iPhone docks have proved so popular over the past few years that they now come in all shapes and sizes. Ranging from £20 cheapies to designer units that cost over a grand, all are catered for. The Soundfreaq Sound Step Recharge is one of the most versatile we've seen this year. It's semi-portable, its dock socket can handle an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad and it boosts its feature diversity miles beyond much of the competition with built-in Bluetooth and an internal rechargeable battery. This dock really can connect to just about anything.
Its design is somewhat unusual too. Where most portable docks opt for the slim and simple look, such as the Bose Soundlink Wireless and Sony RDP-M15iP, the Soundfreaq Sound Step is chunky and blocky. It may not be tied to a power socket, but this isn't a dock you can sling into a small bag. Simultaneously evoking a Mayan temple and a piece of 80s designer Hi-Fi equipment, its looks won't please all comers, but at least it doesn't look blank and boring.
Missing from some rivals, there's a bung to cover up the iOS dock port on the front too. It's made of rubber and is ridged like the sides of the dock. We imagine it's there to convince some non-Apple owners that this is still a sound purchase, but it is first and foremost a gadget for iOS folk.
However, it is much better-equipped than most to deal with Android phones, tablets and other such devices. It'll happy link to any fully Bluetooth-enabled device, has a 3.5mm auxiliary input for old-fashioned wired hook-ups and there's even a powered USB on the back to let you charge other devices (or a second iOS unit). This is a rare addition, and something that makes the Sound Step Recharge much more flexible than most other docks at this price. To switch between inputs, you use the touch-sensitive buttons on the sloped front panel. There are little lights on these buttons to give a quick visual indication of whether you're getting sound through the dock, Bluetooth or auxiliary input. On the other side of this front panel are a handful of volume and playback controls.
On the back panel there's also a composite video output. It's not something we imagine many will use - supplying a fairly low-quality signal that won't do justice to any decent-quality vids you have stored on your iPhone or iPad. But it is that last bit of feature bullet-proofing that ensures only the most pedantic of buyers will have reason to complain about the Sound Step Recharge's abilities.
That's not it, either. There's a remote control that slots neatly into a recess on the dock's bottom and Soundfreaq has produced a free iPhone and Android app that lets you easily pipe music over to it using Bluetooth. The interface mimics the style of the buttons on the Sound Step Recharge - nothing special, but you can always sidestep the app completely and hook-up manually if it's not to your taste.
Bluetooth is a little less slick than Airplay - the current de rigeur standard in iPhone dock land - and in our experience brings up more frequent drop-outs. But it's actually a better choice for a portable dock like this, and is perfectly reliable as long as you keep your source fairly nearby. Airplay becomes completely useless once you're out of range of a Wi-Fi network. Bluetooth does not, so will continue to work out in green pastures where you'd be lucky to get a decent DAB signal, let alone an open Wi-Fi network.
At the price, the Soundfreaq Sound Step Recharge supplies all the capabilities we expect and more. However, we also often find that docks that pack in batteries and Bluetooth do so at the expense of sound quality. Thankfully, this one doesn't for the most part.