Published on February 10th, 2013 | by Greg0
Make Your iPad Boom With Belkin’s Thunderstorm
Our movie and television watching habits have changed. Timeshifting has meant that we no longer have to be glued to our screens at the right moment, but can catch up later with Hulu. And though we certainly are saddened by the demise of video rental shops, Netflix is definitely more convenient- especially during snowstorms like Nemo, the one we’re currently weathering. Instead of using a big old television, some of us here have a projector for parties and watch quite a bit of media on the computer screen, and mostly use the iPad for travel and in-bed viewing of the latest sitcom or film.
But the iPad, more than laptops or other devices, suffers from an audio problem. The screen is perfect for two people to watch on a couch, but the speakers just don’t put out enough volume. And while there are a few other solutions, like a set of external speakers, they either take some thought to set up or remember to grab and pack. Plus, the audio is often a little louder, but rarely better, and often at a weird angle to viewers. That’s where the Belkin Thunderstorm comes in- a device they’ve labeled as a portable “Handheld Theater” for the iPad 2 and 3. We got a chance to check out a demo in a soundproof room at CES, and were a bit skeptical at first- it’s a fairly small unit, and if we’ve hammered home one point with audio gear, it’s that size does matter.
But we can’t suggest it highly enough- check it out. We came away mightily impressed. Over the past month, we’ve been traveling and using the Thunderstorm regularly. There are some downsides- it requires separate power of course, which means you need to recharge it regularly, plus it adds quite a bit of weight and thickness to the unit. But overall, it’s the best way to get more boom from your iPad, and really will change the way you feel about the cinema experience from Apple’s tablet. And it’s not just movies- action films become more immersive, since the explosions are no longer a bit of muffled noise- but gaming as well, with most games benefiting greatly from the improved surround sound. Racing games were especially more engaging, with engine sounds in true stereo and with rumbling bass.
Users can expect about ten hours of life from the internal rechargeable batteries, which matches your iPad’s battery or exceeds it. And while some other solutions are integrated, this one comes with an excellent case that is part and parcel of the device. Belkin makes some solid cases and accessories, and we have high expectations if we’re expected to lose our Smart Covers- but the cleverly folding panels create a better stand that means easier viewing. And in most other ways, it’s pretty much the same as the official Smart Cover, protective and swank-looking though only in one color at this time. Unfortunately, we didn’t love the Thunderstorm when trying to use our iPad vertically, in portrait mode- it feels a little awkward and unbalanced in our hands.
Aside from that issue, which should only be a problem for users who use their iPad in that orientation, the only other potential stumbling block is the price. At $200, available online and in stores now, it’s clearly a device aimed at movie-lovers. As the best integrated solution for audio that we’ve yet seen, the Belkin Thunderstorm deserves a serious look if you have an iPad 2 or 3 and use it for rich media. Solo users will probably be better served by a good set of headphones, but couples or those who regularly share the latest YouTube video with friends will find it a great buy.