With the release of the new Lightning connector-equipped iPads, Apple decided to stop making a dock for them. That’s more than a little bit puzzling, since frankly, the iPad mini is the first iPad I have considered putting vertically in a dock. Luckily, there’s not much to a dock, so you can either make one yourself or just grab a third party dock. I might still do the former, but when I spotted a black dock for the mini for $10.60 on the Chinese “everything and the kitchen sink”-site DealExtreme, I couldn’t resist grabbing one.
This dock is about as straightforward as it gets. It’s made of plastic, with a Lightning connector sticking up to slot in the iPad mini, and a few centimeters of plastic to act as a back rest to support the mini while in the dock. The position of the Lightning connector is such that the iPad mini lines up perfectly with the back support, rather than the semi-flexible connector approach taken with some docks to expand compatibility beyond just a single device. This means that you won’t be able to use this with any case, as there’s simply no room. That’s a bit of a let down, but hardly surprising or uncommon.
On the back of the dock you have a female Lightning connector, and that’s really everything there is to this dock. It requires that you bring your own cable and charger, it doesn’t split out any sort of signal (HDMI, audio, or anything like that), and it’s really just a large plastic 90 degree angle adapter for the Lightning USB cable, if you think about it.
I know this is an uncommon section to put in a review, but the first thing I do when I receive a generic, cheap charging accessory like this is to rip it apart to see that the internals are in order. A dock like this is also one of very few charging-related accessories I dare to order this cheap, because Chinese OEM products have a history of catching fire, short circuiting things, and so on. The reason why a dock like this is an exception is that first of all, $10.60 is not cheap by Chinese OEM standards, and second of all, a “dumb” dock like this should contain no electronic parts aside from a simple pass through cable.
When I opened it up, what I saw confirmed what I thought would be in there. This is a fully passive dock, meaning it doesn’t require an authentication chip or anything like that, because all it does is extend the device’s Lightning connector to the back of the dock. It’s a simple extension cable, really, but it’s still possible to screw that up with bad soldering points. In this case though, I liked what I saw, and everything was like it should be with the connections.
Once I had checked the quality of the internal components, I plugged it in, and my iPad mini survived the experience.
This is a very simple dock, but it still serves a purpose: Giving your iPad mini a place to rest and charge up. It’s a steady dock, supports the mini just fine, and the price makes it a cheap accessory to add to your arsenal.
The only real gripe I have with it is that the male connector end is similar to what you’d find on a Lightning cable, which means that it has the standard configuration for making the snap-on lock engage. Lightning connectors have two small grooves on the side to enable spring loaded pieces inside the female connector to grab onto it, “locking” the cable in place.
For a dock, the better solution would be to “disable” this by making the grooves extend to the top of the connector, thus making it easier to remove the connector. As this dock is now, it takes the same amount of pulling force to remove the device from the dock as it takes to remove the cable from the device normally, and that means you essentially have to hold down on the dock while pulling on the device to get it out. This is a common problem with many docks and is shown very well in the video for this Kickstarter project.
This dock does a job that Apple hasn’t released an accessory for, and it does it at 1/3 the cost of what Apple’s old 30 pin dock sells for. That makes it easy to forgive that the male connector could have been modified to release the device easier, as that’s really the only issue with the dock, and it’s an issue that a lot of docks share. All in all it’s cheap, looks good, and gets the job done, and that’s really all you can demand from a dock that’s $10.60 shipped worldwide.