When Lego kit specialist The Daily Brick made contact to see if we'd like to review its Lego iPad Dock Kit for Retina or iPad mini, bits were champed. This was partially because I don't actually have a Lightning dock for my Retina iPad, and partially because… you know… Lego. But as fun as Lego is, most of the joy is in the building. Is a Lego dock really up to the rigors of daily use? Gizmag built one to find out.
At the risk of hitting you over the head with the obvious stick, though Lightning-connector docks for Retina iPads and iPhone 5 are few in number, they do exist. If you're looking for one with integrated speakers to play music with more heft and fidelity than the iPad's own speakers, this dock, being made out of lumps of plastic, isn't it. But, if you're after a dock to quickly plonk your iPad on for a bit of charge, or prop it up at a useful angle, or to put next to a computer, the Daily Brick's dock is well worth some consideration.
First, this takes no time to build. Inside the Jiffy bag, along with the three plastic bags of little black bricks, you'll find a sticker pointing you to instructions at the Daily Brick website. These are much improved from the online instructions that went along with the Raspberry Pi case I built. Those used computer-rendered images that didn't show the lines between the bricks when put together. This is all great larks if you're in the mood for a puzzle, but if you're hoping to get something built, the Daily Brick's photo guides are much easier to follow. Though improved, the instructions were not entirely without ambiguity. But building it is fun, which is important, because this is Lego we're talking about.
Complete, the dock is surprisingly sturdy. If you drop it, there is some chance it will break, but if it does, it will break into whole pieces which you can put back together yourself. Drop a more expensive dock and it may not break, but if it does, repair won't be so easy. But most importantly, the dock doesn't decide to split in two every time you remove the iPad. You do have to hold it with one hand because it's so light, but that's all. It's structurally well designed.
There are no in-built guides, rails or tracks to make docking the iPad idiot-proof, but actually, putting the iPad onto it is surprisingly easy. The trick is simply to line up the iPad's home button with the Lightning connector, which is held firm by two of those hooked grippy Lego pieces which seem almost tailored to holding the cable. There's a bit of depth perception to factor in, and so it's quite a bit easier to dock nearer eye level (i.e. on a desk you're sitting at) rather than from above (i.e. a coffee table you're standing over). It's not absolutely ideal, but with a bit of practice you should be able to dock first time, averting annoyance.
With the iPad in place, the dock stands perfectly stably, despite being compact. This is a major advantage of the lack of speakers. It doesn't take up much space.
If there's one dead fly in the otherwise deliciously fruity raisin bread that is the Lego iPad dock, it's the length of Apple's Lightning connector. The dock requires you to build your cable into it, as it were, so it's worth taking a moment to wonder if you'll need to order a spare to build the dock into your current charging regime. My iPad is purely recreational, my charge patterns scatter-shot, and so I was happy to devote my cable to the dock. However, the standard 1-meter cable does rather limit where you can put it.
Though it looks as if the iPad now fits cozily into my arrangement of work stuff, the cable won't actually reach far enough around the back of my monitor to my computer. All the monitor's USB ports are busy, and the cable won't reach through the grommet to my power supply. I'm sorely tempted to order a 3-meter third-party Lightning cable, and that's testament to the Lego dock: It's something I want to use.
To conclude by wrapping up in an overall summary, then: this is useful, fun (that's Lego-fun, which counts double), cool (Lego-cool, which counts triple), and though not exactly cheap (Lego never is, unfortunately), it's certainly inexpensive compared to other docks.
The Daily Brick iPad Dock Kit costs £19.95 (about US$31). They also ship an iPhone 5 Dock Kit for £11.95 ($18.50).
A final note: Though Daily Brick's instructions are straightforward to follow, there's a completely cretin-proof assembly guide in this article's image gallery. I had to partially disassemble the dock at one stage, because a join (or lack of one) was obscured in one of the Daily Brick's pictures, making it impossible to tell which piece or pieces were used (you'd have to be stupid to choose the wrong ones, though, so naturally, I did). The Gizmag gallery shows you which pieces will be added at each stage, before showing where they go, in case you're as stupid as I am.