ANDROID DOCKING STATION BUYING GUIDE
What is docking station?
Android docking station, also called “android dock”, is a device that allows in one way or another to connect your Android Operating System powered device to the docking station, which is equipped with micro-usb charger, speakers, alarm clock and other features. Docking stations can range from small devices that only charge your phone in horizontal or vertical position to large electronics that have built in speakers, alarms, Bluetooth connections and even audio and video ports coming out of them.
A docking station in itself is such a broad phrase that includes a variety of devices, but it is limited in this case to all smart devices that run Android Operating system. An android docking station can also be just a simple car mount that holds your device in place, but from the other hand it can be a large scale speaker that has a Micro USB port where you can charge your smart device. Because there are so many possibilities you can check out our docking station Type article Here.
What differs Android docking station from regular music speakers?
When we are thinking about buying a new music station with speakers, we first think about regular sound station. But now, when android smartphones and tablets have become so popular, you probably need to look for something where you can connect your phone and listen to your favourite soundtracks from your music streaming application. Today, practically all of my music is in my phone, and I am sure, that this is the case with many people who use smartphones each day.
Here are some of the ways, you can connect your phone to your home sound system.
First option – AUX connection
So, when the day comes and you are going to look for something more powerful than android phone speakers,the first option you can choose is a sound system supporting AUX or 3.5mm audio jack connection. This rather oldschool variant is surely convenient and will do the job of streaming sound from your phone to sound station speakers very well, but, there is one BUT. Today most of our portable android devices come almost cable free and we only need a micro-usb cable for charging and data transfers (Although there are smartphones that support wireless charging and data can be transferred wirelessly using bluetooth or the internet). The same situation is with sound streaming from smartphone or tablet. It’s a lot more convenient to stream sound to external speakers from a distance, rather than connecting smartphone to a docking station with a cable. Although bluetooth is the preferred technology for docking stations and portable speakers, 3.5mm jack still has its advantages. For example, when streaming a very high definition sound to external speakers, bluetooth technology may lose some sound quality, while AUX cable will provide the highest sound quality without any quality loss.
Second option – Bluetooth connection
The next possibility would be to connect your android phone to your home sound system through Bluetooth, if your home system has one. For this to work, your sound system should have working bluetooth connector that accepts sound streaming from phone to music station, so you can connect both devices. If your sound system supports such an option, great. But here come some problems. Again you will need a place to charge your smartphone and there is a chance that your sound system does not provide a charging port. Second thing is that people tend to lose their smartphone even at home. Wouldn’t it be nice, if you could place your phone in a sound system, while phone streams music to it. And another thing is that, when you want to watch movies on your smartphone and sound is just not so good through phones speakers, it would be cool to place your phone in a stand and adjust its angle, so you can watch movies easily and enjoy great sound quality, while your phone is charging at the same time. Home sound systems will not offer such features. The last thing is that home music systems usually are large and static, meaning that you cannot carry it with you anywhere you go. So we have come to a conclusion that home music system with a bluetooth connection is good way to connect your android device to stream music, but there should be another, better way, made specially for smartphones, to meet all our needs. And Yes indeed, there is such a device and its called – docking station.
Third option – Docking station
There is no doubt that docking station is the best way you can connect your smartphone to music station, for streaming and listening to music on higher quality speakers, charging your phone and providing a place for your smartphone to stand still, while watching a movie or doing something else on your phone. Docking stations can offer all these features for you in one, compact device. With the variety of android and iphone docking stations available at the market, you can choose the best device that suits all your needs and demands. You can get a smaller and portable docking station, if you go on a trip, or maybe camping somewhere outside and want a small speaker dock that works on batteries for listening to music. You can have an alarm dock that has a built in digital clock with alarm clock function, which can be used in a bedroom. Or you can buy a larger android speaker dock, with powerful speakers and subwoofer and enjoy music at the best quality.
Docking stations also provide different kind of connection options. Almost all docks provide ability to charge your android device with micro USB connector. Some docking stations even allow to charge your android and apple device at the same time or allows charging multiple gadgets with one multi-device charging station. For sound streaming you have classic 3.5mm AUX connector and many docking stations allow to stream music from an android device to dock station through Bluetooth connection. There are a lot of options and features that android docking station provides, so you just have to consider the best one for your needs.
Android smartphone applications for docking stations
Android Docking station apps
Android apps for docking stations are used, to provide different options and features, when your android device is connected to a docking station through Bluetooth. Primary option that almost any docking station app provides is an instant, automatic connection between your smartphone or tablet and the docking station. When your phone is in the range where bluetooth connection can reach from your phone to dock, it automatically connects both devices and you can start listening to music immediately. There are several other options that these docking station apps provide, for example, setting alarm clock, controlling audio playback settings and your music streaming application. Docking station apps are usually made for specific manufacturer devices like Samsung wireless audio dock made for Samsung Galaxy series smartphones, but they probably will work with any android device with bluetooth connection and required android operating system version. Other apps like Philips DockStudio are made to work with Fidelio docking stations. Here are some android docking station applications that can be found on Google Play store.
