- Combines USB hub with iPod dock to charge and sync dockable iPods
- Includes dock adapters for all current and previous dockable iPods
- Takes up less space than separate hub and dock
- Useful indicator lights
- USB ports too close together for use with iPod shuffle
- Doesn’t use new “Universal Dock” system
- Doesn’t include remote functionality, so nano and 5G iPods can’t be controlled remotely
Earlier this year, we reviewed Belkin’s generically-named Hi-Speed USB 2.0 4-Port Hub, which positioned one of its four USB hubs on the top of the unit, making it ideal for docking an iPod shuffle. As we mentioned at the time, for basically the same price as Apple’s iPod shuffle Dock, the Hub provides the same functionality along with three additional USB 2.0 ports in a package that doesn’t require much more desk space than the shuffle Dock itself.
At the time, I mentioned to a colleague, “Now if only someone would do the same thing for full-size iPods.” Belkin must have been listening, because the company recently announced just such a product: the $65 TuneSync . The TuneSync is similar in design to Belkin’s previous hub: The back of the unit provides five USB 2.0 ports, and the top features an iPod dock. Except that in this case it’s a true iPod dock—one that utilizes Apple’s dock connector, making it compatible with all dockable iPods.
In order to provide such compatibility, Belkin includes a set of 7 dock adapter inserts, each of which supports one or more iPod models: nano; mini; “photo”; 20GB 4G; 40GB 4G; 10GB 3G; and 30GB 3G. (The manual and box state that there are only 6 dock adapters, but Belkin began including the adapter for the iPod nano after the box and manual were printed.) Current units also include a card explaining that you can order a free adapter for 5G (video) iPods via the Belkin Web site; I suspect that future units will include this adapter, as well. In the meantime, in my testing, the adapter for iPod photo models works acceptably for 5G iPods. As with Apple’s docks, your iPod is synced with iTunes and charged when docked.
Unfortunately, the TuneSync doesn’t use Apple’s new “Universal Dock” system. If you’ve got a current or recent iPod, this isn’t likely to be a concern. However, if Apple releases a new iPod down the road, and you purchase it, you’ll have to wait for Belkin to release a new dock adapter to use your new iPod with the TuneSync.
The TuneSync’s footprint, at 5.5 x 4 inches, is larger than many other 5-port hubs, but those hubs don’t include the iPod dock. And the TuneSync makes up for its girth with a surprisingly low profile—the main body is only half an inch high, with the iPod dock adapter’s back support adding just over half an inch more height in the middle. I also like the TuneSync’s iPod-matching design—white with silver trim and curved edges—which make the TuneSync look unlike any other hub I’ve seen.
The five Type-B (flat) USB ports on the rear of the TuneSync are spaced fairly close together (as they are on most hubs), but I was able to easily plug cables into to all five ports. The TuneSync connects to your computer via an included Type-B to mini-USB cable. (The use of a mini-USB port for connecting to your computer eliminates any confusion over which port on the TuneSync should be used for what.) According to Belkin, the TuneSync uses the company’s “Quad TT” hub technology, which allegedly provides better performance when mixing low-, full-, and high-speed USB devices. Although I didn’t test this claim rigorously, I didn’t notice any significant slowdowns with high-speed devices (iPods, USB hard drives) even when several low- and full-speed devices were connected simultaneously.
(You can also connect an iPod shuffle to one of the TuneSync’s rear-mounted ports; however, because the ports are close together, you then lose the use of the ports to the left and right of the shuffle. I ended up using DLO’s Flexible Dock for iPod shuffle, which I plugged into one of the TuneSync’s USB ports—I got a shuffle “dock” without obscuring any other ports.)
The TuneSync also offers three other improvements over its iPod shuffle-focused predecessor. The first is that whereas the 4-Port Hub works as a bus-powered hub unless you buy an optional AC adapter, the TuneSync includes such an adapter and thus is a powered hub right out of the box—you can connect multiple bus-powered USB devices without having to worry about power issues.
The second additional feature is a 1/8″ (minijack) stereo audio output that lets you connect your iPod to a home stereo or a set of powered speakers while docked. As with Apple’s standard Docks, this output provides a line-level audio signal drawn from your iPod’s dock connector, giving you a cleaner signal than the iPod’s headphone jack. However, there is one drawback if you have an iPod nano or iPod with video: Because Apple has removed the remote jack from these models —requiring remote control accessories to instead use the iPod’s dock connector—and the TuneSync doesn’t include its own remote functionality, you won’t be able to remotely control these iPods when in the TuneSync. (With older iPods, you can attach a remote receiver to the headphone/remote jack when the iPod is in a Dock.) But to be fair, I don’t consider this to be too significant a drawback—unlike docking solutions such as Kensington’s Stereo Dock and DLO’s HomeDock, which are designed to be used in your home entertainment system, the TuneSync is designed to be a part of your computer system and thus is likely to be within arm’s reach on your desk.
Finally, the TuneSync also provides a bar of LED indicators on the front. Each rear USB port has its own green indicator, which tells you if a “live” device is connected to that port. In the center is a blue indicator for the iPod dock (which is just a bit too bright, nearly drowning out the surrounding green lights when an iPod is docked). A red light on the left side of the hub indicates that the hub is getting power via the AC adapter.
A good USB hub is almost a necessity nowadays, considering how many computer peripherals connect using the USB standard. Similarly, iPod docks are popular for their convenience and the fact that they provide a high-quality audio output. If you’ve already got one or the other (or if you have an iPod nano or iPod with video and need the capability to use a remote control), the TuneSync probably isn’t a compelling purchase. But if you’re in the market for both a dock and a hub, I recommend giving the TuneSync a look. Considering that Apple’s iPod docks cost $30 to $40 and a good five-port USB 2.0 hub is $20 to $40, the TuneSync’s $65 (or less at “street” prices) price tag is actually quite reasonable. And it takes up less space on your desk, involves fewer cables, and is more attractive than using a dock and hub separately.