Review: iHome iP88 Wake and Sleep to iPhone and iPod
At one point, iHome's new iP88 ($150) was supposed to introduce a new and neat on-screen menu to the company's long-running series of clock radios, serving as somewhat of a flagship and testbed for innovations that might later trickle down to some of the company's less expensive products. Though that feature was dropped, and its remaining advantages over other, less expensive iHome units are somewhat less than awe-inspiring, iP88 is an interesting alternative for two types of users: those who need two separate iPod/iPhone docks, or three separate alarm clocks.
iP88 isn’t the first dual-dock clock radio for the iPhone; iLuv actually debuted such a product one year ago in the iMM173, a nice enough system that wound up getting the company banned from future iLounge coverage for repeated astroturfing comments. iLuv took a short cut with iMM173 and only made one of its two docks truly iPhone-compatible—the other brought up the infamous nag screen—so iHome’s version is designed with two true iPhone-ready docks that can also accommodate iPods without complaint. Like many other clock radios then and since, iMM173 included two separate alarms, so iP88 instead has three. You can set them to play music automatically from either dock, an integrated radio, or an auxiliary device, with a buzzer and a new dedicated playlist option as additional options. Each alarm has its own activation and deactivation button on the unit’s top, but not on the included candybar-style remote control, which toggles between the two docks, offers menu navigation, and lets you play with the other standard track and AM/FM radio controls found on most other iHome systems.
This is, in short, a mostly conventional iHome clock radio apart from the aforementioned tweaks and one other: iP88’s industrial design. The unit’s body drops the rounded edges we’ve seen on many of its predecessors for a flatter, more box-like chassis and a plastic-grilled, diamond-cut-shaped face. Putting that face aside, the rest of the box looks awkward and somewhat cheap, helped a little by a coat of metallic gray paint that can’t totally distract from the unit’s odd angles and bland designs. It looks far less organic than virtually any of iHome’s other recent $100-$150 designs, all of which have had nice enough curves and occasionally very Apple-like influence; iP88 seems more like something that someone sketched out on paper with a ruler, using a box of Kleenex or an old Microsoft Xbox as inspiration. We haven’t yet found the place where it blends in and looks neutral or great; from the side or from the top, it’s just sort of there.
iHome has justified the unit’s new casing by noting that larger than normal speaker drivers are inside, requiring more physical space than the speakers found in its earlier clock radios. In direct side-by-side comparisons with last year’s iP99, it’s obvious that the iP88 is in fact a bit taller and does offer slightly better audio in some ways. Most of the unit’s sound, particularly its reliance upon two speakers to do the work that some iPod and iPhone audio systems would do with four, remains the same—a little flat, with bass, treble, and mids that we’d characterize as “fine to good” for the price. Once again, a 3-D sound mode is included, along with independently adjustable bass, treble, and left-right balance levels, and when they’re heard next to one another, the iP88’s speakers produce slightly cleaner sound that is occasionally a little more dynamic and spatial, though not always for the better, as the new system sometimes spreads instruments out just a little too much in its 3-D space. We’d call the sonic differences relatively small from system to system—likely too small to be noticed unless the systems are directly compared—while the cosmetic differences are large, and not in iP88’s favor.
There are also small changes to the screen, which adds an abbreviated weekday display to the white text-on-black background LCD we’ve seen in earlier generations. The screen is a little bigger, using its bottom line to switch between displays such as “Dock 1,” “Dock 2,” And “Fri, Sep 18,” and providing the same variable-stage backlighting that the company has been offering for years. A new button on the back, Time Sync, can set the clock automatically based on the time of the docked iPhone, a nice little trick in the event that its battery backup runs out.
If there’s any point of real concern that we have with iP88, it would be a carryover from certain prior iHome models we’ve tested, namely the tendency of the integrated, recessed volume and tuning dials to become stuck in a position over time and incapable of being turned. We have not experienced it in the iP88 yet, but it’s an issue that seems to crop up in units over months of use, whether from accumulation of dust or other elements in the dials. To the extent that iHome ships iP88 with a remote control that can and still does work entirely to adjust the system’s volume, it’s not a massive issue, but we do think that something needs to be done to evolve and improve the dials on its systems in general. iP88’s faux metallic-colored versions might look nicer than their predecessors, but they still have a certain inexpensive look and feel that doesn’t inspire complete confidence.
Overall, iP88 is a good if nichey little clock radio, holding the most appeal for those with two Apple devices in need of simultaneous charging, and the least to those with a preference for the curvier, sleeker designs that prior iHome systems have been known for. For our money, we’d sooner lean towards a system such as the iP9, which preserves most of the audio quality, features, and iPhone compatibility at a much lower price; that said, if you’re looking for small upgrades in features and willing to overlook or even get to like iP88’s unusual casing, you’ll find that it does what it’s supposed to do, and thereby more than most of its lower-priced competitors.