Review: Belkin kitchen gear for iPad and tablets

Belkin fills a major demand for tablets in the kitchen. (October 30th, 2011)

The urge to use an iPad, a Galaxy Tab, or another tablet in the kitchen is undeniable: it's a live recipe book or a way to check if the ingredients you want are on sale. Belkin has acknowledged, though, that no one wants to touch a screen with flour-covered hands. We'll check in our review of Belkin's kitchen accessories -- the Chef Stand, Cabinet Mount, and Fridge Mount -- to see whether you'll be tossing your paper cookbooks.

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Product Manufacturer: Belkin

Price: $40 (chef stand, fridge mount), $50 (cabinet)

The Good

  • Chef Stand: supports three positions, sturdy, good looks.
  • Chef Stand: stylus works while keeping the screen clean.
  • Cabinet Mount: easy setup, flexible.
  • Chef Stand and Cabinet Mount: universal tablet design.
  • Chef Stand and Cabinet Mount: work with thin cases/covers.
  • Fridge Mount: extra-sturdy, doesn't obscure iPad.

The Bad

  • Chef Stand: best in landscape, no cable channel.
  • Chef Stand: stylus needs significant force to register.
  • Cabinet Mount: wobbles under pressure.
  • Fridge Mount: iPad 2-only.
  • Fridge Mount: long setup, tough to remove.

The urge to use an iPad, a Galaxy Tab, or another tablet in the kitchen is undeniable: it's a live recipe book or a way to check if the ingredients you want are on sale. Belkin has acknowledged, though, that no one wants to touch a screen with flour-covered hands. We'll check in our review of Belkin's kitchen accessories -- the Chef Stand, Cabinet Mount, and Fridge Mount -- to see whether you'll be tossing your paper cookbooks.

Chef Stand + Stylus for iPad and tablets

Arguably the cornerstone of Belkin's lineup is the Chef Stand. It addresses the most common complaint of trying to use a tablet in the kitchen: not wanting to touch a screen with hands covered in whatever you're cooking. In theory, you never need to get your iPad or other tablet dirty.

The stand itself is fairly sophisticated. Apart from having a very kitchen-appropriate chrome look, it's surprisingly flexible. It works as an upright stand when the tablet's in portrait or in landscape orientation but also as a horizontal stand for when you want the device on its back; this includes with an iPad 2's Smart Cover and most thin protectors. A not-so-hidden secret is that it works well in this last mode as a general stand.

Just holding the tablet, it works well. All surfaces have a rubberized texture that keeps both the stand and the tablet in place, and we didn't see either slide around while we were using it, even when pressing against it with the stylus. The rubber doesn't leave marks, either. That said, we're still slightly nervous about the tablet in portrait mode: at least with larger tablets, it still feels just that much less stable. Just to be safe, we preferred landscape, especially for widescreen tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 where they get top-heavy when held upright.

The stylus is fairly clever, though not without its catches. It's a thick pen that's clearly designed to be used even if you're wearing oven mitts. The tip is rubber but designed to register on a capacitive screen like those most tablets use. We liked having the separate stand to hold it, since it meant a quick grab while in mid-recipe and no trouble finding the pen on the counter.

It works well enough, and for most apps, certainly kitchen-oriented apps like Epicurious, we had no trouble tapping interface elements. The tip is thick, though, so very fine inputs are out. Pressure is the real issue. It often won't register input with jus a gentle tap: you often have to put deliberate force into it, which can make scrolling the screen a nuisance and is slightly worrying if you push near the top of the screen in portrait mode. One appreciated touch is the magnet in the tip, though, which lets you wake the iPad from sleep without having to hit a button.

We would like the stand to be more useful beyond its immediate goal, however. When it's an upright stand, you usually can't plug in a docking cable. Depending on the tablet's layout, you may have to rotate the tablet or put it on its back to charge up. A cutout and tunnel underneath the stand would let our iPad stay in the kitchen full-time, which with iOS 5's Wi-Fi and iCloud (not to mention Android tablets' features) is genuinely possible.

At $40, it's also slightly expensive, although the looks and the inclusion of the pen help partly make up for this. Of all the accessories, this is arguably the one to pick up and is even a good pick if you just want a nice desk stand.

Cabinet Mount for iPad and tablets

Some don't want the tablet anywhere near the spill-prone counter or want it more at eye level, and that's where the Cabinet Mount comes in. At its heart, it's an adjustable metal clamp intended to graft to the cupboard. Setting it up is fairly simple and just involves attaching the two (slot-in) pieces together, making sure the two supports are genuinely flat against the inside and underside of the cupboard, and screwing it in until there's no give. The clamp itself is a squeeze-to-adjust piece with a rubber, anti-scratch surface that's a bit stiff but is still fairly easy to move when you want to remove your tablet or lock it in; again, it works with the iPad 2's Smart Cover or other thin cases.

When in use, we found the tablet itself held solidly in place and let us use finger touch without much trouble. It worked just as well with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 as it did an iPad 2. Even as locked in as it is, though, it had a tendency to wobble with more than gentle taps; we'd want it to be completely sturdy.

At $50, it's equally costly for something whose main advantage is putting your tablet at eye level. This makes it worthwhile for someone who wants to regularly watch Internet video while making dinner, but for most others, it's a bit steep. That there's no stylus also limits its utility for those who want to use it while they cook, although that minor wobble would probably be exaggerated with the amount of force needed.

Fridge Mount for iPad 2

One of the most common sights in an electronics company's vision of the future is the smart refrigerator. For many, though, it doesn't make sense paying hundreds more for a non-removable computer that will be obsolete well before the fridge itself, especially if you end up moving -- and in an apartment, you'll almost never have one. Belkin's Fridge Mount is a potential solution to that.

In essence, it's a magnet grip designed to hold the iPad 2 very tightly; there are no front supports whatsoever. While you'd think it would be worrying, the magnet is incredibly strong and keeps the iPad fairly locked in. If anything, it's almost too strong, and when you're done, you may need to pull the tablet out with both hands so it doesn't fly across the kitchen once it's out. It's a problem we don't mind having, and the iPad doesn't move at all while you're using it.

Setting up the mount and removing it are the real issues. To get the mount on the fridge door, you need to personally apply the adhesive stickers to the back, hold it to the surface for half a minute, and let it sit for an hour. In the lifespan of the mount it's small, but it's an elaborate process. Belkin promises that the adhesive won't damage the surface, but it still leaves you with a stuck-on mount that you'll have to carefully pry off later.

There's also just the proprietary nature of the accessory itself. The Fridge Mount is intended for an iPad 2 in landscape mode, and only an iPad 2. If the iPad 3 or future models change significantly in design, the mount isn't at all useful for those. If you expect to keep the tablet for more than a couple of years, it's an easily justified $40, but it's too proprietary if you're a frequent upgrader or have contemplated getting an Android tablet next time around.

by Jon Fingas


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