Hands-On: Belkin Thunderstorm Handheld Home Theater

We take a closer peek at the company's iPad case/speaker add-on accessory.


Today’s portable devices are an endless source of entertainment. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, Pandora, and Spotify don’t even scratch the surface of what you can get with a web connection. It’s a mind-boggling number of options. However, for some reason, those portable devices can’t seem to project any sort of decent sound.

Belkin is hoping to create a little rumble with its new Thunderstorm, a “handheld home theater” designed specifically for the iPad. With a name like that, I was thinking it would ring out like the sound system of the gods or something. That’s not entirely true, but it definitely is an interesting product.

Out of the box, the Thunderstorm is basically two pieces. There’s a power cord and the Thunderstorm, which has its own flip-up cover. That cover is magnetic and bendable, so you can contort it to prop up the iPad in a variety of positions. That’s an important perk here. The Thunderstorm doesn’t just rock out your iPad content, but it actually holds that iPad in whatever position you deem to be most comfortable. Those options aren’t exactly endless, but there are multiple angles to appreciate here.

Designed to work with the iPad 2 and third-gen iPad, the portable connects to the Thunderstorm via a little latch with the 30-pin connector. Pull that out (gently!), place the iPad in the groove of the Thunderstorm, push the latch in, and you’re ready to rock — literally. Once the iPad is docked, it won’t just “fall” out; even if you tilt it upside down and shake it a little. Another nice perk is that the Thunderstorm will charge the iPad when it’s docked and plugged in.

The Thunderstorm itself isn’t very complicated. On the side, there’s a little button to wake up the iPad. On top, there’s a switch to mute/un-mute the sound and a volume toggle. Most of the time, I thought it was easier to adjust the volume on-screen, but it’s nice to have a quick mute option or a little something for when access to the audio isn’t readily available on-screen. The Thunderstorm does get pretty darn loud.

The iPad on its own is very cool, but the sound is just sort of hollow and maybe even a little tinny. The Thunderstorm gives it life — and yes, it actually turns the iPad into a little home theater. I got to test out a variety of musical genres, movie clips and even games. The system could really crank the iPad’s volume, all without getting distorted. Music was detailed and just really fun to crank up.

It’s important to note that some audio sounded better than others, but that’s just the nature of the web. A lot of YouTube clips won’t sound as good as the stuff from iTunes. Then again, if you do a little searching, you’ll find a lot of content to get the Thunderstorm rumbling. I checked out trailers from Iron Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man, as well as the melee of “Hero’s Duty” from Wreck It Ralph, the bank robbery from The Dark Knight, and the lobby shoot-’em-up from The Matrix. Some of them, I had to actually turn down. They were really loud, but never distorted. Good luck getting that out of a stand-alone iPad or other add-on speakers at this price point, let alone ones that you can stuff into a backpack.

Another nice perk is that this system doesn’t technically have to be plugged in. The Thunderstorm has its own internal battery, which can power the iPad when you’re in a car, on a plane, or in the backyard.

Like most iOS devices, Belkin has a companion app for the Thunderstorm, simply called Thunder. Designed in conjunction Audifi, this free app allows you to tweak some of the sound that’s projecting from the Thunderstorm. Basically, it has three modes. Normal is designed for music and web content, Wide is made for movies, and Super Wide opens things up for the ultimate gaming experience. In all honestly, I found the best results with the Super Wide setting. Some of those aforementioned hollow-sounding tracks will probably do better on the Normal setting. For the most part, however, I liked rocking out with the wider setting.

The $200 price tag and the bulk that this device adds to your iPad may be an initial turnoff. However, you don’t want to shield yourself from this Thunderstorm. It’s a nifty little add-on that can rock your iPad at home and on the go.

Belkin Thunderstorm Features

  • Ported speaker system.

  • Free Thunder app.
  • Multi-fold cover for different viewing angles.
  • $199.99 MSRP

See also:
Review: AudioXperts Entertainment Console
Bowers and Wilkins Launches Two New AirPlay systems
Review: Bowers and Wilkins A7 Portable Speaker

Or if you’re looking for a more serious audio solution, check out 3 Audiophile Systems for 3 Budgets


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