Earlier this week, I reviewed Incipio's Lloyd, an inexpensive iPod microphone the company was showing off at last week's Macworld Expo. Today I've got another inexpensive-but-surprisingly-good accessory I discovered at the Expo, this one for the iPhone: Ten One Design's SoundClip. (Don't worry, software fans; I'll get back to software next week.)
If you ever watch movies or play games on your iPhone in landscape mode, chances are you've found that your hand often blocks the iPhone's speaker. You can avoid this by curling your hand slightly, but given that your hands move over the course of a game or movie, at some point you end up with muffled audio. (Maybe I'm just unlucky, but it always seems to happen to me when I most need to hear something clearly.)
The SoundClip, a tiny piece of plastic that plugs into your iPhone's dock-connector port and redirects the speaker's audio forward, is designed to help you avoid this problem. But while Ten One advertises the SoundClip as a "sound enhancer," my advice is to ignore all the technical talk on the company's Web site about how the device amplifies the iPhone's audio and improves its frequency response. In fact, if you simply place your iPhone on your desk and compare its audio with and without the SoundClip, you won't hear much of a difference--if any at all.
Rather, the SoundClip's utility comes from what it does while you're holding your iPhone in your hand. First and foremost, the SoundClip's tiny baffle prevents your hand from blocking the iPhone's speaker, so no matter how you hold the iPhone while playing a game or watching video, you'll still be able to hear the audio. This feature alone makes the SoundClip useful.
But the other benefit is that, while the SoundClip itself doesn't amplify the iPhone's audio in any way I could detect, its baffle uses your hand to make audio seem noticeably louder. Once you curl your palm and fingers around the end of a SoundClip-equipped iPhone, there's a surprising increase in volume, especially at the higher frequencies (treble). Because of the position of the iPhone's speaker, this effect is more significant if you hold your horizontally-oriented iPhone with the speaker on the right-hand side, so more of your palm surrounds the SoundClip.
Sound crazy? I thought so, too, when Ten One handed me a SoundClip at the Expo. But I was pleasantly surprised by how well it works, as was every person I demonstrated it to last week. It's a clever add-on I've found myself using more than I expected. (Perhaps the best criticism of the SoundClip I heard came from my colleague Dan Moren, who was concerned about its size--he was convinced he'd lose the tiny accessory within a week.) Yes, US$8 may seem expensive for a little piece of plastic; the $5 Expo price was more appealing. But if you play a lot of games or regularly watch video while holding your iPhone in your hand, I think the SoundClip is worth the cost. And here's a tip: Order a few with some friends, or buy a couple extra, to save on shipping; Ten One's shipping charge is $3.50 no matter how many SoundClips you buy.