Review: iHome iH41 & iP41 Rotating Alarm Clocks for iPod and iPhone
Sometimes, simpler is better. In August 2008, we reviewed iHome's iH41 ($80), an example of this principle at play: with novel styling and a feature we hadn't seen before on an iPod speaker system, the budget-priced clock and dock was an especially solid pick for iPod touch owners who wanted the ability to watch videos from a desk or nightstand. Now iHome has replaced iH41 with an updated version called iP41 ($90), which is almost identical to its predecessor, but adds iPhone 3G compatibility. Our updated review discusses the iH41 first, and then the iP41 at the bottom.
Like virtually all of iHome’s products, the iH41’s most obvious feature is a clock screen with a multi-level dimmer, here with four stages of brightness and a white text on black background design. What’s unique about the iH41 is its ability to turn on its side, rotating its clock face at the same time, a feature that enables it to serve as a horizontal video dock for the iPod touch; an orientation sensor inside enables the clock rotation to happen automatically. In this position, the clock is at the bottom right and the dock above it; while the normal position places the dock off to the right of the clock for use with vertically oriented iPods. We had no problem with iPod slippage in the dock, which comes with four Universal Dock Adapters, and we also really liked how the system looked; the clock face is modern and equally easy to read in either orientation.
The iH41 also includes an Infrared remote control, which provides you with the ability to change tracks and navigate an iPod’s menus from afar. While the remote worked without a major hitch when we tested it with iH41, some iPod touch interface glitches make it a little less than optimal when you’re in vertical orientation; in addition to requiring you to manually swipe the touch out of Sleep/Wake screen mode at times, you’ll find that Cover Flow can’t be navigated with the remote, so the Menu button brings you to the vertical scrolling list of tracks, but doesn’t display all of the screen elements. These look like issues Apple has to address, and don’t factor into our rating; using the touch or other iPods in the unit’s standard vertical mode presents fewer problems.
iHome’s premise with the iH41 is relatively straightforward by comparison with other alarm clocks it has released: there’s no radio, no dual-alarm functionality, and limited single-alarm functionality. You can turn one alarm on or off, and it will start to play from the connected iPod or a beeping buzzer, becoming progressively more annoying until you turn it off. The system is easy to program, easy to dim, and easy to put in “sleep” mode. There’s only a single speaker in the chassis, performing monaural sound, and it’s fine: a lot better than the iPhone or iPhone 3G’s built-in speaker, with plenty of volume to let you watch a video or hear music. By no means is this the best speaker system out there for serious music lovers, but for less than critical listening, it’s just fine, and does a very nice job with videos.
There’s only one issue we noticed in the speaker: the amplifier picks up little noises from iPods, which vary from device to device, typically different sorts of almost inaudible beeps and clicks. You can’t hear them while music is playing, and they’re not offensive, but they’re there. There’s a quiet droning sound in the iPod touch when the system is silent, but only when it’s powered on; when the system’s off, the sound is gone. In the grand scheme of audio interference we’ve heard, we’d call this minor.
Our only other issue with iH41 was a very small one. The system came with a power supply, which is required to keep the speaker playing, but though there was a clock battery backup compartment in the rear, there wasn’t a battery in it or in the box that we could find. Given how many clocks we’ve seen from iHome, this is the first we can recall without a battery in the box or pre-installed; it’s unclear whether this was an oversight or intentional.
All in all, the iH41 is a unique and cool little clock and audio system; in our view, it’s best suited to iPod touch users in that its most novel feature is currently of no benefit to other iPod owners, and you can get double-speaker and/or double-alarm clock radios for those iPods for the same or lower prices. That said, iH41’s ability to display the iPod touch’s screen horizontally while adding a nice speaker and clock makes it a very convenient way to enjoy videos without a TV. We’re looking forward to seeing an iPhone version of iH41 in the future.
Nearly a year later and $10 more, iP41 has finally been released, and not surprisingly, it offers expanded compatibility: it is now “Works With iPhone”-certified, specifically labeled to work with the iPhone 3G, though it’s also compatible with the iPhone 3GS and—to some extent—the original iPhone. As with most such certified accessories, it still exhibits low-volume audio interference when the iPhone is in EDGE mode, which means with frequency for the original model, and in most parts of the world, rarely if ever for the newer iPhone 3G and 3GS. There’s a low level of static in the amplifier, but no other serious audio issue.
Otherwise, there’s not much of a difference between the iP41 and the iH41; the clock still rotates along with the unit, enabling you to watch videos or play music with the iPod nano or iPod touch in landscape mode, the alarm still works, and you can keep the system in iPod or iPhone portrait orientation, too. It still includes a matching Infrared remote, as well. For this version, iHome has added in Dock Adapters for the iPhone 3G, the second-generation iPod touch and fourth-generation iPod nano, as well as a removable plastic side support that starts out ready for the iPod touch and iPhone, but can be replaced with one that supports the nano instead. Everything works as expected, and though we initially couldn’t find a battery for the clock’s battery backup feature in the package, it actually is in there, hidden inside a tiny plastic packet that’s attached to one of the inside pages of the instruction manual. iHome notes that the battery can provide 25 continuous days of backup in the event that power is disconnected from the device.
All in all, the iP41 is as good an option today as its predecessor was last year, making minor fixes for iPhone 3G compatibility, but costing a bit more and leaving small issues. If we were shopping for either model and had an iPod, we’d probably go with the newer iP41 instead because of its greater versatility, but the iH41 remains a nice option at a lower price if you can find it.