Are you looking for a way to charge your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch while you sleep, and then wake to the sound of your favorite tunes? How about going to sleep as your bedside lamp slowly dims and shuts off and you listen to the soothing sound of waves? Maybe you want to listen to Internet radio channels while working. The Stem TimeCommand Audio Alarm Dock (US$99.95) is an attractive and useful "clock radio" that works with your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad to do all of these things, and more.
The TimeCommand, which is available only through Apple retail stores, is a cylindrical device about 7.6 inches in diameter and about 3.3 inches tall. That width is perfect for an iPad, which can be docked for charging and rests on two included foam pads. The dock also works with the iPod touch and iPhone, of course. I found that it worked with a number of iPad and iPhone cases in place, so in most cases, it's not necessary to remove a device from a case if there is open access to the dock connector port.
On the front of the TimeCommand is a curved orange LED display that can be dimmed to the point that it's readable but not too bright, and then brought to full brightness with the tap of a button. Like most clock radios, the TimeCommand has a battery backup (provided by two AA batteries, not included) and nap, snooze, and sleep controls.
One unique feature of the TimeCommand is that there is an extra plug on the AC adapter for plugging in a lamp. The Stem:Connect app (free) from Stem Innovation works with this AC adapter to provide a way to program dimming of a bedside lamp. That same app also acts as an Internet radio with access to ten free "stations," and it's the brains behind most of the functions of the dock.
When your iOS device is in the dock and the music player -- which can play either from your personal library or the Internet radio stations -- is active, a new button appears which brings up a Sonic iQ control panel. This control panel includes a sound field expansion slider to simulate moving the speakers further apart for a "wider" sound, a 5-band equalizer, and bass enhancement.
The sound quality of the TimeCommand is better than most clock radios or docks I've tested for TUAW, but it sure won't replace a pair of good headphones or speakers in terms of clarity and warmth. I did like the fact that the Sonic iQ control panel allowed me to really play with the sound to get it to match my personal preferences.
One of my pet peeves throughout life has been having to reset digital clocks, so I was happy to see that one quick way to set the TimeCommand is to just plug an iOS device onto it when the Stem:Connect app is running. That type of integration is typical of the attention to detail that Stem Innovation brought to the app and the dock.
On the top of the dock are 7 buttons, all marked with large, easily visible icons. The frontmost and largest button is the nap / snooze / sleep button, one that is sure to get a lot of use from those of us who have issues getting out of bed in the morning. Behind that button are three buttons: a center button marked with a light bulb with a minus sign button on the left and a plus sign button on the right. The light bulb button turns a lamp that is plugged into the dock's AC adapter on or off, while the plus/minus buttons are used to control volume, adjust the brightness of the LED display, and move between tracks when playing music.
If you're trying to get to sleep, you can use the Stem:Connect app to dim or turn off your bedside lamp. Fans of the soothing sounds of nature can choose one of six different ambient noises that will automatically shut off after a predefined time. I frankly found the noises to be somewhat annoying -- I guess I prefer the sound of a purring cat when trying to get to sleep.
The Stem:Connect app is pretty much used to set everything -- the alarms (I set two, one for weekday and another for weekend), sound levels, light levels, etc ... The app displays the current time, day, and date, and also has small panes that slide out from the time display to show the current weather (temperature and forecast from your local area from Weatherbug.com) and the alarms that are set.
I recommend setting up the TimeCommand at night with a light nearby, so you can make sure that both the LED display and the iOS device's display are set to a very low light level. I found the slight glow from the iPhone and LED to be unobtrusive.
In addition to the alarm sounds (there are four of them, plus any tune in your library or internet radio station from the Stem:Connect choices), you can also select "Wake-By-Light" which turns on a light as the alarm goes off.
The Stem Innovations TimeCommand Audio Alarm Dock has a lot going for it. It's less expensive than some audio docks without accompanying apps or alarm clock features. The lamp dimming and Wake-By-Light features are unique, and the Stem:Connect app adds a lot of functionality in a free and well-written app.
If you're looking to replace the alarm clock that you tossed out of your 8th-floor apartment window this morning, or want to send the kid off to college with a decent alarm clock, you can't do better than to take a look at the TimeCommand Audio Alarm Dock. Be sure to check out the screenshots and photos in the gallery above.