Belkin Thunderstorm review
If you, like many others, find the iPad's rear-facing speaker less than satisfactory when watching movies and playing games, then Belkin's Thunderstorm iPad case could be just the solution you're looking for.
Belkin has combined a case, a stand and a speaker system to create the Thunderstorm for iPad 2 and iPad 3, which aims to significantly improve the sound of Apple's tablet while also offering a better viewing angle for video content and providing protection against bumps and scratches.
The iPad fits neatly into the tray-like design of the Thunderstorm case, and sliding the dock connector into place secures the tablet and provides communication with the speakers. There are cut-outs for the rear camera and headphone socket, as well as buttons which operate the iPad's own buttons such as the volume, hold and mute switch. It's worth noting that the mute switch didn't stop the audio from music and videos from playing during our tests, but did work for muting game audio.
One thing you'll notice immediately is the bulkiness of the Thunderstorm, which is heavier than the iPad itself, at 665g. However, this allows for a built-in battery that can power the Thunderstorm's speakers for up to 10 hours.
The Thunderstorm comes with a bundled mains adapter that charges both the internal battery and the iPad's battery. It'll take about three hours for the Thunderstorm's battery to charge with a fully charged iPad inserted.
The stand functionality comes from the Smart-Cover like flap that offers protection from scratches for your iPad's display too. You can fold the cover two ways depending on your preferred viewing angle. There is also a cut-out in the portion of the cover that lays over the speaker, to allow you to listen to music even when the cover is closed.
We would have liked to have seen stronger magnets to connect the cover to the case, as, despite a precisely designed slot for the magnets to fit into while the cover is in use, it's easy to accidently remove the cover from the case and not so easy to put back in place. It is nice to have the option to remove the cover completely, though.
When it comes to the sound quality of the Thunderstorm, we were impressed. The iPad becoming a rapidly more popular way to catch up on television shows and watch movies while on the move or on holiday, especially now that BBC iPlayer allows you to download shows to watch later. The speakers offer clear and loud dialogue, good bass and a vast improvement over the iPad's built-in mono speaker.
There's little distortion at top volume, which is loud enough to fill a whole room. It's worth ensuring that your volume is turned down before playing a video at close proximity though, as the speakers are powerful enough to give you a bit of a shock should you forget.
We found that the speaker vibrated quite a lot when playing audio at higher volumes, which can add to the gaming experience, but can also prove a little annoying when listening to music, for example.
There is a free Thunderstorm app available to download to enable you to adjust the 'width' of the sound to whichever of the three options you prefer for each mode: music, video and gaming. While this app is a nice added touch and offers the ability to alter the sound to your tastes, it is optional and you don't need it to be able to use the speakers.
Overall, we feel that Belkin's Thunderstorm iPad case gives the tablet a massive audio-quality boost that would suit someone who regularly uses their iPad for watching video, especially if they do so while on holiday or on business trips. It, quite clearly, won't suit commuters as the case adds a significant amount of weight to your bag and the speakers can't be used in public places without causing angry stares.
Belkin has said that there is an iPad 4 compatible Thunderstorm in the pipeline, due for a late 2013 release. There's no iPad mini version in the works, though.
Unfortunately, the Thunderstorm carries a hefty price tag. We would be pleased with this purchase if we had just spent £100 on it, but at £180 we'd wonder whether we could have saved money by buying a case with stand functionality and a separate speaker system, especially if the separate speakers could be used with other devices. However, its difficult to fault the quality of the speakers and the built-in battery means no wires and no mains power is required. Plus, we've never seen another product quite like it, so if you've been looking for a multi-functional case to help vastly improve your video viewing experience on an iPad, this is it.