The iHome iH5 clock/radio system for iPods received a lot of praise, so it’s interesting to see how closely the portable version of that award-winning product ticks the same buttons.
The iH26 lets you choose a particular song or playlist of songs to wake you in the morning, with the songs playing at a gradually ascending volume. You can also set a selection of songs to help you drift off to sleep, and the system will stop playing music after whatever length of time you ask it to.
The system is available in black or white. Dimensions are 21 x 15 x 4.2cm (at longest points) so it’s no trouble to take with you. The front of the system features a large, clear LCD screen, which shows the time and can be set to four brightness settings (including dark).
At the back you’ll find a 3.5mm line-in port, a 12- or 24-hour clock setting switch, the connection for the AC adaptor and a switch that enables or disables the supplied remote control, and/or locks the device so its times and alarms aren’t accidentally changed when it’s in transit.
At the top, you’ll find an iPod dock, and a dock for a first-generation iPod shuffle (you can’t control the shuffle using the iH26’s controls, but it will play music from the shuffle and charge up the music player).
Rise and shine
Top-mounted controls are logically placed – meaning you won’t be forced to grope around for the relevant control when you wake up: the ever-important snooze button is the largest of the lot and is situated above the screen. There’s an on/off/alarm reset button; an iPod button, which also plays and pauses tracks; a volume up and volume down control; and a set of four controls that set the clock and alarm times. The alarm functions for up to an hour, meaning you can woozily hit the snooze button several times during that period.
To the left and right of the iPod dock sit the speakers. These fold down flush with the unit when you travel, but can be raised when you want to use the alarm. We noted that when raised these speakers sit at a different angle to the iPod, which we see as a missed design opportunity. We think they should reflect the iPod’s position. You can choose to match them up if you wish, but that’s not the point.
The alarm can be mains or battery operated, requiring four standard AA batteries. There’s a built-in Lithium-ion reserve battery, so if the power source shuts off you won’t lose any settings. An alarm will still sound at the appointed time, if only a buzzer, but that’s still better than having no alarm at all. Also in the box is a set of travel adaptors for the supplied AC adaptor and a protective, cloth travel bag for the unit that hosts pockets for the remote and power adaptor, which is a nice touch.
The infrared remote control has eight buttons: play/pause; forward; backward; volume up; volume down; mute; off/alarm reset; and sleep. More important, it the large button at the bottom of the remote that controls the snooze function – so you have two ways to block out the world if you just need a few minutes extra rest. The remote’s snooze button also lets you dim the front-mounted screen, so if the light annoys you there’s no need to sit up to switch it off. We like the remote as it’s clearly been well thought out to match the needs of sleepy heads, and works at a good distance from the alarm – around 40ft. We’d be surprised if you needed such range for an alarm system you keep by the bed.
If you are familiar with the iH5, you’ll quickly notice that this stripped-down sibling lacks an AM/FM radio. We also noted that there’s no dual-alarm function, which can be pretty useful when you’re travelling. While the decision to abandon a radio was presumably made to help avoid cannibalising sales of the original iHome unit, it was a short-sighted step. If it’s possible to add functionality and still bring a product to market at a competitive price, then it’s foolish not to do so. We think people who want an iPod travel alarm will also want radio functionality.
Despite its diminutive size, sound quality is pretty good. The stereo speakers cover a wide sound stage – top, bottom and mid range are all well covered, and for speakers just 9.5 x 3.5 x 7cm in size, we were impressed by the loudness, clarity and quality.
As an iPod alarm clock you won’t be disappointed – you’ll get pleasing sound reproduction from a unit that’s easy to use and can be powered by mains or batteries. Its design is also very pleasing. However, we do feel that for the price there are better speaker systems around that can be used with the iPod’s built-in alarm function. The decision to abandon a radio tuner is this product’s Achilles’ Heel.