- Philips DockStudio – This android application is made for Philips Fidelio series docking stations, which are one of the most popular android docking stations, so I included this app in this article. As we have reviewed, fidelio docks are really good and provide decent sound quality, looks well and have many functions. Philips DockStudio app, on the other hand, is terrible. It has many problems, crashes for many users and I uninstalled this application after short time, because it had some alarm issues and I had to reinstall it to be able to play music through Fidelio docking station. Myself and many others from google play store do not recommend this application for Philips docking station.
- Samsung Wireless Audio Dock application – This application is made for Samsung Galaxy smartphones and Galaxy Player. For Galaxy Tab series there is another application with the same name. You can use this application with different Samsung audio products and samsung docking stations. Supports all android operating systems from Gingerbread and up. The app automatically connects your phone to docking station with bluetooth. It provides some basic features like auto launch, some weather settings, brightness and so on. But you actually can live without this application and still can use a samsung docking station with any bluetooth compatible device without any problems. It is nice little application, and you can test it out by yourself and see, if you like any of the few features it provides.
- Dock Clock (Night Clock) application – This is really cool application if you use your docking station in bedroom at night. I really enjoyed this application with my android device, while it was sitting in a docking station. It basically makes your smartphone better for use at night. It customizes different settings like sound volume, dims screen brightness, makes your ringer softer, changes text colors, shows large clock on the home screen of your phone, adds different functions to the alarm clock and provides many other features. In other words, it makes your phone a great alarm clock at night, while it is connected to a docking station or charger. There is also a Dock Clock Plus application that offers some additional features for little money. I ensure you to check out at least the free application and you will enjoy it, if you use an android docking station at your bedroom.
- Car Dock Home v3 – Last android dock application I tested was Car Dock Home v3. This application is made for car docks and is really handy if you use your android smartphone a lot in a car while driving. You can add any apps or widgets you like on the home screen, make different home screens for different usage. Buttons that are placed on home screen are large and easy accessible. It also provides many automatic settings, when your smartphone enters the car mode, for example disabling unnecessary settings like WiFi and turns on GPS, Bluetooth and turns volume to max. I recommend this car dock application for everyone that uses smartphone in a car, and it will improve and help you to use your phone more easier and safer while driving.
Music streaming apps for android smartphones
You can use one of the many popular music streaming applications on your android smartphone and play music on your docking station through bluetooth. Here I have listed some of the most popular music streaming services,radio apps and music players that myself and many other people are using and can recommend:
You can read detailed reviews about these android application on Google Play store, by clicking on the name from the list provided above.
AUX vs Micro USB vs Bluetooth vs NFC connections
Android docking stations that have a built in speaker usually have two options how you can play music through the phone – AUX and Bluetooth..These two main options are a bluetooth connection and a 3.5 mm audio connector. Both of them can play music from your phone or other portable device and both have their advantages and disadvantages. In addition, there are two more connection types – Micro USB and NFC. I have described and compared all four of these connection types found in android docking stations.
This first option allows you to link your device and the docking station so that the remote device can play music wirelessly without the need to plug another jack into that device. This means that you can just connect smartphone to the dock and play music within the bluetooth range that is from 10 to 30 meters. This also means that you can play music while your phone is in your pocket or while it is docked into the stand and charging. Because of this flexibility you don’t have to stop your music playback if you want to pick up the device from the dock and also you can use it for hands free calls. But if you really want to enjoy a hands free music playback then you definitely need a docking station that comes with a dedicated application that allows you to start playing music as soon as the phone is in the docks range. This ability is amazing and without it the bluetooth connection doesn’t seem that good but when you can start playing music as soon as you enter the room you just want to smile and think you have chosen wisely to get a dock with this feature.
But from the other side bluetooth is a wireless connection and it is not that strong to facilitate high quality audio transmission that would allow you to listen a good quality music. Because of this drawback you will get decreased quality in your audio files but usually dock speakers are small and even with the physical connection won’t give you as good of a quality like home cinema or high end audio player would allow. The music quality is not that great but you can increase it if you install a dedicated application that I mentioned that somehow tinkers with the connection or decoding and gives you clearer sound!
