Many states are adopting strict hands-off policies when it comes to cell phone use in your car. As of January 1st, 2014 there are only two ways to legally use your phone while driving in Illinois (where I live): a bluetooth headset, or a dashboard/windshield mount. Most of my phone use is data-based, so a bluetooth headset isn’t the best option for me. I’ve been soliciting opinions, suggestions, and ideas for the last few months trying to find a docking system that fits my needs. I was able to kill two birds with one stone – stay legal, and find a mount I was happy with – when I was given the opportunity to review the Air Dock.
The Air Dock is a combination mount, and Qi wireless charging dock that keeps your phone at your fingertips and charged. While the most obvious use for the Air Dock is in your car, it could just as easily be used at your desk or elsewhere in your home. The dock itself is a flat pad with a sticky gel (Micro-suction foam) that holds your phone in place. Upon first use, that Micro-suction foam is quite sticky. It actually pulled some of the decorative “nexus” lettering off of the back of my phone. This lettering could easily fall off through normal use though, so I don’t have a problem with it, it’s just something to watch out for. The Air Dock also has several magnets that pull your phone gently toward the dock and hold it there securely. Check their FAQ to make sure that your phone is compatible with the dock. Some phones have issues with the magnets, others won’t work with Qi, etc. If your phone is compatible but doesn’t get pulled in quite as nicely, each Air Dock also includes a magnetic sticker that will help things along.
Once attached, your phone isn’t going to move around much. I wouldn’t recommend shaking the dock violently while your phone is attached (though I honestly didn’t try this myself) but through normal use you won’t have any issues with your phone falling off of the Air Dock. Operation is quick and easy: you simply place your phone on the pad, and remove it when you’re done. This can be completed with one hand and is really a one-step process. With my Nexus 5 it works just as easily in portrait or landscape without any adjustments, though there are a few exceptions where landscape needs to be handled differently (again, see their FAQ). Most other docks don’t offer such easy one-handed operation.
The dock connects to one of three different mounts using a ball and socket connection. Since there doesn’t seem to be any sort of standard that I can see in ball and socket style mounts, the air dock probably won’t work with other mounting solutions. That may be a problem for some, but the available mounting options worked perfectly for me. I tested the Air Dock with the standard mount, and the long flexible mount. Also available is a CD slot mount, which was not tested in this review (the CD player in my car is positioned strangely).
Most of my testing was done using the long flexible mount. It connects securely to my windshield using a quality suction cup, and the flexible arm allows me to position the dock itself just above the dashboard of my car. The suction cup on this mount is meant for smooth surfaces only, so I wouldn’t try putting it on your dashboard. When locked into place, this mount holds very securely. This mount has a bit of “give” at the base to allow for movement when driving over bumpy roads and whatnot. The Air Dock, when used with the long flexible mount, held my Nexus 5 in place while driving on the highway, over railroad tracks, speed bumps, and everything else I could drive over. All the while, the Air Dock cradled my phone securely and kept it at my fingertips.
The standard mount comes in two flavors – smooth surface and textured surface. Smooth is meant for similar applications as the long/flexible mount. It’s suction cup is best suited for a windshield or other glass surface. The textured mount has a sticky ring around the suction cup that makes it perfect for dashboards or other rough, slightly curved surfaces. This mount doesn’t have the same bit of wiggle as the long flexible mount, but it too holds the dock – and therefore your phone – securely in place. I used the textured standard mount on my dashboard, where it’s worked flawlessly. This mount could also be used on a center console, or probably even on the front of your dash. The sticky ring in addition to the suction cup provides a strong seal for most surfaces. I even used the standard mount attached to the bottom of a citronella candle bucket to record my entry into the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that’s been taking the Internet by storm (don’t forget to donate!).
That should just about cover the dock and mount, but what about the Qi wireless charging? The Air Dock comes with a dual USB car adapter (1 Amp and 2.1 Amp ports) and a USB/Micro USB cable to connect the two. When plugged in, the Air Dock immediately starts charging your device as it should. I was surprised at how quickly it charged as well. Even on a 15-20 minute trip I could charge about 10% – 12% of my battery. Throughout my testing, I never noticed my phone getting hot while charging. I can’t say the same about the USB car adapter though, it seemed to overheat on a long trip and stopped functioning. It resumed working after some time to cool off, but it’s worth noting if you plan to charge your phone while navigating for extended periods. Thankfully, the Qi charging works with other power sources so I just plugged the dock into my iBattz external battery and kept on driving. I didn’t have this issue at all on shorter trips, so just be prepared on longer drives. If you don’t have an external battery, I’d probably just recommend unplugging the USB adapter for a few minutes every few hours to avoid overheating.
Before I had my time with the Air Dock, Alex Hernandez had an opportunity to test the iPhone 5 charging case:
The iPhone Qi charging case works brilliantly with the Air Dock, almost as if the iPhone supported Qi natively. The case is plain, not much to it but it does a reasonable job of protecting your iPhone even though that’s not it’s primary purpose. The charging rate is better than expected, I have used other Qi solutions for the iPhone that took a little longer to charge the phone. Overall the case is plain but it does it’s job in this instance. The iPhone 5 charging case is available for $24.99.
Overall I am incredibly happy with the Air Dock. It’s a solid piece of hardware that does what it’s expected to do, and it does it very well. The few minor issues are definitely overshadowed by the positive experience that I had. If you’re looking for a quality dock with one-hand operation and Qi wireless charging included, head on over to TheAirDock.com where you can purchase a complete set – Air Dock, your choice of mount, dual-USB adapter, and USB Cable – starting at $68.99. While you’re there, you can browse some of their other products, including additional mounts, USB Adapters, the aforementioned iPhone charging case, and more. The Air Dock earns a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. Check it out!