Review: iHome iH4 Single-Alarm Clock System for iPod
Pros: A streamlined single-speaker, single-alarm clock with a Universal iPod Dock on top, delivering more than acceptable sound quality and volume for a budget price. Well-designed dimmer is appropriate for light-sensitive sleepers, arguably augmented by dimmer-adjustable dual light bars on unit’s sides.
Cons: Single-speaker design, simple bass switch, and single iPod or buzzer-based alarm are steps down from iHome’s more expensive clock radio offerings, clock face is similarly stripped down to only time without date. Remote control, sold separately, boosts price to almost the same level as company’s superior $69 offering. Inexpensive-looking body - particularly the light bars - will not appeal to some users.
If we hadn’t known that Timex’s Ti700 ($69) and iHome’s iH4 ($50) were made by the same company, we’d have thought of them as competitors. But in reality, these two miniature audio towers are siblings, designed by iHome’s parent company SDI Technologies around the same theme: budget-priced iPod clocks, one with a few frills, the other stripped down to everything but the aesthetic and functional core. Both include Universal iPod Docks with three matching adapters - one for the iPod nano, two for full-sized iPods.
Let’s start with the iHome iH4, a bare-bones version of the company’s ultra-popular earlier iH5, iH6, and iH7 products. Unlike the flat, twin-speakered prior iH-series AM/FM radio speaker systems, iH4 is a taller, single-speaker tower design without any radio functionality. When it’s not playing back iPod audio, it’s simply a single-alarm clock with the ability to wake you up with a tone or sounds from your iPod. Omitting the equalization of more expensive iH systems, iH4 has a simple bass boost on and off switch on its back.
Then there’s the Ti700, which is a little taller than iH4, but internally much closer to iHome’s iH6 and iH7 in technology. This model has an AM/FM radio, second alarm clock, and packed-in remote control, all features missing from iH4. Its circular clock face has time-of-day numbers that are roughly the same large size as iH4’s, but aided by slightly larger icons, and always accompanied by the month and day - the latter details missing from the smaller, rectangular iH4 display. Unlike iH4 - and the earlier iH systems - Ti700 has no bass switch or other equalization functionality; the system’s standard bass level sits in-between iH4’s two settings.
In our view, Ti700 is a substantially stronger offering for the dollar, but both designs are seriously interesting because of their unusually aggressive prices. For iH4’s $50 asking price, you get a fully competent little audio system with enough horsepower for your iPod to be heard across a room at even less than maximum volume, and enough bass that comparably priced twin speaker systems will generally sound tinny by comparison. This isn’t to say that iH4’s audio is dynamic: though it’s fine for the price, it’s relatively flat on an absolute scale, and could have been aided substantially by an additional tweeter. Expect distortion at the very top of its volume, but not enough to make you assume that it’s poorly engineered for the price. Ti700’s speaker isn’t identically tuned, but it’s close - we actually preferred its middle-of-the-road bass setting to either of the ones found on iH4.
Feature omissions aside, the major issue with iH4 is styling: unlike the relatively neutral Ti700, some people are going to have issues with the iH4’s white (iH4W) or black (iH4B) triangular body, which features two large blue lamps on its sides, glowing in coordination with the unit’s illuminated clock face. While the lamps give the iH4 tower a vaguely art deco look, they’re not especially classy touches, and can’t be adjusted independent of the clock: all three lights are on, dimmed, or off at the same time. As a desk clock, that’s not a major issue, but people who have trouble with bright bedside lights will have to deal with three rather than just one. Thankfully iHome’s dimmer settings include a very low option that’s unlikely to be offensive to even the most sensitive users.
By contrast, Ti700’s silver and black design is at the very least inoffensive, and to our eyes, inexpensively handsome by clock radio standards. The circular screen has similar dimmer settings to iH4’s, and is accompanied by a far more subtle undercarriage light bar that’s barely visible on its maximum setting. While Ti700’s light bar dims only with the screen, it’s nowhere near as conspicuous as the twin lights on iH4, and less likely to put off sensitive users.
Ti700 also manages to place more of its important buttons - power, presets, radio controls, ons and offs for both alarms, and volume - on or near its top half, while iH4 places volume controls at its base, alongside a too-low snooze button. Unfortunately, Ti700 also mounts its snooze button low, beneath its front-firing speaker, and both systems rely upon an unusual number of side buttons and back switches. iH4 keeps its clock setting buttons on the side and the bass switch in the rear, above line-in and power ports, while Ti700 uses the side for volume and sleep buttons, and the back for clock setting, the same ports, and an AM antenna port. A small external FM antenna coil dangles off the Ti700’s bottom.
Styling and class aside, the major advantages of Ti700 are three. First, there’s a second alarm clock. Though it isn’t as sophisticated as, say, the iH6’s or iH7’s, in that you use a rear switch to have both alarms wake you from either the radio or a connected iPod, defaulting to a buzzer if the iPod’s not docked, the second alarm’s there, and it works. Second, there’s an AM/FM radio, and it’s actually quite good - FM reception is low in static, and though AM reception varies from channel to channel, it sounds good enough on its weaker stations. Finally, there’s an included Infrared remote control, which worked very well in our testing, providing power, play/pause, track, volume, radio, preset, and snooze/dimmer controls reliably under normal light (or darkness) from 30 feet away.
Since you’ll have to buy an iH4 remote separately from iHome for $15 if you want one, that single component constitutes enough of a price difference that there’s very little reason in our minds to prefer the iH4 over the $19 more expensive Ti700: for the added dollars, you get a better aesthetic design, the AM/FM radio, the second alarm, more detailed clock, and included remote control. While the iH4 does a good job of setting the base level of what we’d expect for $50 - a quality, recommendable product - Ti700 does enough more for its modest premium to merit our higher, A-level recommendation. Unless you need the additional audio capabilities of iHome’s more expensive two- or three-speakered iH5, iH6, and iH7, Ti700 is a very attractive alternative.