Review: iHome iP9 Dual Alarm Clock for iPhone and iPod
There's no need to go into a ton of detail on iHome's late 2008 dual alarm clock radio iP9 ($100), the iPhone-ready replacement for the virtually identical iH9 we reviewed back in late 2007: to most people, these alarm clocks might as well be the same product. But they're not precisely the same, so this mini review will note the differences, small and large; refer back to the iH9 review if you need additional details.
In essence, iP9 continues the iHome alarm clock legacy that started years ago with iH5, a highly capable, simple unit that became one of the most popular iPod accessories ever made—equipped with a single alarm and an AM/FM clock radio, it’s still found in hotels, and of course the bedrooms of many iPod users. There have been too many iH sequels to count at this point, but it suffices to say that the iH9 offered small sonic improvements over its predecessors, which grew to include dual alarms, and was eclipsed only mildly by a $150 successor called the iP99. While iP9 isn’t 100% identical to iH9 in sound quality, and seems to have a hint less bass with a hint more treble, they’re around 99% the same, and we’d call iP9 sonically 95% as impressive as the iP99 at a lower price. iP99’s a bit warmer, but not by enough that you’d know unless you put the units right next to each other; the difference between iP9 and iH9 is comparatively almost imperceptible.
Functionally, the iP9 and iH9 are again almost exactly the same, though there’s one significant improvement, one semi-significant improvement, and one semi-significant omission in iP9. The big improvement is fairly obvious: iP9 gains iPhone shielding, though to be more specific, it’s really iPhone 3G shielding, as iHome’s box—like the iP71 reviewed earlier today—doesn’t totally claim compatibility with the original iPhone. It’s hinted at in the “Works With iPhone” logo, which Apple seems to have managed to render all but moot for consumers in recent months, but if you wave or dock an EDGE mode iPhone or iPhone 3G in iP9, you’re going to hear the same TDMA interference you’ve heard in other less than completely shielded devices. That said, iP9 does improve its shielding over iH9, as the noise is considerably lower in volume in the newer model, and basically disappears when 3G is activated.
The semi-significant changes are iP9’s power brick, which has shrunk dramatically in size and weight from the huge, space-consuming block included with iH9, and iP9’s unexpected but not especially critical omission of a line-out port; it retains the line-in found on the prior model. We also noticed that the iP9’s screen is a little brighter and better in contrast than iH9’s, while preserving the same eight-level dimmer; in terms of menus, buttons, button illumination, alarm, AM/FM radio, and other features, it’s basically the same product. Both units comes with three Dock Adapters—iP9’s are updated to the iPhone 3G, iPod touch, and iPod nano 4G—plus the same general remote control and external AM antenna. iP9 currently comes in silver and black, while iH9 has come in white, black, pink, and silver.
Our only other comment regarding iP9 is actually a carryover from iH9 and certain other iHome units we’ve tested: while we continue to like the flush volume and settings dials these systems possess, they seem to all have a tendency to plug up with dust over time and become less than completely usable; the included remote becomes more important if and when this happens. We like the dials too much to see them disappear or be replaced with other controls, but some modest redesign of the rotating mechanisms or the grooves around the dials could really help to improve their reliability over time.
Overall, iP9 may just be a modestly retrofitted iH9, but it’s pretty much the product that we’d really hoped for in the middle of last year: though we preferred the body styling and appreciated the slightly better audio found in iP99, the $150 price tag struck us as too high given the minor scope of improvements—basically a way to capitalize on the lack of iPhone-shielded competition available at the time—and a same-priced, shielded iH9 was needed. That’s what iP9 is, and as of early 2009, it’s as good of a $100 alarm clock as we’ve seen for iPhone 3G users, with little penalty that would make iPod users prefer either the prior model or iP99 instead. Unless you’re seriously obsessive about audio quality, in which case you might be better served with a clockless dedicated speaker system, iP9 would be amongst the very top recommendations we’d make for something to put alongside your bed.