It's funny that the most interesting iPad accessories so far have been the ones that try to squeeze Apple's tablet into more traditional shapes -- we've seen a wave of rebranded Bluetooth keyboard cases that ape the netbook form factor, a number of cases that aim for a Moleskine vibe (including some from Moleskine itself), and even an official Etch-a-Sketch case. And now we've got SMK-Link's PadDock 10, an iPad stand that unapologetically turns your tablet into the tiny touchscreen iMac you've maybe always wanted. But is it worth $99 for a rotating stand and some speakers? We just got one to play with -- read on for our full review.
There's really not much to know about the PadDock 10's hardware -- it really does look like an iMac, although the speakers in the "chin" actually fire backwards and down, rather than to the front. It comes with a mini-USB sync cable and a power cable with a USB plug on the other end that's supposed to plug into your existing iPad charger. That's a little cheap, if you ask us -- a $100 stand should come with its own charger. A switch on the side of the main stand selects between charge and sync modes, and there's a volume dial on the side of the chin to control the speaker volume.
Once you've got the iPad docked, you can rotate it 360 degrees pretty easily, with detents at the four cardinal positions for easy adjustment. You can also tilt the iPad, but the hinge was a little too stiff for one-handed operation. One you've got the iPad where you want it, it's all quite stable, although there is a little wobble while you're touching the screen. The stand itself is just about the perfect height to use on a kitchen counter -- if you use iPad recipe apps or watching a lot of SlingPlayer while cooking (like us) you'll definitely want to check the PadDock 10 out. Having the iPad at this height also makes it a pretty great iTunes interface -- combined with AirPlay and / or the Remote app, the PadDock 10 makes the iPad a solid whole-home audio control panel.
The speakers are surprisingly good, actually -- they're not audiophile quality or anything, but they're better than average. There's even a smallish bass driver in addition to the two stereo drivers; you're not going to bump a house party with this thing, but watching videos and listening to music is pretty great. It's a little funny that they're located in the chin and face backwards, though -- they definitely look a little silly when you rotate the iPad to portrait, they sound best when in landscape and angled slightly so the sound bounces off whatever surface the dock is sitting on. We'd actually prefer it if the PadDock dropped the faux-iMac chin, added a little thickness, and mounted the speakers facing down along the bottom edge -- which, ironically, is where the real iMac has them.
There are a lot of ways to prop up an iPad out there -- you can spend anything from 70 cents on a plastic business card holder to hundreds on a custom installation. If you're happy with the iPad's built-in speakers and don't mind stringing up the charging wire separately, we'd suggest one of the many $30-$50 aluminum stands out there -- they'll certainly do the job, and most of them are quite attractive. But if you're looking for something with some decent speakers and you'd prefer to minimize your cable clutter, the PadDock 10 isn't a bad way to spend $99 -- and it certainly looks adorable parked next to a full-size iMac.