If you find the speaker on the new iPod touch far too tinny to tolerate for long, or you have an earlier-model iPod that doesn’t have a speaker, you’ve probably considered buying a decent iPod dock. If you tend to listen to music in lots of places around your house while doing other things, you could do worse than the Gear4 Duo.
Split personality. At first glance, the Gear4 Duo looks like the myriad other iPod docks currently crammed onto the shelves of your local electronics store in the leadup to Christmas. Your iPod – adjusted to fit using one of the included dock adapters – sits in a swivelling stand in the middle of the unit’s front, which has been designed with the sparse look in mind.
The all-black unit – which is enhanced, iPhone-like, with a silver trim around the front edge – measures 23cmx16cmx15cm, sitting comfortably on a bookshelf or side table. The front of the unit hides a pair of 2cm tweeters and 4.5cm midrange speakers, while the larger and seemingly hollow body provides the bass response through a built-in woofer.
Gear4 Duo is a one-trick pony, but that trick is pretty cool: if you decide to go work in the garage or relax in the yard, you just pull the front of the unit away from the base and the built-in batteries will keep the music coming anywhere you care to bring it. Just swivel out the stand built into the back of the smaller front unit, and you have an instant solution to the painfully inadequate speaker built into the new iPod touch – or a way to share music from older iPods that don’t have the luxury of their own speakers.
Music on the run. It may sound a bit gimmicky, but I found myself actively using the unit several times during a week of evaluation, whether while doing work in the garage, weeding the front garden, or even just bringing the music into the car. That last one was, admittedly, just to see how it would work, although it’s probably easier to use a proper car adapter if you plan on doing regular in-car driving.
Sound quality was good, with strong bass and decent midrange and treble providing a decent, full sound. Without the woofer base unit to provide that backing bass, the fullness dropped off considerably, but the smaller portable unit was quite capable of filling the room – albeit no longer shaking the table – when taken away from the base unit.
It was in measured testing that the Duo’s limitations came into view. With the music on full blast – in other words, at maximum draining capacity – the battery gave out after just 1 hr 32 minutes of music. When the music was turned down to a normal listening level, battery life topped out at 2 hr 3 minutes.
The portable part of the Gear4 Duo has space for a second battery, but it appears Gear4 isn’t yet offering them in Australia so you may want to look into an aftermarket battery (the built-in unit is a 1850mAh Danionics DLP 983450 [http://www.delko.si/pub_files/GP_Batteries_-_Specifikacije_industrijskih_baterij/Li-Ion%20Polymer/DLP983450.pdf] that can probably be duplicated at your local Battery World [http://www.batteryworld.com.au/asp/index.asp?pgid=11193] if you’re looking for longer battery life). Recharging (of the portable unit and your iPod) is via AC adapter, so you’ll want to get a DC/AC inverter or find a suitable charger if you’re looking to bring the unit with you while camping or doing other extended outdoor journeys.
The fine print. While the Gear works well in its two modes, the most significant thing about the unit is what it’s missing. For a $349 radio sized to go on the bedside table, for example, you’d expect some sort of alarm functionality, but the duo has none; if you’re looking for alarm functions, you’ll need to consider Gear4′s BlackBox 24/7 unit or Gear4 Alarm Dock, or just get very comfortable with newer iPods’ built-in alarm features.
While both the duo base station and portable unit have standard 3.5mm line-in jacks to support other devices, they lack USB ports for syncing the iPod and have no form of video passthrough to support video-capable units. Make no mistake about it: the duo is an audio-only affair.
One nagging problem with my iPod touch test unit was that the iPod kept locking itself, as it is wont to do, after a certain amount of time; after that time, the Gear4 duo’s remote was unable to control the iPod touch until I walked over to the unit, woke the iPod touch, and slid my finger across the surface.
This is likely a limitation of the iPod as much as the duo, but the only apparent solution – turning off the iPod’s automatic screen locking – was far less than desirable as automatic locking is important for any portable touchscreen device. It would be nice to see future versions of the iPod software address this issue to let external audio units bypass the iPod touch and iPhone screen locking.
Another issue with all iPod docks: the iPod touch, 4G nanos and iPhone all only swivel into Cover Flow mode when the unit is turned to a landscape orientation – but once you turn the unit to put it in the dock, it goes back into normal song list mode. Gravity forces all iPod radios to mount the devices vertically, but it would be nice to see someone enable horizontal mounting to provide Cover Flow browsing while the unit’s in the dock; however, I can’t single out Gear4 for this shortcoming since it is common to all the units that I have seen.
Australian Macworld Buying Advice. The Gear4 duo is a uniquely portable iPod and iPhone dock that delivers decent sound and packs enough punch to last through at least the first half of your average backyard BBQ. It’s a more than adequate iPod dock for the bedroom, although for the money it would have been nice to see built-in alarm features and better battery life. Budget for a second battery, and maybe a car charger, if you plan to spend serious time away from the mains power.
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