The beauty of the iPad is that it's easy to pick up and start using anytime, whether you want to look up something on the web, play a quick game, or watch a movie or TV show. You'll get even more out of your investment if you store it inside this clever accessory. SMK Link's PadDock 10 ($99) is a sturdy stand with two 3-watt speakers that provide impressive audio oomph for the price, letting you stream music from your iTunes and apps such as Pandora from across the room. And when paired with apps such as ABC.com or Hulu Plus, the PadDock 10 can turn your iPad into a nice little TV for the kitchen. You'll even fire up slideshows more often, since the dock both charges and syncs your device. We have a few complaints, but overall the PadDock 10 delivers.
The PadDock 10 consists of a sturdy table stand topped by a four-pronged, grapple-like frame that holds the iPad in place. The holding frame turns a full 360 degrees, so you can use apps in landscape or portrait mode, and you can tilt the iPad forward or back for the best viewing angle. The accessory elevates the iPad approximately 10 inches above the table surface, putting the device in an ideal position to tap the screen when sitting on our desk. The PadDock weighs 3.4 pounds and it's base is 7-inches wide so it's light and small enough to move from room to room with ease. It's not collapsible though, so expect to keep the stand at home or in your office.
Because the PadDock 10 secures the iPad just below eye-level, we imagine plenty of people pairing this accessory with a Bluetooth keyboard to turn the tablet into a mini desktop/net top. The stand's base is well-weighted, so we never worried about tipping over the PadDock 10 with a forceful tap.
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A 30-pin connector, the iPad's standard interface port, is built into one of the two holding hooks that lock the iPad in place. That means docking and undocking is a two-part process: First you have to ensure the connector is inserted into the tablet's port, and then you must push the opposite end of the iPad into a small clasping mechanism on the opposite hook. After a few tries, docking and undocking the iPad was quick and painless.
A switch to toggle between charging and syncing modes, along with LED lights to indicate which mode is active, is located on the right side of the PadDock 10. The two 3-watt speakers are located behind a long gray bar underneath the iPad. The speakers face backwards and can't be seen when you're looking at the iPad's screen dead on, but that's because SMK Link designed this accessory to project sound against a wall for better amplification.
On the backside of the four-pronged holding frame and above the speakers are two ports. There's an AC port to power the dock's speakers and charge the iPad, and a mini USB port, used for syncing the iPad with a PC.
Unfortunately, the PadDock 10's volume can only be raised or lowered via a small wheel on the right side of the device. There's no remote control. SMK Link says the company omitted this feature because adding the necessary electronics would have increased the cost well beyond the $99 the company was shooting for.
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To sync the iPad while it rests in the PadDock 10, the tablet must first be connected to your PC via the included mini-USB cable. Then the device can be switched into sync mode with a small button located alongside the same holding hook with the 30-pin connector. Once syncing is done, it's necessary to switch the PadDock 10 back into charge mode if you want to continue providing juice.
When not playing video or music the PadDock charges an iPad with 11-watts of power. If the speakers are active, 6-watts are used to power them and 5 watts are used to simultaneously power the docked device and charge it (the standard Apple adapter can charge the slate with 10 watts of power when the iPad is not being used). We docked an iPad with 40 percent battery life in the PadDock 10 at about 11:30 am, used it intermittently to listen to music and watch some video for about an hour, and let it charge until 4:45pm when it hit 100 percent capacity.
The PadDock 10 uses a two-channel stereo system comprised of two oval-shaped left and right speakers. There's no built-in sub-woofer to cover deep low frequencies, but a passive radiator is used to deliver bass response. The satellite speakers are set at a slight angle so that audio output can bounce off a nearby surface (say, a wall or the back of a desk) and then be reflected back at the listener. In our tests, we noticed that the PadDock 10 performed best when its speakers were about 8 to 12 inches away from a wall.
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We watched movie trailers, television clips, and listened to MP3 samples on the PadDock 10, both against a nearby wall and on the open surface of a table. When positioned against the wall, we could hear more vibrato in the background music of a movie trailer for the film Chico and Rita than when we pointed the dock's speakers toward the middle of the room. The same goes for hip-hop music sampled with iTunes.
Though the bass drop was noticeable when we moved the PadDock 10 away from a wall, the general audio quality was quite good. Even at 50 percent, the volume was loud enough to parse dialogue, make out sound effects, and hear songs or background music from an episode of Castle. And when we raised the volume, the show's audio filled our office conference room with sound; for instance, we had no trouble hearing birds chirp while our lead characters talked during a stroll through Central Park.
Click to enlargeThe PadDock 10 also provided satisfying sound quality during music playback. When we streamed Green Day from Pandora, there was real warmth in Billy Joe's voice that simply wasn't present when we used the iPad by itself. Just don't expect to use the PadDock 10 at parties. While the volume was sufficiently loud to annoy nearby co-workers, it's not enough to fill a large, crowded room. The PadDock 10 is best for playing background music or watching video content in a bedroom or kitchen.
For $99 the PadDock 10 makes for a much better iPad resting place while at home or in the office than a case. The audio output is fairly impressive given the affordable price, and when paired with a Bluetooth keyboard this, accessory makes Apple's slate a better productivity device because it's close to eye level. We just wish the package included a remote control so you could change tracks and adjust the volume from across the room. Audiophiles may want to invest in the iLuv iMM747, an iPad speaker dock that costs $50 more, but the PadDock 10 is a better multipurpose dock that adds more functionality to an already great multipurpose device.