Sound and appearance
Right out of the box, the App Station doesn't seem all that attractive. Essentially, it's a square-ish black speaker spanning about 7-inches across. Along two sides, a hard rubber base makes it possible to position the dock so that the iPod / iPhone sits either landscape or portrait. A volume rocker, power button, and snooze button sit up top (or along the right-hand side, depending on how you have it situated), while the rear of the unit features a plug for the AC adapter, 3.5mm audio input, and a lid for the battery compartment (it can alternately be run on 6 AA batteries). Situated along the top (in portrait mode) is what appears to be a plastic grille of some sort, seemingly present for looks only.
Diving right in, we immediately started playing some tunes. As these things go, this doesn't sound bad at all. Of course, one doesn't expect to hear any sub-bass (so we weren't disappointed when it provided none). All in all, things sound pretty clear: hi-hats are crisp, bass is well-represented, and all that mid-range stuff is in there as well. Even when you crank the volume (as much as you can with a 15W speaker) the sound doesn't become unduly distorted. As you'd expect from any old clock radio, stereo separation is really a non-starter. We do know that there is a pair of stereo speakers in there -- plugging in an external audio source and panning left to right tells us that much -- although you have to stick your head up to the unit in order to hear the difference (and this we did, although we don't recommend it to amateurs). Although this isn't going to replace your full-blown stereo anytime soon, as a sound source for your bedside or cubicle, it does the job as well as you'd hope.
The App Clock
Available for free from the App Store, the iLuv App Clock software promises "mind-blowing sound quality" thanks to its "patented jAura Sound Cell technology," though to be honest we really could hear no difference between it and the non-mind-blowing qualities of the straight-up iTunes music player. Once you launch the App Clock, you're greeted with a rendering of an alarm clock from the pre-digital era -- one which also displays the temperature (as long as the iPod / iPhone can get online), a musical note that, when selected, brings up a playlist display, and the "i" icon for adjusting the app's settings. Brightness is controlled by swiping up or down on the main portion of the display itself.
Let's take a quick trip through the settings, shall we? One can set what seems like an unlimited number of alarms (although we got bored at ten -- so maybe the limit is eleven), all with a number of customizable parameters: repeat (everyday, weekday, weekend, Saturday, Sunday), sound (everything from a telephone ring to a train whistle, to a song from your iPod), snooze button duration (from 7 to 30 minutes), label (you know, like the name of that setting) and of course alarm time. Once you have that sorted, you can choose a color theme (pink, white, or black -- though they all do look pretty similar), and finally display settings. (24 hour time or no? Celsius of Fahrenheit?)
As we'd long ago given up old school alarm clocks and switched to our cell phones,we were dying to know if the App Clock would win us over. At first blush, it seems like the best of both worlds -- a more or less endlessly configurable series of alarms, aesthetically pleasing, the ability to wake up to tunes from your iPod. What else could you want, really? Sadly, it turns out that the iPod touch is a less than satisfactory replacement for a dedicated digital alarm clock for a couple of reasons. First of all, the display: it's bright. When you're trying to get to sleep and the only light source in the room is your touchscreen MP3 player, it's about as subtle as a spotlight. Even when you turn down the brightness all the way, light is still leaking out and (though your mileage may vary) we found it pretty annoying. Second, in order to use the thing like an alarm clock, you need to shut off your phone's "auto-lock" setting, which is not really feasibly for when you want to lug your phone around like, you know, a phone. Either that, or whenever you want to glance over and check the time you'll have to unlock the device -- which is pretty annoying, to be honest. Thirdly, the App Clock only gives you access to whatever playlist you might have been listening to when you launched the app. If you want to switch playlists you have to exit the app, select another playlist on your device, and then re-enter the app. This, too, is quite an annoyance.
Of course, the last two squabbles can be repaired with an update to the app itself -- so hopefully this will happen at some point. Still, for a primary bedroom alarm clock you're probably better off with something like the iHome iP90 ($99) or iLuv's very own iMM178 Vibe Plus ($90). However, if you're a cubicle dweller or you need something that will sit inobtrusively on your desk or bookcase while you listen to your streaming media apps, you could do worse than shell out $90 for the App Station.