AUX 3.5 mm audio jack connection
Our well known AUX cable is capable of playing music in high quality and it is used in all headphones and microphones so you are well familiar with its capabilities. Because of this well adapted standard form factor for music playback android docking stations have also included this option in most speaker equipped devices. This wide spread usage means these docks can be connected to a wide range of devices starting from mobile phones and computers and ending with mp3 players and large music stations. This cable capability allows you to use these docks as speakers and it gives them more functionality as not every device that can play music has a Bluetooth connection!
But thinking from the smartphone user side AUX 3.5 mm physical connection is just another wire you need to plug in your device when you want to dock it in a place. Usually you plug your smartphone in the charging dock and leave it but with this connection you need to take that jack and plug it in your phone. This simple but reluctant action could be daunting task to do each time so think about that before you get your next docking station. Some Android phones have the 3.5 mm audio and Micro USB connection ports on opposite sides and to plug a cord you need to stretch that wire and this can be another issue for smaller docking stations. This extra connection also makes the detaching process a little longer and when an urgent business call comes in those extra seconds can cost you a buck or two!
These two previous music playback options are in almost all speaker-docks but the ability to stream music through the micro USB ports is not so common and is usually found in only specialized docks. This third option is a real game changer for docking station because with this you don’t need to plug in another physical jack or tinker with that bluetooth connection to start playing music. If you have chosen a docking station that allows you to synchronize the dock and your device with a Micro USB connection only then you can be sure you will love this dock. Imagine those people that have to plug in an audio jack or each time tinker with their phone to connect their docking station and smartphone, but you can just put your phone in the charging position and get an instant music playback!
NFC or Near field communication is a relatively new mobile phone connection and communication standard that gets implemented in the newest smartphones. NFC allows to exchange data between two NFC enabled devices in a very simple and fast way. Both devices must be about 1 inch close to each other. Today, most popular portable audio speaker manufacturers are implementing NFC technology in their newest portable speakers and android docking stations. NFC allows to connect smartphone to portable speaker or audio dock with one touch. However, music from your smartphone to speaker gets streamed with bluetooth connection. NFC allows to connect and pair both devices really fast and easy. NFC also allows for multiple mobile devices to connect to a single speaker. This means that you and your friends can connect to one bluetooth speaker or android speaker dock and choose which device streams music to speaker with just one tap. We will definitely see NFC technology getting implemented in more and more smartphones, portable speakers and android docking stations in the future.
So choose wisely what docking mechanism you get and think about which of these four options is most acceptable to you.
Top Dock Manufacturers
Samsung is An international company that is based in South Korea. This one of the worlds most valuable technology company for the past three years is the main innovator and technology producer. Samsung Corporation creates everything from TV’s to smartphones and they have been doing this from 1988 when the Samsung Electronic Division was born. With that kind of legacy and with production of some of the top smartphones in the world, Samsung is also a large Android docking station manufacturer. Their docking stations range from large, subwoofer powered speakers to small charging stations and they almost always differ with their amazing design, build quality and usability.
Koninklijke Philips N.V. or just Phillips is well known for their wide range of products starting from smaller items like earphones and android accessories to music centers, tv, appliances and many more, but Philips also produces lights and healthcare products, which proves how they large this company is! Philips has its roots at the year 1891, so it is more than 120 years old and with that kind of heritage you would expect top quality products and prices. Philips was created by Gerard Philips and at its beginnings they made just light bulbs and slowly grew the company to have a 30 billion market capitalization in 2013. Fidelio is Philips series of sound devices that include speakers, earphones and also docking stations for Android devices. These docks are well built and their prices are amazing, but when you know that a company that is more than 120 years old is behind them you won’t think twice to get them!
SONR Labs is a small company that was created in 2011 by just two guys that had a mission to create a home audio system that is easy to use so that you would have a hassle free life with your music playing like in those good old days. Their first and only product is an Android docking station that provides a wide range of connectivity and an amazing design. These two business partners are trying to change the home music playback scheme and I hope they manage to build a lot more products just like their first. Because this is a really technology driven company, they offer an API that plugs directly in their Application and that you can modify and extend so technology savvy users will be able to modify and improve SONR Labs products.
Hale Devices is one the best known docking station manufacturer for android smartphone and tablet market. Those, who have been around android docking station market for longer time may know that Hale Devices was previously known as SONR Labs, but choose to rebrand their company after 2011. The company was founded by Joe Born and Dave Phillips. Hale Devices has made two successful android docking stations – Hale Dreamer and Hale Speaker dock. In 2013 they ran a campaign on the popular crowd funding platform Kickstarter to raise funding for Hale Dreamer alarm clock dock. The campaign was successful and raised over 36000 dollars from more than 300 backers, and now their Hale Dreamer dock is one of the best selling alarm clock docks for android devices.
