The iPhone 4G Steering Wheel with Speakers (hands-on)
This $26 accessory docks your iPhone inside a plastic wheel adorned with stereo speakers. It's not perfect, but it definitely improves the racing-game experience.
Fact: developers have whipped up some mighty fine racing games for the iPhone. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking, , , and , to name just a few.
However, these games share a common obstacle: controls. Either you're futzing with onscreen buttons that offer no feedback, or you're "steering" the iPhone itself--which I find too small to grip comfortably.
Enter the iPhone 4G Steering Wheel with Speakers, a slick little accessory that wraps, well, a steering wheel around your phone.
If this sounds familiar, you might be thinking of the fairly similar. However, that gadget lacks speakers, a big point in the iPhone 4G Steering Wheel's favor.
To dock your iPhone, you simply lower it onto the wheel's headphone connector, then pivot it down until it locks into the holder. All audio gets piped through the wheel's pair of 2-watt speakers, which sound considerably bigger and louder than the iPhone's tiny built-in speaker. On the other hand, let's be honest: they're 2-watt speakers.
Indeed, while you could use the wheel as a poor man's speaker dock, it's obviously designed with gaming in mind. And it works beautifully in that regard. I played many a forgotten racer and found myself enjoying them anew, largely because I was able to focus on the game and not the awkwardness of the controls.
Now for the bad news. First, the wheel is compatible with the iPhone 4 only, leaving iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPod Touch users at the starting line. (Interestingly, the aforementioned Gaming Grip is the opposite: it works with all those models, but not the iPhone 4.)
Second, the enclosure blocks access to the iPhone's power and volume buttons. That's a pretty big hassle, especially considering that extracting the iPhone is an awkward, cumbersome process. Many games include soft volume controls, but trust me: you'll miss your volume buttons.
Another gripe: the wheel charges and recharges via a short USB cable, and there's no way to tell when it's fully charged. A simple LED would have solved that issue.
Despite these gotchas, I think the iPhone 4G Steering Wheel is a nifty accessory, and worth the $25.99 asking price for anyone who's serious about racing games. (It's a boon to flight sims and other accelerometer-driven games as well.)
Curiously, U.S. distributor iThrough also carries the PEGA IH093 Steering Wheel with Speakers, which looks identical in every way--but sells for $22.99. My advice: save yourself three bucks and go with that version.