Review: InCharge X5 charges 5 iPads, iPhones, and iPods
At a Glance
XtremeMac InCharge X5 Docking Station
(When Rated) via Amazon.com
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With hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch models sold (over 400 million as of last June—before the debut of the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini), there’s a good chance that if your family owns one iOS device, you own two or three…or four or five. Which means you have myriad cables and chargers strewn about the house. There’s got to be a better (read: neater and more convenient) way, right?
A while back, I reviewed Kanex’s $149 Sydnee, an accessory that can charge up to four dock-connector devices at once, but that’s designed specifically to fast-charge multiple iPads. Though pricey, I found that the Sydnee was convenient, as long as your iPads aren’t stored in bulky cases. And because it uses USB cables, the Sydnee works with newer Apple devices that sport Apple’s new Lightning connector.
XtremeMac’s $150 InCharge X5 takes a different approach. For starters, it can fast-charge up to five iPads. But it also uses a more-traditional dock-cradle design that works equally well for iPhones and iPods. Instead of a slew of wall chargers and USB-to-dock-connector cables, you have a single, space-saving accessory that can handle a family’s worth of gadgets. (The InCharge series also includes a $100 3-dock model.)
XtremeMac first advertised the InCharge X5 in early 2012, but the product made its debut only recently. This delay is notable because the InCharge X5 features five 30-pin dock-connector cradles, while Apple’s latest devices all use the new Lightning connector. While that may seem like a knock against the X5, it’s not necessarily: I suspect that among families and businesses with enough devices to make the X5 appealing, most of those devices still feature the 30-pin dock connector. And the X5 works with newer devices using Apple’s adapters (more on that below).
Each of the InCharge X5’s dock cradles provides a full 10 watts of power, letting you simultaneously charge any combination of five iPads, iPhones, and iPods. (The power adapter that ships with the fourth-generation iPad provides 12 watts, but the X5 charges this iPad fine—just not quite as fast as with its own power adapter.) Like the Sydnee, the InCharge X5 uses about 0.5 watts of power when no devices are connected.
Slide to fit
At 11.8 inches long, 3.9 inches wide, and 1.5 inches tall (at the top of each dock support), the InCharge X5 is quite a bit more compact than the Sydnee and, because it doesn’t use USB cables, quite a bit less cluttered. There’s only a single cable connection, in the back, for the included AC adapter—though that adapter uses a sizeable power brick that you’ll need to find a place for.
Along the top of the X5 are five 30-pin dock connectors, each with an adjustable support behind it. Instead of using Apple’s Universal Dock design with recessed cradles, the X5’s cradles each feature a dock connector that extends slightly above the base. This approach offers compatibility with thin iPad, iPhone, and iPod cases, as well as cases that leave the bottom edge of your device exposed.
Press the button on top of one of these supports and you can slide it forward or back—there’s a total of about half an inch of play—to fit the thickness of whichever device you want to charge. To properly configure a cradle, you just slide the support all the way back; place an iPad, iPhone, or iPod on the dock connector; make sure your device is angled correctly; and then slide the support forward until it’s flush with the back of the device.
With the supports adjusted properly, the X5 safely supports up to five iPads. Though the X5 is considerably narrower than an iPad, there’s little side-to-side movement—the weight of all your iOS devices keeps the X5 stable, and six small, silicone feet on the bottom of the X5 keep the charger in place. The X5 also sports two mounting holes for permanently attaching it to a desk or table.
Along the front edge of the X5 is a row of five tiny LEDs, each corresponding to one of the dock cradles. For each LED, no light means there’s no device docked, an amber light means a docked device is charging, and a green light means a docked device is fully charged. These lights are useful, letting you check a device’s charging status without having to wake it up, but unless you’ve got five devices docked, it’s difficult to tell which LEDs corresponds to which slot—is the iPhone in the third cradle still charging, or is that the iPad in the fourth?
After using the InCharge X5 for a few months, I came to prefer its uncluttered design to that of the Sydnee, although it’s not without its own flaws. The most significant is that those 30-pin devices with curved edges—specifically, the second- and third-generation iPad, and the iPod touch—can be difficult to properly seat in the X5. If you’ve ever had trouble connecting Apple’s dock-connector cable to one of these devices because of that curved edge, placing the device in the X5 is even more tricky—getting the connector and port lined up, at just the right angle, can be frustrating. It gets easier with practice, but after several weeks of use, I still couldn’t get my third-generation iPad seated on the first (or second) try.
The best advice I can give here is that positioning one of the device supports perfectly for a particular device makes it much easier to dock that device. Of course, moving the support to fit a different device spoils the fit, so I ended up “permanently” assigning each of the five cradles to a specific device—I even used a label-maker to remember which cradle was for which iPad, iPhone, or iPod.
The other downside to the X5’s cradle design is that bulky cases prevent you from properly seating your iOS devices in the cradles. If the back of a case is thick enough that it won’t fit at a cradle support’s deepest position, or if the bottom of the case is too thick to let your device’s dock-connector port make a solid connection, you’ll need to remove the case to charge the device in the X5.
Of course, as of the iPhone 5, there’s also the issue of Apple’s new Lightning connector. I tested the X5 with both of Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin adapters. The standard Lightning to 30-pin adapter—the small, no-cable adapter—worked surprisingly well. I connected the adapter to one of the X5’s dock connectors and then moved that cradle’s support all the way forward. When used with an iPhone 5 or a new iPod touch or nano, Apple’s adapter is just short enough to still allow the X5 to support the weight of the device.
For Lightning-connector iPads, including the iPad mini, you’ll want to instead use Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin Adapter (0.2 m), which puts a 7.5-inch cable between the ends of the adapter, and set your iPad down next to the InCharge X5. This of course takes away from the no-clutter appeal of the X5, but it works—and unless the majority of your devices use the Lightning connector, the X5 still cuts down on adapters and cables. (XtremeMac told Macworld that the company is considering a Lightning-connector version of the X5.)
If you’re one of the ever-growing number of people with a bunch of iOS devices and iPods, the appeal of the InCharge X5 is plain: It’s a compact, no-cable-clutter place to stash those devices for charging and storage. The debut of Apple’s Lightning connector takes a bit away from the X5’s self-contained appeal, and bulky cases won’t fit, but it otherwise does its job well, and at street prices of around $100, it’s reasonably priced. Among the members of my family who are less forgiving of cables and miscellaneous gadget gear than I, the X5 has become one of the most popular accessories I’ve tested.