A dock for the iPad wouldn’t be top of my list of useful conveniences, but I am unexpectedly pleased with the new iPad 2 dock I obtained for review purposes. I fully expected this to be a negative piece. Not so, as it turns out.
The unit is larger (3.5 x 3.7in) than the first generation device and it sits very firmly on the desk. When fitted, the iPad still looks much like a drum on a pea, but it clicks in solidly and firmly without a trace of wiggle or instability. You can prod the screen without any fear of movement or of upsetting the Applecart. The angle is steep, which is ideal for media viewing and reference purposes, but useless for typing.
And, of course, the iPad fits vertically. This means you’re restricted to portrait mode which is borderline for video material. It’s a pity because I sometimes like to keep an eye on a news channel while working. Sky News is reduced to a 6×3.25-in box in the centre of the screen. On the other hand, portrait view is perfectly adequate for web browsing, news reading and even book reading.
I imagined that the very thin Smart Cover could be folded to the back of the tablet and then be squeezed into dock behind the device. Wrong. The mounting bay, with dock connector, offers a snug fit. This, really, is my only criticism of the dock—that the tablet must be removed from any case. If you’re using a snap-on plastic back protector it isn’t practical to dismantled the case every time you want to dock the iPad. If you have a case which is always on your iPad then this dock is not for you.
Logically, of course, Apple had no choice in the matter. The iPad must be a secure fit and it is impossible to provide for the thickness of even a thin cover.The Smart Cover can be concertinead like a window blind and left attached to the left of the iPad. It just about fits and doesn’t get in the way. But it isn’t a big deal to unclip the magnets every time—there is still a certain fascination in reclipping the magnets and watching the cover snap back into perfect alignment.
Apple has done a good job of bevelling the seat of the dock so the iPad 2 is guided onto the connector. As long as you centre the home button it’s easy to dock the iPad without fear of scratching the aluminium back. Unlike with the first iPad, where the flat edges meant the connectors and buttons were easily viewed, on the iPad 2 they are hidden because of the bevelled rear and can sometimes be difficult to find.
The dock is a good way of having the iPad handy and on trickle charge without taking up too much desk space (the alternative of laying the tablet flat on the desk with cable attached takes up too much space and leaves the screen exposed to damage). Mounted near vertical in the dock, the iPad serves as an additional reference screen—useful when you are working on a small-screen computer such as the 11-in MacBook Air. Obviously it is an independent device, but I often call up a reference web site on the iPad while writing full-screen on the Air.
You can use the full range of iPad connectors with the new dock and the integrated 3.5mm jack socket connects to most external speakers or headphones. The iPad 2 also fits into the old keyboard dock left over from iPad 1. The fit is a bit loose as would be expected, with a tendency for the iPad to tilt left or right, but the tablet remains reasonably stable and the typing experience is undiminished.
Apple clearly came to the conclusion that the rather bulky keyboard dock was no longer required. It was always unwieldy because of the angled support for the back of the iPad, and many preferred to pack a standard Apple wireless keyboard and rely on finding somewhere to prop up the tablet when working. The new dock provides a good portable solution, however, and it is easier to pack a wireless keyboard plus the dock than it was to accommodate the original keyboard dock in a bag. Nonetheless, when you start carrying all these extras to replicate the facilities of a laptop, you soon realise that the 11-in MacBook Air is a better choice (although a more expensive one).
The dock is narrow enough not to cover the speaker situated on the right-hand side at the back of the iPad. If anything, and subjectively, the sound is louder and more rounded. I suspect this is a result of the sound being bounced off the desktop but I have no way of verifying this. Anyway, it sounds good and is totally adequate for undemanding sound sources.
Unlike the iPhone dock, which allows quick charging from a USB port, a USB connection offers barely sufficient power to keep the iPad battery stable. For quick charging you need to unplug the USB cable from the computer and attach it to a 10w charger. It’s a small inconvenience but worth noting. Of course, if you are not bothered about synchronisation (happy days to come in a cloudy world….) you might as well just leave the dock connected to the mains charger.
On balance, I would strongly recommend the new dock. It isn’t wildly expensive (£25, $29, €29) and is worth buying if the fancy takes you.