Back in 2015, the nice folks in the Australian company Strike sent us one of their Strike Alpha Cradles (DIY version) to take a look at. They have sent us another one, this time designed and sized for the iPhone 7.
I must confess to being at something of a loss when it comes to this device. There is just so much about it that just doesn’t make sense to me. Sometimes you get a swanky new gadget to review and you don’t immediately see the utility or value of the thing, but as you use it, the merits start to shine through. It’s that old sales line – “the gadget you didn’t know you couldn’t live without.” I was hoping experience would bring some insight here.
The Strike Alpha Cradle is a beast of a phone holder/charger. It’s massive and feels extremely solid. Its featureless black plastic and obvious heft gives it a utilitarian air. The plastic does not flex or creak and appears to be of good quality. The arm it’s attached to feels similarly well engineered with a clear plastic suction cup for attachment to your windshield or dashboard. There is a handy plastic disc included if you dash is rounded or textured. The cradles are model specific and sized accordingly to fit your phone. This ensures a very snug fit and there is no chance of your phone falling out as you bounce along the rough, pitted roads of the outback.
One reason for the size of the cradle is that it houses an internal passive antenna function to actually boost the reception of your phone, which would be extremely handy if little Timmy falls down the well in a remote area and you need to call for help.
I can’t fault the quality of the device, it does what it was designed to do very well, I just can’t get my head around the purpose of it. The cradle holds your phone and charges it, but only that phone, and only if it isn’t in a case. If you want one that supports your phone plus a standard case, you have to buy a different Alpha Cradle. Want one that supports your phone with a thick, rugged case, you have to buy another Alpha Cradle. Change handset brand when your contract is up, or the new version of yours is a bit bigger….you see where I’m going here. Why they couldn’t make the cradles a bit more universal, I do not know. It couldn’t possibly be cost effective to produce so many variations.
The reception boosting function is an excellent idea, but in order to take advantage of it, you have to plug the non-detachable male FME cable to an external antenna or built-in GPRS function. If your car doesn’t have built-in sat nav and you don’t fancy taking your dash apart to wire it in, this cable simply dangles impotently from the bottom of the cradle. I’d imagine the amount of people in the UK who would make use of this feature is tiny. But even if you did hook it up, the Alpha has no Bluetooth function and no microphone, so unless you want to resort to yelling at the phone and using its built-in speakers for the reply, the benefit of extra reception is somewhat wasted. If it had Bluetooth, I could maybe see taxi’s having this mounted on their dash.
I mentioned previously about the size of the cradle, it is actually about the same height as my iPhone and considerably wider. Once inserted, the phone does stick out above the unit by about an inch, so it does take up a significant chunk of windshield real estate and it really does remind me of one of those old school cradles when mobile phones were like house bricks. The charging cable is integrated so if it doesn’t reach the socket, or there is too much cable left over, I’m afraid you are stuck with it as you can’t replace it with one of a more suitable length. Curiously, the USB charger that plugs into the 12V socket of your car is a pretty cheap looking unit, a stark contrast to the rest of the assembly. It too is oversized, looking oddly like a gear knob.
So you see, I can’t really see what purpose this 90’s revival serves, especially when it offers such limited practical functionality and costs an eye-watering £85! More if you want to the professionally fitted model (fitting not included). But then again, this is an Australian company, so if you put the Alpha into that context, perhaps having it mounted to the dash of a utilitarian works vehicle that may need to travel to more remote areas, the construction and external antenna direction perhaps makes sense. Perhaps. But at AU$150, and no built-in Bluetooth there are bound to be better options available.