Other than neat styling, best demonstrated by the DS9000 and DS9, we appreciate the Fidelio range primarily for its approach to sound. It's an approach clearly audible in the AS851.
What Fidelio docks tend to do better than almost any others is to offer a sound signature that balances the demand for bass, power and scale with detail and texture. The AS851 sounds eminently tasteful, but exciting at the same time.
Audio products at this level will often be cast as something that's "good for bass" or "good for Classical music" - also a kinder way to say it's not good for bass. Taking its diminutive size into account, we found the Philips Fidelio AS851 a versatile audio buddy. It has the low-end clout to make rock and dance music sound good without letting it steal the show in music that demands more finesse. As is common to smaller docks like this, the mid-range is a weak point, but among its portable peers the AS851 is a strong contender.
There is a drawback in the way it receives music, though. It uses A2DP Bluetooth, a "lossy" transmission standard for mono and stereo audio, where others use near-lossless apt-X or other less problematic Bluetooth types. However, we didn't notice any distinct loss of quality in normal listening - when you're dealing with small drivers in docks like these, careful tuning will make a greater difference. And we're impressed with the Philips Fidelio AS851's audio signature.
However, it has a price problem. Selling for just under £200, it's creeping up close to the top dog docks - the Fidelio DS9 is available for under £250 and offers much better build and sound quality comparable with the top-end DS9010 model. Perhaps a more prescient comparison is the Creative ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth dock, which now costs as little as £20 more.
It looks better, sounds bigger, offers the superior apt-X Bluetooth codec and comes with a neat dongle to stream from an iOS device. It doesn't have the Android optimisation of the Philips Fidelio AS851, but the comparison has convinced us that it's not "all that" anyway - all the really important stuff is in no way specific to this dock. Talking to Philips, we were told that there's a chance this new Android range could make use of MHL to pull the audio stream directly from an Android phone's microUSB socket - MHL is a new standard that lets a phone output HD video and surround sound very simply. Perhaps this could shunt the potential of Android docking up a level, but as is we're not quite convinced this is the Android missing accessory link.
It's about time Android got some of the accessory love iPhone owners have enjoyed for years. This Fidelio dock for Android owners will charge your smartphone while playing its audio output over Bluetooth. Thanks to its flexible dock, it'll take phones of all designs too. However, it's not quite the best Bluetooth dock you can get for around £200 and it doesn't offer the desirable design of the Fidelio range's bigger, pricier models.