Review: XtremeMac 3-in-1 Microdock
Over the past several years, XtremeMac went from making some of the coolest alarm clocks for iPods to effectively devolving the concept into less expensive, simplified accessories -- a trend taken to another extreme by the company's new 3-in-1 Microdock ($60). On the surface, 3-in-1 Microdock isn't an alarm clock at all, but rather a 5.25" by 3.2" by 0.75" wedge made from glossy black plastic with orange accents, sitting flat on a desk while casting a fattened front-facing shadow of the iPhone or iPod touch standing up in its rear. Once it's connected to a wall using the included power adapter, however, its ambitions become clear: a free XtremeMac Alarm Clock application can be downloaded to the device, turning it into a budget-priced timer with dual alarms, a "sleep to nature sounds" feature, and your choice of several different clock faces. In some ways, 3-in-1 Microdock falls behind low-priced clock radios, but in others, it actually surpasses more expensive ones.
XtremeMac’s complete bundle consists of the Microdock, five Dock Adapters, a soft carrying case, and the wall power adapter—the latter designed for use in the United States and other countries with two flat wall blades. Normally, that latter part wouldn’t be particularly important, but this particular accessory screams out for international wall adapters due to its small size and decidedly travel-friendly profile. It’s smaller than the company’s earlier Luna Voyager, and doesn’t have the ability to run off of battery power, so despite its convenient size, the only place you’ll be able to use it is near a wall outlet. While we’d welcome a version that could run off of battery power, or better yet supply rechargeable battery power, history suggests that it would also be more expensive and physically larger than this unit. XtremeMac tried something similar with MicroPack years ago, and Microdock’s balance of features strikes us as smarter overall.
3-in-1 Microdock uses much of its enclosure space to house two 1.25” speaker drivers that sit side by side, providing left and right channel audio from the connected iPod or iPhone. You can use any iPod or iPhone with the system in pure audio playback mode, adjusting volume by pressing to the left and right of a long orange-ringed bar with a play/pause/snooze button in the center. When power’s running to the dock from a rear-mounted port, a small red light on the front illuminates to let you know that it can be used. There’s also an auxiliary audio input so that devices such as the iPod shuffle or iPad can perform audio through the little speakers, assuming that you’re willing to provide the audio cable.
There aren’t any huge surprises when using the Microdock as a little audio system. Owing to the small size and limited quality of the speakers, audio is fairly flat, stereo separation is extremely limited—though there—and the maximum volume level is louder than, say, the speakers built into any iPhone or the 2010 iPad, but not enough to fill a room. It’s the sort of sound that we classify as acceptable for tiny, budget-priced audio systems but wouldn’t tolerate in anything larger; “good enough, but not great.”
But load up the iOS application and the system starts to shine. By default, the clock screen uses the font seen on several of XtremeMac’s full-sized Luna clocks, and a honeycomb-like pattern that appears on some of its more recent cases—a very attractive use of the iPhone’s screen for clock functionality. The dual alarms can be set to repeat on whatever days of the week you want, one at a time, as well as labeled individually, and programmed to wake from the iPod/iPhone’s selected songs, as well as a chime or ambient rain or waves noises. Those latter sounds can also be used for a relaxing “fall asleep” timer; volume levels and snooze timer durations can also be set for each alarm. XtremeMac also includes a one-touch setting to dim the screen automatically to your preferred level of night brightness, and six other backgrounds with a more Apple-like Helvetica clock design. We genuinely liked this application’s looks, UI, and features, which thanks to smart programming and efficient design occasionally surpass the functionality of dedicated alarm clock accessories we’ve tested.
As with all third-party alarm applications, you need to keep the XtremeMac Alarm Clock app running if you want the alarms to go off and the time to be displayed. For occasional travel alarm purposes, this isn’t too much to ask, and the system continues to be useful as a charging and audio station even in the absence of running the clock application, or for pre-iOS devices incapable of using apps. It’s worth a brief mention that the 3-in-1 Microdock also automatically offers iPod touch and iPhone users the option to download XtremeMac’s free Tango TRX application, discussed in our earlier Tango TRX review here.
While 3-in-1 Microdock’s $60 price tag isn’t aggressive in the grand scheme of things—it could have been a little less expensive and wowed more people—the reality is that Apple charges nearly as much for a dock and power adapter combination without any integrated audio hardware or alarm clock functionality. That XtremeMac has put all of the pieces together into something sleek, relatively portable, and more than competent enough to rely upon for travel purposes is enough to merit our strong general recommendation.