capsule review

SendStation smartCharge (2007 version)

At a Glance
  • SendStation smartCharge (2007 version)

We reviewed SendStation's original smartCharge -- an accessory for powering and charging the original iPod shuffle from a car accessory ("cigarette lighter") jack -- back in early 2006, and found it to be a solid product. It provided a USB port on a pivoting arm that acted as a charging dock for the 1G shuffle.

SendStation recently released an updated -- and $5 less expensive -- version of the smartCharge that's basically the same as the original but includes a 2-foot cable with a USB plug on one end and a dock-connector plug on the other -- basically, a shorter version of the dock-connector cable that ships with all dockable iPods. First-generation iPod shuffles connect to the smartCharge directly, as before, but this included cable allows you to power and charge full-size, mini, or nano iPods by plugging the cable into the smartCharge's USB port. The inclusion of this cable means that for a lower price than the original shuffle-only smartCharge, you get a charger that works with nearly all dockable iPods, as well. (The third-generation [3G] full-size iPod is not supported). And you can use the cable separately to sync your dockable iPod with your computer.

(Although you can use the smartCharge with the second-generation [2G] iPod shuffle via the shuffle's dock cable or a third-party adapter, a limitation of the 2G shuffle -- its combination power/data/audio jack can't be used for power and audio at the same time -- means that you can't to listen to the shuffle while charging.)

The smartCharge's "dock" section rotates to let you position the USB port at different angles. However, as with the original smartCharge, this rotation is restricted to 36 degrees up or down, which limits your positioning when used as a dock for the 1G shuffle. But this restriction is considerably less offensive nowadays, given that the first-generation shuffle has been discontinued and this version of the smartCharge is targeted for use with dockable iPods (which connect via a cable).

A nice feature of both versions of the smartCharge is that it provides an audio-output jack for connecting your iPod to your car stereo or FM transmitter. When using a 1G shuffle, you'll need to adjust the shuffle's own volume to best match your stereo's output; however, when using a dockable iPod via the cable, the smartCharge's audio-output jack is a true line-level output, making it a convenient way to access the higher-quality signal coming from the iPod's dock-connector port. (Although, unlike some similar products, there's no high/low switch to reduce volume when used with "hot" inputs.) Also useful are a small light on the smartCharge that indicates power and a built-in fuse that protects your iPod from power surges.

The smartCharge remains one of the of the better car chargers we've seen. This latest version offers the same attractive design as the original, along with the versatility of being compatible with nearly any iPod. And although the use of a dock-connector cable is perhaps a bit more cluttered than the approach taken by some competing products, that cable -- a version of which Apple sells for $20 by itself -- is also a handy accessory in its own right.
--Dan Frakes

At a Glance
  • Car charger for dockable iPods and first-generation iPod shuffle.

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