Novelty accessories — ones that are unique but seriously nichey — show up six or a dozen times each year, sometimes impressing us with their features, and other times just causing shrugs. Ozaki’s iUFO ($130) is somewhere inbetween, a circular speaker system with a distinctive iPhone dock in the center and video-out functionality on its back. Though it’s not going to appeal to everyone, iUFO has the potential to be a fun little bedside or desktop speaker for some users; you can decide whether it fits into your lifestyle.
Viewed in photographs, iUFO immediately evokes memories of JBL’s distinctive series of On Stage circular speakers, which as we’ve noted in prior reviews have made impressive use of small speaker drivers, and over time, have evolved to offer an array of truly portable listening options at different prices. As it turns out, Ozaki’s design is neither a clone of the On Stage series nor truly directly comparable in anything other than shape: iUFO measures a considerably larger 9.25” wide and doesn’t include a battery compartment, a combination of size and absent functionality that takes it out of the “portable” speaker category and restricts its use to places with wall power outlets.
There are also device compatibility issues: Ozaki says that other iPods are compatible with the iUFO dock, but doesn’t include inserts for them, so anything thinner than an iPhone will fit but lean backwards on the Dock Connector. Due to the shape of its bottom curves, we couldn’t get a current-generation iPod classic to fit in the dock at all.
So why would anyone create a dock without the sort of “universal” iPod compatibility JBL and most other speaker developers have offered for several years now? Simple: to do something different. Like several Philips and other speakers we’ve tested, iUFO includes a rotating dock that’s capable of holding the iPhone vertically or horizontally, but Ozaki has taken things one step further by enabling its dock to slide upwards from the speaker surface, as well.
Consequently, you can spin the iPhone on its side, prop it up vertically, or prop it up horizontally depending on what you want to do at a given moment; in either propped-up position, the iPhone’s screen is on a gentle recline that’s easy for tabletop viewing, rather than as sharply upright as in the typical universal iPod/iPhone dock. Some users, including us, would have appreciated a second and steeper upright locking position, plus a USB port to enable iUFO to serve as a synchronization dock as well, but those features weren’t in the cards for this design.
On a positive note, iUFO’s design looks pretty nice straight out of the box, with small imperfections in the edge of its chrome-ringed dock—and the tendency of that chrome ring to attract fingerprints—as its only noteworthy issues. Additionally, the system sounds something between fine and good given the asking price: its drivers are decidedly midrange-focused rather than impressive either in treble or bass, a common enough problem with small drivers that only companies of JBL or similar caliber can avoid. Volume buttons on the system’s right side can drive it to moderate volume levels that we’d describe as more than enough to be easily heard in a typical bedroom, but not enough to wake the neighbors. Our impression is that Ozaki deliberately limited the system’s volume to avoid conspicuous distortion, and it has succeeded, though users might expect it to have greater power given its footprint and depth.
Additionally, composite video-out and auxiliary-in ports are on the back, enabling you to output the iPhone’s or iPod’s video in entirely acceptable quality to a TV, assuming you’re willing to provide the yellow-tipped video table; Ozaki does include an audio cable and power supply in the package, along with a 13-button Infrared remote control. We found the remote to be quite nice, including useful menu navigation features, albeit with the standard limitation that the arrow navigation controls aren’t useful during Cover Flow mode—something that Apple really should have addressed in its iPhone and iPod software by now.
Had it been ideally executed, iUFO might have been a serious mid-range challenger to the JBL On Stage series: its evolved pivoting dock and otherwise nice design were both more impressive than we’d expected, and the price point is inoffensive given the totality of its features. That said, we felt that its overall execution was in the B to B- range, and could think of any number of improvements—somewhat better physical polish on its dock, superior audio hardware, and the option for battery-powered portability—that would have made it more compelling. While we’re going to hold out hope for a sequel with a little more polish and power, our flat B rating is based largely on the novelty of its dock, and we wouldn’t discourage you from checking it out if you like the way it looks in photos. Those seeking more sonic bang for the buck in a similar form factor will find units such as On Stage Micro and On Stage IIIP to be strong if not identical alternatives.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod nano, touch, iPhone/3G/3GS