With Android finally coming into it’s own (ie, owning the smartphone market), the only thing we haven’t seen much of are accessories. 3rd party manufacturers have been wary regarding Android smartphones because of the wide variation. With the iPhone, they know what to expect. That’s finally changing on a larger scale this year, and Philips is jumping in head first with Android docks. Speaking of what to expect, when you invest in the best speakers on the market, you expect quality sound and lots of other great faetures. And, that’s exactly what you get.
Like the AS111 I tested earlier, the AS351 is an Android dock that connects to the phone through an MicroUSB connector, which swivels 180 degrees and has two supports to help keep the wide variation of Android smartphones in place. I’ve had the AS351 for an extended period, and it has worked excellently with any Android device. I’ve tested around eight different Android devices with it, including several Samsung Galaxy S II phones, the Galaxy Players, the T-Mobile myTouch and myTouch Q, etc. They all work just fine with this dock.
That’s because today, as I explained with the AS111, Android smartphones don’t currently support audio out through the MicroUSB. All music playback is via Bluetooth, which is far less convenient than the iPhone, but a problem with Android, not the dock. When I met with Philips at CES they assured me that the docks already support audio through USB, so as soon as Google updates Android to support it, Philips will release a firmware update to enable audio via USB.
The AS351 is no clock radio like the AS111, it’s a mini boom box. You may remember the Philips Fidelio DS8550 Speaker Dock I tested last year. The AS351 is its kid cousin. Besides for the size difference (both the physical size and the size of the speakers), the AS351 doesn’t include a single rechargeable battery, instead working on four AA batteries. This helps keep the price down and promote longer battery life per charge, but if you carry around a dock for music without the power cable, you may want to pass on the AS351. It lasted a good 7-10 hours of continuous playback at varying volume levels. Philips rates it for 8 hours, though if you keep the volume low and maintain a short distance between the dock and phone, it’s pretty easy to preserve battery life.
Related: See also our Philips AS35137 Fidelio Docking Speaker For Android review.
It works with any Bluetooth device, and also has an auxiliary in cable so it can double as computer speakers on the go. I actually brought the AS351 with me to CES because I stayed in a crummy hotel, and the dock impressed not only with long battery life but also it’s ease of use. I used it with and without audio cables, on multiple devices, and as a charging base for two phones (there is a USB port on the back for an additional device to charge).
For a speaker this compact, the sound quality is Excellent. It gets especially loud – loud enough for neighbors two doors down to complain. Audio accuracy is also very good, with only a few low and high notes not hitting their proper pitch and some tinny sounds at much higher volumes and frequencies. As far as my testing showed, the audio quality is superb.
There are two things I wish were different about the AS351. First, it can’t charge devices when the dock isn’t plugged in. This means if your phone is on it’s last leg and you don’t have a power cable, too bad. The power drain on just four AA batteries would be quick, sure, but the option is worth having.
Second is a slight audio fade in and out, which occurs at seemingly random times. If you are streaming music, like through Google Music, sometimes the AS351 will drop into standby mode while the phone buffers the song. This may help conserve battery life, but also has a very noticeable static hiss, followed by that silent void that is quickly obnoxious when listening to music. It breaks the mood, whether the music is acting as white noise or just needs a second to load. We all know how pronounced silence can be, and the AS351 get’s eerily quiet too often.
With the AS351 users can also download the free Fidelio software. Back with the DS8550 I wasn’t too impressed with it, but slight improvements, plus how the software works on Android (as opposed to iOS) do make a few major differences. The biggest is the option to automatically connect to Philips docks immediately after plugging them to the docks. Philips still uses Songbird, which I don’t like because it requires music to be downloaded directly from a computer. Fidelio also now includes a basic equalizer and bass boost, along with the option to set when if and when the software activates. Overall the Fidelio software is far more flexible on Android than on iOS, but it’s also not nearly as clean or as fast.
The other great thing about Fidelio on Android is the use of Alarm clocks. The AS351 may not look like an alarm clock, but with the Fidelio software it can be, and it doesn’t require any extra effort on your part. Just set an alarm through the Fidelio app and don’t shut the program down. The only downside is that the dock must be on (so plugged in, lest we waste the batteries). This means the lights on the four buttons remain on, though they are very dull. The bigger problem will revolve around your phone model, and notifications. As long as any Android device is connected to the dock, all sound will go through the dock. That means emails, calls, texts, and notifications will be amplified. If you’re trying to sleep and a midnight email rolls in, that’s annoying. Some Android handsets have software to set what times notifications play sounds, but most don’t, so it may not be worthwhile to use the AS351 as an alarm clock until Google sorts out it’s power management settings properly.
As far as Android docks go, the Fidelio AS351 is a fine one to own. It’s a great balance of solid audio performance, portability, and price. The AS351′ overall versatility make it an excellent product to own for travelers and home users alike. Whether you need to listen to your tunes in a mangy motel room or the comfort of your bedroom, or even in the car over a broken dash stereo, the AS351 has provided an excellent experience every time. I highly recommend it. It’s a great deal to boot for $130.
Bottom Line: An excellent Android dock that provides high quality audio, great battery life on replaceable AA’s, and versatility in use.