It is painfully, completely obvious that iHome’s new iHC5 ($150) wanted to be your iPhone’s best friend. It dresses sort of like the iPhone. It does things that could really help the iPhone. But the iPhone doesn’t really want to play with the iHC5, so as a result, this new Bluetooth 1.2 (with A2DP) speaker system is forced to make nice with other, less popular friends. Such is life.
For those unfamiliar, iHome makes popular, widely-available alarm clocks and speaker systems for basically every type of iPod that’s been released for the past few years. You probably have seen the iH5, iH8, or another one of them in Target, and given that iHC5 is a bigger, cooler-looking silver and black alternative, packed with four speakers rather than the typical iHome two, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s ready to play your iPhone’s tunes. It does have an FM/AM radio inside, dual alarms, and a dimmable clock radio screen, as well as a cradle that can be stuck on its back or moved off to the side as you prefer. You can connect one of the two included audio cables to its back to make a line-in-to-headphone-port connection with certain cell phones and iPods, excluding basically only the iPhone. (*Updated note: iHome plans to add an iPhone-compatible audio cable to the package, too, however, none of these devices can be charged from iHC5.) But it’s really meant to make a Bluetooth connection to cell phones—or other devices, such as PCs—and stream stereo audio directly from them.
Unfortunately, because Apple doesn’t stream music over Bluetooth, and because iHome doesn’t yet* include an audio cable or Dock Connector plug that fits the iPhone, it can’t do anything with iPhone music. Radio, with four presets for AM and eight for FM, is all you’ll get there. But you can make the iPhone connect via Bluetooth to iHC5 to use it as a speakerphone, and if you add an iPhone-ready audio cable, you can have music coming from the wire and phone calls through Bluetooth; you can decide whether this meets your needs. iHome builds in a microphone that callers have told us delivers crisp, intelligable audio on their end, and there’s even a pop-out dialing pad that lets you call a number without using the iPhone’s own screen. The speakers are bass-weighted, but it’s easy to hear what’s being said by incoming callers, and there’s only a bit of echo apparent on the other side at normal volumes.
The bigger issue is TDMA noise. Whenever the iPhone (and, most likely, other cell phones) are near the iHC5, the speakers perform not only radio or connected audio, but also a lot of interference from the phone’s communications with nearby cell towers. Sans the appropriate shielding, you may really need to move that cradle far away to avoid interrupting your music, and in the case of the iPhone, even when they’re feet away from each other, iHC5 still picks up the TDMA interference. This is doubly unfortunate, as it’s the only reason we’d not recommend this at all for use with the iPhone, even as a speakerphone device.
More pictures can be seen by clicking on the headline above or the Read More link below. The speckles you might notice in the right bottom speaker are pieces of an advertising sticker that fell off inside the metal grille when we tried to pull it off. We’re hoping Apple and iHome can find a way to make devices like this work properly for both iPhone music and calls in the very near future, otherwise, the only people who will be able to use systems like this will be… well, users of any other Bluetooth cell phone with stereo audio streaming capabilities.