I buy a lot of stuff from Chinese sellers on eBay and various Chinese sites like DealExtreme. It’s a game of luck; sometimes you strike gold and get epic cases for both your devices for less than $2/each, or an iPad mini dock for $10, but other times you end up with a pile of junk on your desk. Bad quality isn’t too critical for a case, since it only means you won’t use it, but for anything charging related it might actually damage your device. I always disassemble any charging related accessory from such places before use, and today that paid off.
There are good charging products out there on these sites. My review of the $10 iPad mini dock showed that, and I also mentioned the importance of checking the internal components before use in such cases. You really shouldn’t skimp out on doing that, even between different units of the same product. Today, I received another cheap dock- this time a white $11.50 dock- and when I opened it up to see inside, proof that I’m not paranoid was glaring back at me.
There, inside the dock, was a giant blob of solder that was splattered across all the pins of the Lightning connector’s internal end. It covers every single one of the pins, short circuiting the entire connector. There is another set of pins on the back that aren’t covered, which means that either this is an actual mistake, or these short circuited pins aren’t actually connected to anything. I dare not take the chance that it’s the former, and don’t have a multimeter to test right now.
Another issue with this particular dock is that the breakout board (the tiny PCB that takes the small pins coming from the Lightning connector and spreads them out for easier access) is very small compared to the other dock I reviewed. I cannot actually tell if the soldering points for the ribbon cable are touching or not, but they appear to be, which means there’s a second potential short circuit point on one single tiny PCB. The other end- where you would connect your own cable- is better spaced out and properly soldered, but that doesn’t help much when one end is so bad.
It’s easy to test for actual short circuits if you have the equipment, but most people don’t. The screwdriver needed to take a dock like this apart, however, is not as rare. It’s easy to spot bad soldering points, and if you see those, stay away. If soldering points are too close for you to see if they’re touching or not, you shouldn’t use them to begin with.
Update: Since people think it’s important to actually run a multimeter on this thing, I did. Every single pin was indeed short-circuited due to that giant blob of solder. I believe this is because one side of the connector is not intended to be used, as the pass-through is only for one side. However, during my testing, I discovered a second soldering issue on the other side of the connector. The soldering for the shield has spilled over onto a couple of pins, short circuiting part of that side too. In other words, this connector is definitely broken one way or the other. People are free to do whatever they want, but when I see something like what’s in the picture (with two potential issues), I stay away.