The iPad's rear-facing speakers have become a common gripe for users looking to match audio with the tablet's quality display. While some of the more low-tech solutions can help, few truly improve your experience like Belkin's new ThunderStorm. Billed as a "handheld home theater," the speaker system integrates with a hard case and soft cover similar to the Apple Smart Cover, and a free app to turn your latest-generation iPad into a fully capable entertainment center. While the ThunderStorm practically doubles the tablet's weight and silhouette, upon testing we found the enhanced listening experience more than made up for the increase in size.
Engineered by Audifi, the dual front-facing, landscape-oriented stereo speakers are accompanied by a high-efficiency, low-distortion amp, enabling the slender case for a larger audio footprint. Using the ThunderStorm app the user can adjust audio distribution to best fit their needs at hand. For example, in game and movie mode a wider, circling sound field makes for a more surround sound-like style, and in music mode audio is focused more straight ahead. At first the specific modes seemed a bit gimmicky, but after some experimenting we found the customizable settings quite effective and surprisingly useful.
Battery life claims up to 10 hours of continuous audio playback, while video play should reduce this by 30-40%. Plus, weighing just 340 grams—slightly smaller than Jambox's 347—the $200 Belkin ThunderStorm works with the iPad2 and latest-generation iPad for a more sophisticated option than some simpler alternatives.
Exploded rendering by Belkin. Product images by Graham Hiemstra