The iHome iH5 is a relatively large, unusually shaped clock radio with a little valley on its top that contains the dock and the device�s control buttons. iHome includes a variety of mounts for different-sized iPods, but will accommodate a non-docking iPod, iPod Shuffle or practically any other portable audio device via its line-in jack. A line-out jack is also provided. It looks better out of the box than in most of its pictures. The buttons, including a prominent snooze activator, are nicely illuminated. However, it doesn�t support dual alarms and sports an LCD with adjustable brightness instead of the more common (and I believe preferable) LED displays.
The clock makes it easy to use the iPod (or FM radio) for either waking or falling asleep, but has some drawbacks. The volume control, obviously inspired by the iPod�s scroll wheel but not as functional, felt mushy at times. Also, the way the docked iPod stands up like a little iHomosapien makes it difficult to stack anything atop the device. The various bundled iPod adapters don�t offer enough support to avoid putting pressure on the dock connector when using the iPod�s buttons. Worse, the errant arc of a drowsy arm might result in teaching your iPod with a fatal physics lesson. iHome Audio bundles a slim remote control for the iH5 when you order it direct from their Web site, but it�s an egregious $20 add-on for units purchased at Target.
The iHome offering marks another near-miss in the quest to find a fun and affordable MP3 alarm clock. When compared to the Philips Shoqbox, iHome Audio has certainly executed its product better, but the Dutch giant�s miniature boombox feels closer to the right form factor and specifications for an MP3 alarm clock. Other pretenders include a new RCA alarm clock that can accept line-in input from an MP3 player, The Sharper Image�s $200 shower MP3 CD player that can function as an alarm clock, and the Acoustic Energy Wi-Fi Internet radio. It�s almost as if companies are doing everything they can to avoid a simple, elegant solution.
With a price of about $100, the wide-body waker costs more than most alarm clocks, but is considerably less expensive than many other speaker docks. Indeed, while the iH5 is at least twice the size of a folded Altec Lansing inMotion iM3 system, it produces far better bass thanks to its �Reson8� sound chamber. It won�t beat the best table radios from the likes of Bose, but it costs a quarter of those devices. If you�re looking for a speaker dock for your iPod, and aren�t concerned about pass-through syncing or the sexiest facade, the iH5 offers eye-opening value.
Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.