Review: iDevices iShower
Apple-focused audio companies have only rarely catered to the modestly challenging but potentially lucrative market for waterproof speakers. The few options that have been released over the past ten years have been for bike-mounting, beach, or pool use, and most have come from smaller companies such as Atlantic, quickly fading into obscurity. iDevices has taken a somewhat different tact with iShower ($100), a new iOS-ready speaker with a modern design and Bluetooth streaming support. Thanks to its wireless functionality, iShower can perform inside a shower while playing music from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch several rooms away, letting you change tracks and volume levels directly from its front panel. While iShower has a few issues that prospective users should be aware of before making a purchase, it does a good job at its intended task, and is worth considering if you want a bathroom-friendly audio system.
If you’re familiar with iDevices’ earlier iGrill, you won’t be surprised by iShower’s design, which looks like a taller and wider version of the glossy white Bluetooth cooking thermometer. Still shaped like a rounded rectangle with front-mounted buttons, a rear-mounted AA battery compartment, and a flip-out plastic hook, iShower ditches capacitive controls for eight traditional but watertight buttons, and swaps the prior 3-character red LCD screen for a 4-character blue display. Most of the buttons are devoted to remote control of your iOS device’s tracks, play/pause status, or the speaker’s volume levels, with two others for power and Bluetooth.
The last of the eight buttons lets you set and briefly display the time on the screen, which is otherwise generally off during use, as a pill-shaped blue light above it indicates power and Bluetooth pairing status. Audio ventilates from a series of holes in the enclosure’s bottom rear, and though the housing is not designed to be submerged in water, iShower is splash-safe and otherwise water-resistant; we had no problems whatsoever using it in regular shower conditions. Moreover, iDevices promises that it will work from 200-foot distances that are far beyond typical Bluetooth speakers, and iShower performed quite well in our testing, streaming music and registering remote control commands with only small hiccups when an iPhone was an entire house and different floor away. At regular distances, the wireless performance was flawless.
iDevices ships iShower with a set of three AA batteries and an optional mount that has two posts on its front and a generous pad of 3M adhesive tape on its back. While the mount worked perfectly to attach the speaker to a tile wall, enabling iShower to be easily taken in and out of a shower as needed, iDevices’ included AA batteries were dead on arrival. Though iDevices promises up to 15 hours of battery life from a new set of cells, actual running times may be half that, depending on the batteries you use and the volume level you select. While it’s true that relatively few speakers we review these days are still dependent on disposable cells, it’s also worth noting that none of them have to risk possible electrical shorts due to water-logged USB ports during recharging. Thankfully, you shouldn’t have to swap batteries too often: an automatic deactivation feature lets iShower turn off after 5 minutes of audio inactivity, and music typically starts playing automatically after you turn the unit on, assuming that it’s been paired with a device.
On that note, iShower’s single biggest issue was a big surprise: iDevices has come up with the most overcomplicated Bluetooth pairing system we’ve ever seen on an Apple accessory, easily eclipsing the PIN code pairing required for older accessories. In order to pair iShower with your phone, you don’t just need to turn the device on for the first time and wait for the blue light to flash, which is the current norm for rival products. You also need to press a dedicated Bluetooth button until the screen reads “use1 pair,” then press the Play/Pause button until iShower agrees to pair with your device. If you don’t follow those steps, which are listed in the manual, your iOS device will repeatedly report unsuccessful pairing attempts even though iShower remains discoverable and seemingly ready to pair from the moment it’s turned on. The only explanation for this belabored process is iShower’s support for pairing up to five Bluetooth sources—accessed with forward and reverse buttons—a nice feature, but one that should have been handled more gently.
iShower’s sonic performance is radio-like: flat, midrange-focused, and on the fine edge of B and C ratings—we’d only call it acceptable because of the speaker’s attractive pricing and unusual usage model. When a wireless speaker sells for under $100 and is designed to be used in an environment where the sound of loud rushing water will be competing against it, it’s hard to complain much about its omissions. However, if you’re thinking of using iShower outside of a shower, you’ll want to know about them. Unlike Atlantic’s long-gone waterproof speakers, iShower has only a single speaker inside and makes no attempt at stereo separation. At peak volumes—9 to 10 on the 10-step digital volume meter—distortion becomes obvious in the audio, particularly in the bass. It’s not terrible, and not even necessarily audible if you’re directly under your showerhead, but it detracts from iShower’s ability to be used in other environments at higher volumes.
It’s worth mentioning that iDevices is completely aware of this issue, and doesn’t appear to be particularly concerned: rather than limiting iShower’s audio to a lower level or choosing a driver without such a propensity for distortion, the company’s FAQ advises users just to change their device’s EQ settings to reduce the bass. This isn’t a great approach for a speaker developer to take, and provides future competitors with an easy way to distinguish their products from iShower.
When iShower is considered on its overall merits, however, it’s worthy of a flat B rating and our general recommendation. While it’s not sonically stellar, it delivers enough reasonable quality audio to be heard in even a loud shower, and once you’re past the initial inconvenience of pairing, it’s extremely easy to use and attractively designed. The fact that it can effectively start playing music from an iOS device located rooms away is impressive, and the twin options for mounting it either temporarily or permanently in a shower are more than adequate. Ideally, the sound quality would be even better, the initial pairing would be easier, and there would be a viable rechargeable battery inside, but this is a good first speaker for iDevices, and paves the way for an even more impressive sequel in the future.