you can connect a single USB cable to your computer and run it under or behind your desk, where all your devices are connected to the hub. And, of course, if you’re a laptop user, a hub means that you need to disconnect just a single USB cable when you leave, and to reconnect only that cable when you return.
Travel hub: If you need more ports while on the go, look at iLuv’s $25 iCB709 4-Port USB Hub. It's a bit pricey, but it offers four USB 2.0 Hi-Speed ports in a bag-friendly package: The hub is just 1.7 by 1.8 by 0.6 inches, and it comes with a 4-inch, shielded USB cable for connecting to your laptop’s USB port.
One hub to rule them all: For some of us, four ports aren’t nearly enough, especially on our desktop Macs, which play host to various iPhones, iPads, iPods, cameras, printers, thumb drives, and more. Satechi’s $40 (currently on sale for $28) UH-12P 12-Port USB Hub generously provides 12 powered (5V, 250mA) USB 2.0 ports. The hub is surprisingly compact, at 8 inches long, 1.3 inches wide, and 0.8 inches thick, arranging eleven of its dozen USB ports in a single-file line; the twelfth is on the end. The eleven top-mounted ports are split into two banks—you can temporarily disable each bank with the flip of a switch.
An included power adapter provides power (a total of 2A) to the ports, and you connect the hub to your computer using the built-in 3-inch USB cable or the included 40-inch extension cable. Satechi also tosses in a strip of 3M adhesive to keep the hub from sliding around on your desk. My biggest complaint about the 12-Port USB Hub is that each port is lit with a bright-blue LED that you can’t turn off without disabling the port.