Belkin has recently reduced the price of its Thunderstorm Handheld Home Theater speaker case for iPad 2/3. So does the thunder roll? Or is the speaker more of a drizzle?
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Review: Belkin Thunderstorm for iPad promises home theater experience [VIDEO]

As a portable speaker connoisseur, I look at, review, and use many different portable – particularly wireless – speakers of various sizes. Instead of competing in the wireless speaker market, Belkin took a different approach to design a product, the Thunderstorm, that surrounds an iPad to make using the iPad a more immersive audio experience.

What is it?

The Belkin Thunderstorm is an iPad case with a front-facing speaker integrated into it. It has two pieces: a magnetized, removable front cover, and a plastic shell case back. Think of the back as a substantial tray that cradles the iPad. The case has a 30 pin connector which plugs into your iPad 2 and greater generations and can charge your device while simultaneously charging the advertised 10-hour Thunderstorm speaker battery.

Why would you want one?

Since the iPad is the premier device for playing games and watching videos with its sharp retina display, it is alarming how mediocre the audio output is. Adding the Thunderstorm brings stunning theater-like sound – thanks to an Audifi sound processor – to match and enhance the iPad display. For example, the video below demonstrates a sound comparison while playing the newly released game, Turbo.

Sounds great! What else?

Thanks to Belkin’s partnership with Audifi, they created a free app, Thunder, designed to adjust the Thunderstorm’s sound outputs to one of three settings:

  1. normal – full front sound for music, and web video;
  2. wide – for movies and “accentuated middle channel to lend clarity and presence to dialogue;”
  3. super-wide – which mimics a theater surround-sound atmosphere. “Games will absolutely explode off the screen.”

And as an audiophile, this little speaker/case absolutely blew off my ears in how good they sound! I fall face first (err.. ear first?) into the super-wide setting and leave it there for depth, rich deep tones, and clear mid-ranges. Watching the new ABC app made it feel as if I were watching a 2″ thick, portable, HD-like television! With the Thunderstorm, playing games like Dead Space (which encourages the use of headphones) is a new, exciting experience that is simply amazing.

As opposed to portable speakers which can be placed nearby to make a movie or game-playing experience more enjoyable, the Thunderstorm is a more natural fit: depending on orientation the speaker is either at the top or bottom of the iPad screen and always facing the user. With the easily detachable magnetized cover connected and folded into the ubiquitous triangular prism, the iPad and Thunderstorm can be set into the two familiar angles of elevation. The cover also has an origami-like fold for a more natural in-between angle, which is a pleasure for watching movies and listening to music.

Belkin-thunderstorm

What are the downsides?

The biggest downside is the substantial weight: at 1.4 lbs, you’re nearly doubling the weight of using an iPad alone. Couple that with the added dimensions that increases your overall girth of Apple’s tablet, and the portable experience of your device is tremendously altered. Holding a Thunderstorm clad iPad to play a racing game like Real Racing 3 requires effort and is taxing after a few laps, so when the speakers don’t improve the experience, I remove the iPad from the Thunderstorm.

A few other minor irritants don’t detract too much but are noticeable. First the magnetic cover isn’t a Smart Cover and doesn’t power down the iPad. Next, the rocker that covers the volume switch seems flimsy and loose-fitting. Again, these are small nuisances.

Overall

Considering what you get for the $199 price, you’d be lucky to pack an iPad, it’s case, and separate portable speaker for the integrated single piece feel and quality sound of the Thunderstorm. If you’re wanting to play music from your iPad, the Thunderstorm will suit your need. If a portable theater experience is what you’re after, the Thunderstorm rolls into action. If you want to up the gaming experience with sound that befits the visual acuity, the Thunderstorm should be your pick.

Thunderstorm is now available for $199 here or at Amazon.com

Belkin Thunderstorm was provided for review at iSource.com. For questions about our review policies, see the About section.

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