When it comes to accessories, Apple is known for slacking around. Unsurprisingly, the new accessories made for the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus mirror last year's lineup of minimalist leather and silicone cases. But this time Apple has gone a step further with its new iPhone Lightning Dock offering, which has been revamped to feature an all-aluminum design that's a little more premium and made to perfectly compliment the new iPhones compared to its white plastic predecessor. But should you buy one only because Apple made a fancier looking charging dock and at a higher cost?
In short, yes and no. Yes if you want a minimalist, and I've got to emphasis minimalist here, Lightning dock to use with your iPhone that essentially compliments it better than any other dock out there. And no because Apple's dock doesn't work with many cases, costs as much as more versatile third party docks, only provides one very steep viewing angle and is essentially the same dock that Apple released last year – only it isn't made out of plastic. Which is really the only improvement Apple has made to its Lightning Dock. It literally has the same dimensions, functionality and weight as the plastic-made iPhone Lightning Dock released a year ago.
The new aluminum iPhone Lightning Dock is available in multiple colorways to perfectly match the new iPhones from Silver and Space Gray – to the more fancier Gold and Rose Gold. All beautiful colors that are identical to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus and look stunning done in anodized aluminum. It's no secret that Rose Gold will resonate more with the female crowd as it's a very pinkish gold shade in person that is noticeably distinguishable next to the standard yellow gold option Apple uses for the iPhone 6/6s and metal dock.
Apple's new aluminum iPhone Lightning Dock will set you back $49 compared to the $39 white plastic variant this metallic one is replacing indefinitely. It's seamlessly machined using anodized aluminum and the entire thing is evenly weighted just like previous Apple docks. The dock doesn't come with a power cable so you are going to need to use the Lighting cable that came with your iPhone - or any other third party cable for that matter will work just as well. There's a Lightning connector port on the back where you can connect the cable to your computer or a USB wall adapter in order to charge and sync your iPhone.
The iPhone Lightning Dock's flat base isn't specifically molded to fit any particular device, meaning that it's future-proof universal design will most likely remain compatible with all future iPhone generations with Lightning connectors including iPods and other iOS devices except for tablets of course. Unlike previous charging docks from Apple, this one doesn't have a cradle shaped to one specific iPhone model, opening the possibility for larger sized devices including iPhones with non-bulky protective cases such as Apple's official silicone and leather iPhone cases to be easily docked on the flat Lightning connector surface.
The Lightning connector is the only part that actually keeps the device firmly in place. There is no back support which confirms that Apple believes that the Lightning connector is strong enough to handle the stress from the iPhone's weight including any protective case it might have on. It's pretty staggering when you can dock an iPhone 6/6s Plus with a case on and it docks right in with incredible stability. This dock might look insignificant, but it's in fact very sturdy. Part of what makes it this stable is the fact that it sits so low on the desk. Granted it's not as solidly stable as the HiRise dock, which has a back support and a larger base that takes up a sizeable chunk of desk space in comparison. Speaking of desk space, the new Apple Lightning Dock continues to be the most space saving dock we've used with the iPhone 6 and 6s.
Stability does take a significant hit when trying to dock an iPad Air or even an iPad mini, but then again this dock is called the Lighting iPhone Dock for a good reason. It's specifically designed to work with iPhones and iPod touch with Lightning connector. Although technically possible, we would not advise on using this dock with an iPad. Again, you'd be much better off using something like the HiRise Deluxe which features a back support and large base for extra stability.
The Lightning connector protrudes above the surface in order to raise the bottom of the iPhone so to better expose the mic and speaker while also enabling it to poke into various types of cases. While I couldn't use certain types of cases namely the somewhat slim Magpul Field Case or the Spigen Tough Armor and Neo Hybrid Carbon, I could use and dock cases like the Urban Armor Gear UAG, Speck CandyShell and the Spigen Rugged Capsule (shown above) without difficulty.
If you look closely you'll notice that the Lightning connector has been permanently affixed to the very front of the dock in what is a rubber base, but at a very slight angle. This gives you a somewhat better viewing angle of your iPhone's display, but it's nothing dramatic. Still, it's enough to comfortably view and even use your device should you choose.
Apple's new aluminum dock might look clean and sleek, which it is, but it's not the best option out there when compared to some other third party alternatives. Take Twelve South's HiRise dock for example. The HiRise Deluxe is a much more versatile docking solution that will work with more cases, all iPhone models with a Lightning connector, the iPad Air and iPad mini, and even Android devices. Clearly it's the better dock out of the two, but it's also a $60 accessory and as you can see, it also takes up more space compared to Apple's iPhone Lightning Dock. There are tradeoffs to both offerings so think about your priorities for a dock and if you need one to play nicely with more than just your iPhone.
Of course you won't be able to undock your iPhone without first holding the dock down with your other hand - or if you're slightly more advanced and articulate - use your pinky finger to hold the dock down as you pull your iPhone up. With some practice, you'll be able to easily pull it out using one hand alone. Despite being made out of metal, it still not heavy enough to stay put when trying to undock.
You can plug in your headphones or external speakers to the iPhone Lightning Dock's 3.5mm audio output around the back, while the gap between the Lightning connector and the dock itself allows you to take calls using the iPhone's speakerphone functionality without having to undock it. And of course there's the Lightning connector port dead center which provides power to charge the iPhone or iPod as well as allowing it to sync when connected to a computer.
Let's not forget about the bottom portion of this dock, which is covered with a rubber layer that grips the surface, preventing the dock from easily sliding when used.
Even though little has changed, the aluminum iPhone Lightning Dock is by far and away Apple's most impressive dock ever. And for once, it's the first dock Apple has put out that actually matches up to the premium quality and design of the aluminum iPhone. And you'll most likely want one to match your stunning Space Gray, Gold or Rose Gold iPhone, right? We think the most appealing thing about Apple's latest iPhone Lightning Dock is that it's made out of the same material as the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, matching in color and in quality and no longer made out of inferior plastic. And of course you can still use previous models of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus with this dock, or any other iPhone or iPod with a Lightning connector for that matter. But you probably already knew that.
Like its plastic predecessor, the updated version of the iPhone Lightning Dock is incredibly simplistic and not at all as occupying and complex as the HiRise by Twelve South, yet it achieves a very similar function. Granted it isn't going to work with as many cases as the HiRise, which would be our pick for a versatile, do-it-all charging dock for iPhone as well as iPad. As someone who appreciates simplicity, Apple's svelte new aluminum iPhone Lightning Dock is a pretty good option as long as you don't mind paying a premium for it or the limited iPhone/iPod-only functionality, and of course the limited (third party) case compatibility - which needlessly to say will be a big deal-breaker for a lot of users such as myself. It's a solid, highly compact dock that just looks great.
If you've got an iPad or like switching between different cases (bulky or slim), don't buy this dock. Don't even get it just so you can use it with your iPhone. Grab a HiRise Deluxe and you won't regret doing so. You'll be paying a bit extra for added functionality and the two included interchangeable Lightning/micro-USB cables, however, it might be worth the extra cost if that's what you're looking for in a charging dock.