Griffin’s AirDock for iPod is yet another “connect your iPod to your entertainment system” dock for the iPod. Plop your iPod in the AirDock and then connect the AirDock to your home stereo for audio output; your TV (when used with a fifth-generation iPod) for video playback; or your computer for syncing with iTunes. You can also use the AirDock as a standalone charging station. Like most recent docks, the AirDock uses Apple’s Universal dock design. Included are three dock inserts that accommodate older dockable iPods; newer iPods fit using the inserts that come with those iPods.
However, the AirDock differs from some other AV docks in several ways. The first is its appearance. The AirDock’s main surfaces are anodized metal, giving the AirDock a more upscale appearance that will look better in your entertainment system (or, for Mac users, next to your aluminum-clad Mac) than the white or black plastic used for most competing products.
The second is that the AirDock uses a radio-frequency (RF) remote, instead of the infrared (IR) technology included with many competing docks. This gives the AirDock’s remote greater range than IR models, as well as the ability to work through walls or — more likely, given the nature of the device — the doors of an entertainment system.
Finally, unlike some AV docks we’ve seen, the AirDock includes a generous set of accessories that covers most uses of the product. Besides the Universal dock inserts, you get a USB-to-mini-USB cable that you can use to connect the AirDock to your computer for charging and syncing; a compact USB power adapter (actually Griffin’s also-sold-separately PowerBlock) that, when used with the USB cable, lets you use the AirDock as a standalone charging station and charges your iPod during AV use; and a quality, 5-foot cable for connecting the AirDock’s AV output to your stereo, TV, or home entertainment system. (Note that the AirDock must be connected to either your computer or the AC adapter to function; unlike Apple’s Universal Dock, it can’t provide audio or video output without power.)
On the other hand, the AirDock’s remote is very basic, including only Play/Pause, Back, Forward, Volume Down, and Volume Up buttons; several competing products offer additional control over playback and playback options. (The AirDock can control video playback once a video has started playing; you can’t browse any of the iPod’s menus using the remote.) The AirDock’s remote also uses the same poor layout as previous Griffin remote-control products. (See http://playlistmag.com/reviews/2005/04/remoterun2/index.php more more details.) I look forward to Griffin abandoning this “zigzag” layout for a more intuitive design.
The AirDock has two other limitations that may or may not be significant, depending on your system and demands. First, the AirDock’s AV output uses the same 1/8-inch connection as the AV-capable headphone jack on fifth-generation iPods; this connection gives you a standard composite-video signal rather than the higher-quality S-Video connection found on several competing products. Second, like Apple’s latest iPod dock, the AirDock provides a variable-level audio output rather than a traditional line-level output. This may be preferable if you use the AirDock with a set of self-powered (“computer”) speakers, but for use with a home stereo system, a line-level input generally provides higher quality and lets you control volume using your stereo rather than having to “match” volumes between the two.
Overall, the AirDock is a solid dock for about the same price as Apple’s own dock/remote setup ($39 for Apple’s Universal Dock plus $29 for the Apple Remote). Although Apple’s dock provides S-Video output, it doesn’t include the necessary cables or an AC adapter; it uses infrared technology; and, in my opinion, it doesn’t look as nice as the AirDock.–Dan Frakes