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simplifi

Review: Griffin Simplifi iPod/iPhone Dock with built-in Card Reader/USB Hub

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First Rays of the New Rising Sun

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Short version: Don’t buy it at the MSRP of 70 bucks, but for around $40 bucks around the internets, it’s a great alternative to Apple’s own dock. You lose the audio line-out, but you gain an extra USB 2.0 port and a 6-in-1 card reader.

Overview and Features

Take an iPod or iPhone dock. Cram in a card reader (with support for Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, SD, SDHC, xD and CompactFlash) and a 2-port USB hub. While I’d love to say more about it than that, I’d have to start making stuff up.

Pros:

Aesthetically, it looks like a MacBook Pro and an iPod dock got drunk and had a baby making session. The majority of its outside is made up of an aluminum (or, at least, aluminum-ish) material, with the remaining parts made up of white plastic. It oughtta match perfectly with the late 2008 MacBooks and Macbook Pros/Airs, and it’ll look just fine paired up with anything else. Up until I powered it on, I thought they made all the right visual design decisions. (More on that bit about powering it on in the cons section)

As an iPhone owner who travels almost constantly, the idea of freeing up the ultra-precious space currently occupied by the standalone USB hubs and card readers is a magical one. Think about it: now I can fill those pockets with candy instead of stupid extraneous accessories. Both of these aspects of the dock function as one might hope – the card reader reads cards dependably, and the USB 2.0 hub.. hubs.

Griffin includes a bunch of dock-adapters in the box, so you won’t have to spend 6 hours online looking for the best deal on that $1.99 component needed to make it fit your iPod properly. It’ll support the iPhone (3g/2g), iPod Touch (both generations), the Nano (2nd Gen, 3rd Gen[Fat Nano], and 4th Gen[Tapered Edges]), along with the Shuffle, iPod Video, and iPod Classic (80GB/120GB). Folks with iPod Photos or older models are out of luck, but seeing as the vast majority of those have probably already met their end due to a dead battery or hard drive, I doubt that’ll disappoint too many people.

The back of the dock features an 5v DC power input, which gives the USB hub a bit more juice for devices that require powered ports.

Cons:

Earlier, I mentioned that the Simplifi loses some points in the visuals department once it’s powered on. Here’s why:

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Call it nitpicking (because it definitely is), but seriously: Blue LEDs?. That’s like sticking neon lights underneath a sports car. The Simplifi was obviously built to match the looks of the metal MacBook line, which has long used white LEDs. It does a great job of it, till you power it up – then BAM, LETS RAVE!!

The included cable is surprisingly short – about a foot and a half. That’s no big deal for anyone looking to keep the dock right beside their computin’ box, but for people looking to put it somewhere it can stay indefinitely without getting in the way (for me, that’s about 3 feet away), it’s way too short. Fortunately, it’s just a standard mini-USB, so finding a longer cable shouldn’t be too hard – but it also shouldn’t be necessary.

Of all of this, the only thing I’d consider to be a significant shortcoming is that the 5v DC input we mentioned earlier only powers the USB ports – not the iPod docking port. This prevents it from serving as a iPod/iPhone charger unless it’s plugged into a powered-on computer, which is really too bad. As this makes it fairly useless away from a computer, this also means they’ve dropped the audio output found on Apple’s dock.

Conclusion:

I wouldn’t pay the suggest retail price of $70 bucks for it. That said, you can find it for around $40 bucks, which is just 10 ducats above the official Apple dock. I’d say that’s a perfectly reasonable pricetag for the convenience of an extra USB port and the card reader, as long as you don’t mind the lack of line-out and the out of place lighting. Those things aside, it has definitely found a place in my laptop case.

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