I tested a variety of popular and unusually-shaped handsets -- including the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, Droid 2, Droid X, BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Torch, Palm Pre, HP Veer, Samsung Captivate and the monstrous Samsung Infuse -- finding, for example, that some phones fit in some stands only when their physical keyboards were extended. Surprised at how well a few of the stands held up, I even tried them with a few tablets, including the BlackBerry PlayBook, Apple iPad and Motorola Xoom. This column will introduce the first six devices after the break, while the next Reserve Power will discuss several more, conclude with my favorites, and link to a spreadsheet detailing which devices and stands paired appropriately with one another.
The beefiest folding stand I tested, the sturdy 3feet can handle nearly any pocketable device you throw at it without breaking a sweat. It can also fit in a pants pocket, although it will take up much of the space therein. The 3feet has two adjustable angles using its main support, and a third leg that allows the device to be raised at a steep incline, say, to be seen from a standing position. It is also one of the few stands of its kind marketed for handsets that can accommodate the iPad and Xoom in both horizontal and vertical orientations. The 3feet can also accommodate the iPad at a shallow typing angle, using its third foldout leg and its bottom lip to prevent the iPad from tipping over, but there was a little too much give; I even preferred using Apple's folio case in the "typing" position over the 3feet for that use case. The 3feet is available in a wide range of colors and you can even mix and match colored parts to, say, show support for your alma mater or favorite sports team.
Agent 18 StandHear ($25)
The square white-and-gray StandHear is only a so-so stand. For example, while it was able to handle a top-heavy Droid X in portrait orientation, it was a bit touch-and-go due to the device's relatively narrow support leg. However, recessed under the device's lid is a 3.5mm audio cable and on either side is a 3.5mm audio jack. Yes, the StandHear doubles as an audio output splitter so you and a friend don't need to settle for half of the stereo effect in a shared song or video.
Note, though, that due to the very short length of the cable, many handsets will only work with the audio splitter when held in a landscape orientation. This probably isn't a major issue for most consumers, but as video chat-capable handsets proliferate, we may see instances where people would like to share the audio of a remote person while crowding in front of the screen. (The relatively short Pre and BlackBerry Curve with its side-mounted audio jack were exceptions to the landscape orientation dilemma, but neither supports video chat.)
Breffo SpiderPodium (₤15, $20 at Amazon.com)
The Spiderpodium takes the GorillaPod idea of wraparound stabilization and cranks it up from three legs to eight. This provides extraordinary flexibility in how its rubbery appendages cradle virtually any handset on the market. The remainders are used to stabilize the device or wrap it to any number of surfaces, including chair backs or car air conditioning vents. The product's center platform also has a slot to accommodate an Apple 30-pin connector. Tripod screws can even fit through the slot to stabilize compact point-and-shoot digital cameras.
As was once said to another spider-inspired entity, "With great power comes great responsibility." The Spiderpodium's grip on a device or whatever you're looking to affix it to is only as secure as you've bent it to be. The gangly Spiderpodium may not be the prettiest, smallest or quickest handset stand, but it offers the best flexibility in more ways than one. The company also offers a larger version for tablets priced at ₤25. Bravo, Breffo.
elago M1 ($10) and S2 ($10)
Design-conscious accessory maker elago has two phone stands. The more versatile one is the hinged M1. Perhaps the smallest such product on the market, the M1 is one of the few one could feasibly attach to a keychain. It opens like a tiny crocodile mouth to reveal two wavy notches for positioning your portable device at one of two angles.
Unlike the M1, the S2 is made from a single piece of metal and provides only one viewing angle. It delivers style, stiffness and simplicity. While the company doesn't advertise it as such, it can also be used as an earbud wrap, although this works better if the buds have equal cable length for each ear as the Apple earbuds do. Still, the S2 doesn't offer a lot of confidence-inspiring support, especially when devices are in vertical orientation.
Wth its moonstone-like shape, the Griffin Travel Stand unfolds to reveal a small dock-like cup that should hold most thin, narrow slate phones. A tall back provides good support in portrait orientation but overall the product provides minimal support for devices in landscape orientation, considering its size. Griffin also includes a small earbud wrap that can fit inside the stand when it's not being used for phone display. On one hand, it's a nice little extra freebie you can use without taking the rest of the case along. On the other hand, since it's separate, it could get lost. Overall, the relatively large size of the Travel Stand and limited device support make it less compelling than its competitors.
The simple iAngle is a piece of triangular hard rubber with a number of notches and gouges taken out of ether side of its surface, the largest of which create the space to support an iPhone. There is also a canal that runs along its perimeter that, along with two prominent holds in its midde, are designed to support Apple's standard earbuds. The compact iAngle has no moving parts to break, and scores points for doubling as an earphone wrap, but the lack of flexibility of its indentation made it capable of supporting fewer devices than competitors -- particularly in portrait orientation.
(Looking for more stands? Read part two of Reserve Power: Stand Off right here.)
Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Reserve Power are his own.