There are hundreds of iPhone docks and amplifiers around, but SEAN BACHER finds the Griffin AirCurve Play amplifier has the edge with clever engineering, simple design and ease of use.
The AirCurve Play is as simple as a gadget gets: a plastic box with a rubber dock for an iPhone 4 or 4S, that uses cleverly designed acoustics to amplify any sounds coming from the phone’s speaker.
Numerous amplifiers are available from various manufacturers, but most of them require some kind of power supply, and in many cases are more expensive than the AirCurve Play. But is the latter a viable alternative to the powered amplifiers?
We put it through the Gadget Five Question User Test .
1. Ease of use (including set-up)
The AirCurve Play is not merely an easy to use device. It is one of the easiest yet. There is no instruction manual and it is a gadget that you can work out for yourself. Just slot an iPhone into the rubber inset, browse to your music, push Play and adjust the volume to suit the mood.
Because the AirCurve uses no power, there are no volume or power buttons on the amplifier; everything is controlled from the iPhone.
Overall, there is no faulting the AirCurve Play. It is ready to work straight out of the box. without the need for charging or an additional power supply. This is almost unheard of in a device that is designed to amplify.
2. General performance
The Griffin AirCurve Play does not only amplify music. At the back of the unit is a stand for vertical or horizontal positioning on a desk or bedside-table. This allows easy access to the bottom of the phone for charging and also frees up your hands when video conferencing or when watching videos.
However, because the AirCurve Play amplifies vibrations from the iPhone’s speaker and turns them into sound, the phone has to fit snuggly into the rubber inset. So, before it can be used, any protective cases or bumpers that are on the iPhone need to be removed. I found this irritating as my phone’s case, (and I am sure many other users will have the same problem) is not designed to be taken off on the fly.
That said, the rubber inset can be removed and will act as a case, albeit not a very protective one.
3. Does it add value to your life?
The Griffin AirCurve Play is the kind of device that can be used in most environments. It doubles up as an iPhone stand, making it a great bedside and office accessory. However, it really shines outdoors, as you don’t have to carry around additional chargers or power adaptors in order to use it, as long as you’ve charged the iPhone.
The fact that you are not constricted to a power outlet makes the AirCurve Play a versatile accessory wherever you are.
I did find a problem with the AirCurve’s plastic shell. It felt rather brittle and, if dropped, would probably crack and destroy all the acoustic properties it offers.
4: Is it innovative?
Using acoustics instead of power to amplify sound is not new. The concept has been around for years; going back to the original megaphones or even the gramophone, first introduced in 1877.
But the idea of being able to amplify an iPhone’s speaker using nothing but acoustics is definitely a novel idea. Griffin gets full marks here.
5: Value for money
Many devices score very well in the first four questions, but fail miserably when it comes to value for money. This is largely due to the manufacturers spending so much money and time researching, developing and building the “perfect” device, they don’t spend enough time researching what consumers are willing to spend.
This is not the case with the AirCurve Play. You can’t get much cheaper than R199 for performance like this.
The scores speak for themselves. The AirCurve Play got full marks in all but two departments. Overall, it scored 94%, the highest of any gadget we have put through the Gadget Five Question User Test, which shows it is often the most basic devices that come out top.
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher