Company: Digital Lifestyle Outfitters (DLO)
Model: HomeDock Music Remote
Compatible: iPod 4G, 5G, mini, nano
DLO HomeDock Music Remote
Pros: The fourth wireless display remote for the iPod, enabling you to connect your iPod to a stereo and navigate its artists or playlists from 100 feet away. Remote has strong broadcasting strength, simple button layout, and bright screen. Includes full, nice-looking iPod dock with USB, variable line-out, and power ports, as well as audio and power cables. Dock can charge both iPod and remote at the same time; remote’s battery life is good.
Cons: Remote’s navigation features are very limited, with only three lines of menu text and no access to iPod’s song, album, or genre lists; no video navigation functionality, either. Initial synchronization of remote for list browsing can take minutes with larger-capacity iPods, and sometimes experiences glitches. Initial dock we received had serious audio issues.
Last year, remote control maker ABT released iJet Two-Way (iLounge rating: C+), the first “display remote” for the iPod. Unlike any alternative at the time, iJet Two-Way allowed you to connect your iPod to a stereo, then browse its contents from rooms away using a LCD screen built into a small radio (RF)-based remote control. But ABT didn’t make full use of the idea’s potential: the screen was a poor two-line display, with only the most limited iPod navigation, and its iPod-to-stereo connection kit was deficient. Two subsequent accessories, Keyspan’s TuneView (iLounge rating: B+) and PopAlive’s AliveStyle Remote & Dock (iLounge rating: B-), both shipped with full iPod docks and color screened remotes with nearly complete iPod music navigation functionality, leaving iJet Two-Way looking even less impressive for its $130 asking price.
Now longtime iPod accessory maker DLO has released HomeDock Music Remote ($130), which through a partnership with ABT offers a second-generation, improved version of iJet Two-Way. As before, you get a remote control with a limited screen, plus an audio cable and an accessory to attach to the bottom of your iPod. But DLO’s components are a bit smarter than ABT’s: the remote can display up to three lines of iPod menu text, plus an ever-present one-line header. Plus, the docking accessory is now a legitimate iPod dock, attractively sculpted in black matte plastic, and comes complete with a wall charger, audio-out and USB ports. Both the iPod and the remote can be charged in the dock at the same time; a clear plastic insert resizes to accommodate different sizes of iPods.
In short, HomeDock Music Remote is a nice improvement over iJet Two-Way, but it’s not superior to Keyspan’s or PopAlive’s alternatives, and we experienced a few glitches during our testing. Users who haven’t seen anything better will find its performance acceptable but not outstanding for the price, assuming that they’re not in need of video browsing capabilities; unlike Keyspan’s TuneView, Music Remote is, as its name suggests, strictly for navigating music.
Though DLO’s remote is a couple of generations behind Keyspan’s and PopAlive’s, it’s obvious that ABT and DLO worked hard to remedy a few of iJet Two-Way’s most glaring flaws. The new screen offers readable, high-contrast blue menu text on a black background, with an orange header that shows play/pause and battery status at all times. It’s not as attractive, large, or practical for extended navigation as either of its key competitors’ screens, but it’s better than iJet Two-Way’s, and certainly easier to see. Music Remote also has a size advantage over current competitors: it’s thicker but shorter than an iPod nano, versus the iPod mini-sized PopAlive and larger Keyspan remotes.
DLO has also distilled iJet Two-Way’s confusing buttons down to a familiar enough circle of only five: volume and track backwards/forwards controls are in the same places as an iPod shuffle’s, but the play/pause button has been replaced with a central Menu button. This button turns the remote on, brings you to its main menu, and with a third click presses play or pause on the current song. We would have added a sixth button, but DLO’s scheme generally works fine. If you don’t initiate play/pause with that third Menu button click, you can use the volume up and down buttons to scroll through Music Remote’s menu choices, which are Playlists, Artists, Jukebox, Settings, and Tech Support, the latter containing a phone number and web address if you have problems with the unit.
While HomeDock Music Remote lets you navigate your iPod’s playlists and artists, it doesn’t provide direct access to your lists of albums, songs, genres, or composers, like PopAlive and Keyspan do, or your videos, as only TuneView does. If you’re accustomed to browsing your music with an iPod’s menus, you’ll need to lower your expectations a bit here, and get used to finding music by artist names. DLO’s Jukebox menu option lets you create on-the-go playlists for use with the Remote, but that’s the only surprise here.
The remote’s Settings menu is straightforward. You can turn shuffle mode on for songs or albums, pick one of the iPod’s EQ settings, and change the remote’s two-line Now Playing screen to show the song’s title along with one of two choices: the artist’s name, or the title of the next song. There’s also a timeout setting for the display, an “iPod Mode” that lets you use the remote without on-screen menus, and a handy About screen that shows the current signal strength between the remote and the dock. As with iJet Two-Way, we were able to maintain a signal when the remote was over 100 feet away from the dock, enough to go from corner to corner of most homes, and even outside. It goes without saying that you needn’t point the remote at the dock, or even stay in the same room or floor as the iPod; the radio frequency technology in iJet is very powerful, and though Keyspan roughly matches its distance, it’s still impressive.
Despite the limits of its three-line menu display, the Music Remote does a decent job of letting you access a docked iPod’s content. When you dock your iPod, it will let you immediately start playing where you last left off, and with low-capacity iPods, accessing your playlists and artists will only require a brief period of synchronization. Navigating both lists is just like using an iPod, save for the lack of other options if you can’t find something you were looking for. But you may run into issues if you have filled a larger-capacity iPod; we found that the one-time synchronization process for artists and playlists can take literally minutes, which is probably the reason DLO doesn’t also load lists of albums, genres, and song titles. Additionally, the Remote got hung up several times when we tried to update the lists with a Download Lists command, aborted the download, and then said it had lost contact with the dock. We continued to have problems until we reset the dock and iPod.
Other than those issues, which were troublesome but not profound enough to make us dislike the Music Remote, we did have one problem with the unit’s included dock. Our first review dock’s audio port put out a loud buzzing sound and distorted our music—the sort of defect which in our view would render a purchase of HomeDock Music Remote moot, given that its purpose is to let you hear your iPod music clearly through a stereo. Thankfully, a replacement dock thankfully had no issues at all, and properly outputted iPod audio through its variable line-out port. It’s always unclear as to whether a flaw like this one is pervasive throughout a production run or limited, but in this case, we’re giving DLO the benefit of the doubt and not deducting too much from the rating.
Overall, we felt that the HomeDock Music Remote is a better than average but not spectacular remote control solution for the iPod. While we were impressed as always by ABT’s remote broadcasting strength and the nice DLO-developed aesthetics of its dock and remote, there’s no getting around the fact that this solution matches the price of PopAlive’s generally more robust AliveStyle offering, yet isn’t definitively better—the reason both products received a B- rating. In one case, you get five lines of nearly complete iPod music menu navigation and a dock designed to be used with most iPod speaker systems, and in the other, you get three more limited lines of navigation and a dock for non-iPod speakers. Most likely because of the complex software they require, both systems exhibited glitches that reduced their ratings from what they could have been. You can decide whether either of them—or the considerably more robust TuneView—meets your needs, but as our reluctance to award an A rating to any of the products in this categoy should indicate, iPod display remotes will need to come down in price and improve in functionality before they become truly mainstream accessories.