Review: iHome iH26 iHome2Go Portable System for your iPod
Pros: An all-in-one briefcase-ready clock, dock, and speaker system for Dock Connector iPods and shuffles, including a good Infrared remote control, wall power supply, and travel case. Runs off of AA and lithium clock battery power when not connected to the wall, comes in three colors. Cheapest remote- and clock-equipped travel speaker we’ve seen for the iPod to date.
Cons: Despite numerous good features, sound quality of speakers is only so-so by comparison with similarly priced options, exhibiting fairly high distortion with bass-heavy songs at low and average levels. Cosmetically acceptable, not beautiful.
Portable iPod speaker systems at the $100 price point are scarce: quality, affordable iPod docking speakers are in great demand, but companies have made every effort to release products for between $150 and $300, with fewer options at the lower end of the scale. So iHome’s new $100 iH26 iHome2Go Portable System enters the marketplace with an immediate advantage: it not only delivers stereo speakers and an iPod dock at that magic lower number, but bundles them with a remote control and alarm clock - it’s the first briefcase-ready speaker to include a clock or remote at this price, let alone both. The only compromise? You guessed it: sound quality.
Available in three color variations (silver, black, and white), the iH26 is essentially a stripped-down version of iHome’s earlier, popular iH5 (iLounge rating: A-) alarm clock, intended to be carried around by travelers. Bundled with a carrying case and wall power adapter, it’s similar in size to Altec Lansing’s lowest-end, $100 inMotion iM11 (iLounge rating: B+), and is equally suitable for carrying in a briefcase and using anywhere. When you’re not around an outlet, a compartment for four AA batteries can be accessed on the bottom, which along with a lithium clock back-up battery helps you wake up and listen to music no matter where you are.
But while it shares many of the iM11’s key features, it stands alone in several regards. One is its set of two fold-down speakers, which lay flat during transportation or rise up to sit at the iPod’s sides during normal use. Because these speakers are both repositionable and taut, you can make them stand up nearly straight, place them on your choice of reclining angles, or fold them fully backwards to project music upwards. As with the iM11, the iH26’s grilles are made from metal to protect the speakers while you’re travelling; the rest of the system is built from heavy plastic.
It’s also surprising that the iH26 actually contains two iPod docks - one for any Dock Connector-equipped iPod, one for iPod shuffles - which can both be charged and/or used for audio output. Dock sizer inserts are included for “thick iPods,�? “thin iPods,�? minis, and nanos; a USB cap-holding cover is also packed-in for use with the iPod shuffle. iHome also includes an audio cable to connect other non-docking and/or non-iPod devices.
The unit’s top packs many more buttons than the typically simplified Altec inMotion systems. On the left are separate buttons to turn the system off and start the iPod playing, doubling as an alarm reset and pause button, respectively. At the center, there are buttons to help you set the time and alarm, turn the alarm and sleep modes on and off, and a bar to activate the unit’s snooze and dimmer features. On that note, the green-backlit clock can be dimmed through three levels and “off” - a gripe some users had about the iH5 - and it’s also physically smaller, but still readable.
There are also separate volume up and down buttons, which iHome duplicates along with play/pause, system off, sleep, snooze, and dimmer buttons on the included remote control. Track forward and backward buttons, as well as a mute button, are unique to the remote; the track and play/pause buttons only work for Dock Connector iPods, and not iPod shuffles. iHome matches the remote’s rear to the iH26’s body; neither is cosmetically beautiful, but they’re both several steps better than generic or purely functional-looking. A pocket on the included black carrying case can hold the remote while not in use.
A couple of additional switches are found on the unit’s back, along with two ports. iHome includes a line-in port for audio from old 1G/2G iPods and non-iPod devices, as well as a power input for the wall adapter. One switch toggles between 12- and 24-hour time, while the second moves through three positions. There’s a lock position that safeguards the unit’s buttons against accidental presses, an “off” position that allows unit button presses but not remote ones, and a “remote” position that allows all remote and unit button presses to be registered. If iH26 isn’t in the remote position, the remote will appear not to work; otherwise, it does a fine job - an Infrared-impressive 30 feet straight line-of-sight performance without lighting interference, 8-10 feet if fluorescent or other meddlesome lights are in the way.
At this point, you might be wondering why anyone would prefer iHome’s older, sometimes remote-less iH5 to the newer, versatile iH26. There are two answers: first, the iH5’s AM/FM radio has been removed, leaving the iH26 to do nothing more than serve as a two-source alarm clock and speaker dock. If no iPod’s connected, iH26 has a nothing-special fixed-volume buzzer go off to wake you up; otherwise, it will play iPod audio as awakening music, gradually increasing in volume. There’s no way to tune in a local station from this system. For some, this will be a killer omission, but there’s no truly portable $100 iPod docking speaker with a radio - you’ll need to cough up $300 for Tivoli’s iSongBook (iLounge rating: B+), or make major feature compromises on the company’s $130 iPAL (iLounge rating: B+) to get a good one.
The other difference - and a significant one - is audio quality. On one hand, the iH26 is a pretty good little speaker package for the price, given what else you get in its box, but on the other hand, it’s a step below Altec’s similarly priced iM11, which walked the line of acceptable audio quality for the dollar. It’s not surprising given the shallowness of iH26’s one driver-per-fold-up-speaker enclosures that the system isn’t a bass heavy hitter or a treble superstar: the full-range drivers distort on bass fairly easily, lack a bit for treble, and sound flatter by comparison with the iM11. They reach similar volumes, both sounding similarly weak at their peaks, but the iH26 has a greater tendency to distort bass at low and average listening levels. Neither system is the rival of the clearer, richer-sounding iH5, which delivers obviously superior, smoother sound for the same price, or of course, excellent sub-$100 speakers such as JBL’s Creature IIs (iLounge rating: A). You’re paying here for the combination of features rather than the excellence of any one of them.
We were on the fine edge of a high overall recommendation for the iH26, as it has some very obvious merits: it’s an attractively priced package that delivers twin iPod docking, quality audio, a remote control and alarm clock at a price level that virtually anyone can afford. For that reason, travelers - especially those on budgets - should have it on or at the top of their short lists if audio and timekeeping are equally high priorities. What held us back from an A- here was one simple issue: rather than trumping or equalling the sound quality of other products in its price range, iHome’s latest design forces you to accept a noticeable step down in audio - especially in bass-rich songs - which some users might not want to deal with. If you’re willing to compromise on sound, you’ll find that iH26 has a lot to offer - more than any other iPod docking travel speaker in its category, and more than enough to qualify for our strong general recommendation.