Here are three things you can do with an old iPad: pass it along to a family member, sell it on eBay or convert it into a great-sounding portable entertainment system -- by spending more than it may have originally cost.
Bang & Olufsen (BO) portrays its $549 BeoPlay A3 as an easy solution for those times when you want bigger, better sound from your iPad than the tiny, tinny speaker Apple (AAPL) builds in. As far as “easy” goes, the A3 is pretty much a failure: It’s a royal pain to dock and undock your tablet.
But the company’s marketers may not quite understand their own product. Its real killer app turns out to be as a permanent home for that unused iPad, turning it into a wireless mini entertainment-and-information center you can take with you from room to room.
The wedge-shaped A3 measures 14 inches by 8 inches and is 3 inches at its thickest point. It tips the scales at a hefty 2.75 pounds, and that doesn’t even count the weight of the iPad itself. In other words, the package is heavier than many notebook computers, and the happy people using it as a handheld in B&O’s promotional photos probably couldn’t wait to put it down as soon as the camera lights went off.
The BeoPlay is compatible with all three generations of iPads, and you can, theoretically, pop your tablet out to take with you if you’re going somewhere. In practice, however, it isn’t something you’ll want to do often.
The A3 comes with two rubber sleeves that fit around the iPad and are designed to allow it to sit snugly in the dock, its screen flush with the speaker enclosure. I had the easiest time with the sleeve designed for the original, 2010 iPad, which allowed it to slide fairly smoothly into the unit and hook up with the retractable dock connector.
But I had trouble using the sleeve designed for the iPad 2 and the current, third-generation iPad, both of which are slightly thinner than the original tablet.
With the iPad 2, I had to line up the connector just so to get the tablet to snap properly into place. And the current iPad, which is fractionally thicker than its immediate predecessor, was a real struggle.
Several times, I thought I had it properly aligned, only to turn it on and discover the iPad sounded even worse than usual because the A3 audio connection hadn’t been made and the housing was covering the tablet’s built-in speaker.
Bang & Olufsen says it is aware of the problems and has redesigned the sleeve to work better with the newer models. Still, it’s tiresome to put it on every time you want to dock your iPad. And when you undock the tablet to take it with you somewhere, you’re faced with the problem of what to do with the sleeve once you remove it.
At about this point, I was tempted to consign the BeoPlay to the pile of the overpriced and underthought. But a funny thing happened. Once I finally got it working right, I started warming to it.
For one thing, there’s the audio quality, which is terrific. The A3 features a two-inch woofer for a nice rich bass, but what’s really interesting are the half-inch tweeters, particularly how they’re deployed.
There are three of them, but only two are in use at any time. Which two are determined by a built-in accelerometer, the same kind of sensor that reorients a phone or tablet’s screen depending on whether it’s being held in landscape or portrait mode.
In the case of the A3, the accelerometer senses whether it’s positioned horizontally or vertically, then chooses the two tweeters that should fire for the best stereo effect. The reorientation is both instantaneous and seamless.
In addition, the A3’s design -- so inappropriate for handheld use -- turns out to be pretty good for desk-, table- or countertops. In the kitchen, for example, you can put it in landscape mode to watch a TV episode via the iPad’s Hulu Plus app, then flip it into portrait mode to use as an electronic recipe-book holder. On a nightstand, you might want to position it vertically to minimize the amount of space it takes up and use it as a giant alarm clock and digital picture frame.
The A3’s internal battery provides five or more hours of wireless operation, depending on whether it needs to recharge your iPad at the same time. Plugging it into a wall outlet will juice up both the dock and the tablet.
If you have only one iPad and you want a speaker you can easily dock and undock it with, look somewhere else. But if you have an older iPad gathering dust somewhere -- or are looking for an extra rationalization to help justify buying a new one -- the A3 is worth considering.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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