Radio Corporation of America or RCA was a company that was created in 1919 and was in the business till 1986 when it got liquidated. The RCA brand name lives on in Sony Music Entertainment and is used for products that are related to the RCA original production. Because of this high value trademark RCA products need to have high quality and great functionality or else people will start to doubt the original brand. Sony Music Entertainment and other brands that use this trademark know this and always introduce only top quality products and Android docking stations are no exception. RCA produces more than 12 different docking stations that allow you to dock your iPod or Android smart device and they range from alarm clocks to powerful speaker docks.
Innovative Lifestyle Unquestionable Value is a New York based US company that provides products dedicated to other devices or as we call them accesories. iLuv was created in 2006 so it is quite a new company but with their innovative design and quality products they have become the leading electronic accessory producer that also include Android and other device docking stations. This company creates and markets at least 10 docking stations that are designed for a variety of devices including almost all Android smartphones and tablet computers. This company has a mantra about design and usability so their products are always well designed to feel natural and to have the most ergonomic sub-technology placement. What else is a good thing to know about this company’s docking stations is that they have a great design and they feel modern and HIP so they can infiltrate almost any environment and feel in place!
iHome is a subdivision of a company called SDI technologies that was created in 2005 to provide iPod accessories. SDI technologies is a huge corporation that creates and markets consumer electronics from the early 1956 so they know what they are doing. A subdivision of a company as old as this the iHome brand had to create a great product and they managed to pull of that with flying colors. They first introduced just one iPod Speaker system but now they make countless docks for Apple and other manufacturers but what interests us is that they also make some android docking stations. Their docks have received awards and best product badges because they are well built, have great functionality and they are not that expensive and can be found in more than 70 countries in almost any bigger than average electronic distributor.
Docking station buying Guide!
When you want to purchase a Docking station for your Android device you have to take into consideration many different aspects and technologies that you need or can use. First of all you need to fully check your smartphone capabilities and what it can do before you can even think about buying a dock for it. Here are some of the aspect to take in mind as you are searching for your perfect docking station:
You most probably know the manufacturer of your phone but do you know any specialized docks for it? In most cases high end smartphones and tablets have docking stations specially designed for them. If this is the case and you have a high end Samsung or Motorola device then good for you but if you have a low end smartphone then be sure to check if your model number is included in any docks supported device list.
The size of your smart android device also matters and if you have a small phone then probably you won’t have any problems but with thick cases or huge screens you could have some compatibility issues. This being said there are many multi device docks that still can’t accommodate the largest high end screen smartphones and tablets, so you should need to know the exact dimensions of your device and compare them to acceptable device sizes for all docks.
Not every Android device has the Micro USB port at the bottom and there are various placements so be sure to examine where that port is and imagine if you can properly fit your device in your desired dock. The most problematic are the ones that have that port at one end of any side, as then the whole weight of the phone sometime rests only on that connector and can easily damage it.
AUX or Bluetooth connection
This is another feature set to check and be sure your phone has the proper music playback connection before buying your next dock.
And when you have properly inspected and understood your device you can try to find the perfect dock for it! Here I will mention some dock aspects that you need to consider before the final decision:
When you get a multifunctional dock you should check what is the mechanism like and if it can facilitate those dimensions that you measured. But be sure to measure with any additional protectors or covers as they usually add thickness and also increase the total size.
Built in Speakers
When you are looking at the feature set check if that dock has a built in speaker as that can become handy for louder music playback and if you want to watch movies on larger devices. A built in speaker will also have better sound quality and can be used as a great alarm clock.
Built in Alarm
Some docks has a built in clock with an alarm capabilities that can be used with or without your smartphone but some just say they have this feature but only gives you an extended version from your phone’s alarm clock. So be careful with these two things and think what is better for your needs!
Some docking stations have dedicated applications that allow you to seamlessly dock and also use some docking screens where you can watch social updates or set a clock / weather slideshow, so search for them in that function list!
Always check what are the connection options for your desired dock as almost none of them have all those three audio docking types. Some docks also offer a music out connection port that allows you to further plug that dock into larger speakers, which can be a handy option!
Docking stations can either be portable and work on batteries or need to be powered by plugging them into an electric socket or charged from a computer via USB port. Consider whether you need a docking station for home or office, where it will sit on your desk all day or on the nightstand at night, or you need a portable speaker dock that works on batteries, is compact and easy to carry around.
The final thing you need to check is what comes with your desired dock as sometimes you don’t get any jacks or plugs that are needed for docking and you need to buy them separately. This is a rare case but I have seen some docking stations that come without a Micro USB connector and without a specialized cords to connect other non-android devices.
After examining your device and checking all the docking station functions you need – you can check out Top Docking Station List where we provide our top picks!