Review: BeoPlay A3 iPad Dock

Bang & Olufsen's take on personal tech has never been ordinary, and the company's first iPad-specific dock is right in character. The BeoPlay A3 is a luxurious, minimal appliance, suitable for use "in the summerhouse, on the boat, or in the bedroom" - and maybe, just maybe, for the rest of us.

Where most recent iPad docks (even from B&O) have taken their form factor queues from console radios, providing your iProduct with a stationary resting place you can regard, aurally or visually, from the midfield, A3 design lead Steffen Schmelling seems to have focused on preserving the Pad's portability (or luggability, at least). The A3 is, more or less, a very elaborate and substantial case/stand, with a powerful little audio system - the device's real reason for being - tossed in. The iPad's lonely little onboard speaker has always seemed an oversight (surely Apple could have come up with better built-in audio), but the A3 looks to address that lack in a big way. 

Sizing Up B&O's Portable Dock

The A3 is a chunky wedge of substantial-feeling black plastic with an asymmetric, faceted, cutaway rear, which looks a bit odd, but offers a wider variety of placement options than would be offered by a more traditional chunk-of-Parmesan profile. Silver details give it a touch of class. In one corner (at the fat end of the wedge) you'll find a single full-range "woofer"; three tweeters occupy the remaining three corners of the bezel. There's powered, of course, by a Class D module, a tech that B&O knows a lot about.

Why three tweeters, you ask? Well, only two are in use at any time depending on whether you're using the A3 in landscape or portrait mode. There's an accelerometer onboard, and a subroutine B&O calls "adaptive stereo orientation" switches drivers on the fly as you move the device around. It'll even swap L and R channels as you turn the thing 180 degrees, as you might when handing it over to a friend you've asked to check out a video. Nifty.

The A3's familiar 30-pin connector is here attached to a sliding clamp that offers secure grip, but B&O hasn't made that system solely responsible for maintaining the A3's hold on your tablet. Rather, a pair of gaskets is included; one of the rubbery shells fits the original iPad; the other covers the iPad2 and New iPad. The gasket fits, much like other protective shell-style cases, over the rear of your pad, and used in tandem with that sliding clamp offers a secure, gap-free attachment, about the most secure I've yet seen from an aftermarket Applecessory. 

That tight fit is great for use with the A3 - but should you want to switch gears and carry around your IPad the old-fashioned way, the gasket precludes the use of the SmartCover, makes the iPad too bulky for a number of slipcases and sleeves, and makes interfacing with other accessories kind of a pain (it rules out attaching anything else securely to the docking connector port). So to do anything else, you've got to remove the gasket and swap your alternate case or cover back in. Not particularly elegant, and granted, since I'm a reviewer I do a lot more swapping of devices than most people, but taking that gasket on and off got old for me pretty quickly.

On a related note, there's no headphone jack on the A3. This would have made a lot of sense given how friendly the device is for lap-bound movie watching and gaming. No worries, of course there's a headphone jack on the iPad itself, so just pop it out and plug in. Right?

Unfortunately (and this is a problem that will be familiar to iPhone owners who've taken X-Acto knives to their form-fit cases), the gasket makes plugging in any but the slimmest 1/8-inch jack impossible. So if you want to use your cans with your iPad, you'll have to find an extension cable that fits, remove, or possibly modify the gasket. Something to keep in mind.

The onboard battery will give you a claimed 5 hours of playtime. Your mileage will vary depending on how loud you like your playback, of course, but we felt the rating was conservative, and in moderate use you should probably get several more hours out of the A3. Conveniently, it will charge your iPad when it's plugged in.

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