- Decent sound quality
- Slightly fiddly to use
- Uses lossy Bluetooth
- A bit expensive
Review Price £189.99
iPhone users wanting accessories are spoilt for choice. There are thousands of the things, from speaker docks to miniature arcade cabinets. Android users aren't so lucky, in spite of the tens of millions of Android owners, many with wallets brimming full of notes willing to be spent on such stuff. Part of the problem is how different all the phones are, but the Philip Fidelio AS851 speaker dock attempts to get around this. It's a dock designed for Android phones, with a flexible charge stand that can cope wherever your microUSB may be.
Android phones have charging slots in all sorts of places, but they are at least almost all microUSB. It's this that makes the Fidelio AS851 a viable product, rather than a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. However, its approach is rather different to most of the Fidelio range's iOS docks, such as the excellent DS9.
Sound isn't transmitted from your Android phone through the microUSB slot - the socket on the AS851 is used just for charging. Music is instead transmitted wirelessly over Bluetooth, as it is in the series sibling DS7700 - which is primarily intended for use with iOS devices. There have been plenty of Bluetooth speakers in the past, including cracking ones like the Creative D200, but the importance of this new Fidelio model is that its hardware is fully tailored for Android.
But how do you cater for a microUSB slot that might be on a phone's bottom, its side, or just about anywhere? While the socket of the AS851 appears to be arranged much like the 30-pin connector of an iPhone dock, it can be moved. It sits on a thick rubber band - a conveyor belt of sorts - that can be pulled to the left or right. And the microUSB connector can be turned around by 180 degrees, to avoid you having to leave the phone resting to one side or, much worse, with the screen facing the speaker grill.
It's a decent stab at Android docking, but it's a pity there's no way to lock it in place once you've found your optimum position. There's a little bit of give to the mechanism thanks to the use of rubber, making the AS851 slightly less well-built than the closest iOS alternative from Philips, the DS8550, but ultimately given the need for flexibility it's easy to forgive. Crucially, it works and every Android phone we tested was accommodated with ease. Philips doesn't recommend shoving an Android tablet on there, but as long as the socket is centrally placed on one of the sides, it shouldn't create any problems.
Top models in the Fidelio range are constructed using top-quality materials, like real wood and brushed metal. Resting somewhat lower down the scale, the AS851 isn't quite so lucky. The front is dominated by a stylishly-curved grill made of coated metal. It doesn't flex and feels very strong, winning the dock back some build quality points. However, the back of the dock is rounded glossy black plastic - nothing too fancy and unlikely to impress many onlookers, but in most setups this part of the dock won't be fully visible.
Also hidden from view, the Philips AS851 has a USB port and an auxiliary 3.5mm input, on its back in-between the dual bass ports. The USB socket doesn't let you plug in a memory stick to play back your MP3s, but it will supply power for another device - perhaps something not served by the front microUSB. Unlike some smaller members of the Fidelio family, there's no battery compartment or built-in lithium power supply. You're tied to the AC adaptor here. It's no surprise given how the dock sounds, though - more on that later.