Provides: iDevice charging and output, alarm, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth audio streaming
Minimum Requirements: Audio device with 3.5mm stereo output, iPod, iPad, or iPhone for various device-specific features.
The iHome iD50 is everything you expect from an iHome clock radio/iPod dock, with the added bonus of Bluetooth connectivity. It lets you wake up or fall asleep to music from your iPod, set two alarms with different times on different days, charge your iDevice, listen to AM/FM radio, and stream music wirelessly, and it can also be used as a speakerphone for your Bluetooth-enabled cellphone. It does everything very well, though it runs into the same usability issues any clock radio has, something helped along greatly by the companion settings and alarm apps.
The device itself is very attractive, and looks right at home among other Apple devices. Though made of plastic, it sports solid construction and the appearance of metal edges, matching the “aluminum and glass” aesthetic of Macs and iDevices. The glow from the screen and buttons makes the iD50 easy to read during the day, but extremely bright at night. This has resulted in me turning off the backlight, which isn’t the best compromise. A simple tweak would be a light sensor and settings for brightness in the light and in the dark.
Without the user manual, there’s no way I would know how to work this thing at first glance, a problem that no alarm clock manufacturer has ever figured out how to solve or even standardize. To set an alarm, do I push or hold the alarm button? Does that beep mean I can set it or it has been set? Very little is obvious, though with a bit of trial and error I was fairly confident I had set an alarm for myself. (Note to clock manufacturers: Figure this stuff out. I shouldn’t have to set a “test alarm” for a minute in the future just to be sure I’ve figured out how to use your product.)
iHome manages to sidestep this issue (though a sidestep is not a fix) with its iHome + Set and iHome + Sleep apps, which allow access to the iD50 settings and alarm settings from the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. When you first dock one of these devices on the iD50, it will automatically suck the correct time and date off of this device, and prompt you to install these apps. If you have one of these devices, just install the apps and don’t bother with the hardware buttons at all.
Waking up can be a Pain
iHome + Set gives you easy and clear access to everything you can do with the hardware buttons on the iD50. You can easily set your alarms, sound levels, screen brightness, etc. One thing that’s perplexing is the limit of two alarms, and the limited options of everyday, weekday, or weekend alarms. These limitations make sense when dealing with the rudimentary interface of a couple of buttons on the top of a clock, but when it comes to an iPhone, I should have all the options I could want.
Apple’s built-in iOS clock app does a wonderful job of alarms. As a college student, I wake up at a certain time on Mondays and Wednesdays, a different time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and yet another time on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I set all these different alarms once in Apple’s Clock app, and they wake me up at the right time every day. Why can’t the iHome suck these in, just like it synced the correct time when I first docked my iPod? Beats me. It’s a small problem that unfortunately means I can’t use the iHome at all for alarms, and causes a bigger problem with using it to charge the iPod overnight, as my built-in Clock.app alarms won’t ring through the iPod speaker while it’s docked to the iHome.
Now to the most important component of any iHome product: the speakers. They are pretty much what I expected from the iD50 based on its size, and were underwhelming especially in the bass department. I’m no audiophile, and usually I don’t notice tinny sound without something to compare it with, but it was immediately apparent that the bass on these speakers will not please anyone but the casual listener. These speakers are for listening to the radio or going through a playlist as you drift off to sleep. It is in no way an optimum music-listening experience. It works very nicely as a speakerphone for Bluetooth cell phones, however, and has built in buttons to open and end a call.
The Bluetooth abilities are a really nice feature, and it’s a shame the speakers are so underwhelming, because beaming music across the room from my iPod was the best thing ever for being tired/lazy/impressing friends with geek things. Compared with controlling my computer’s iTunes library via Apple’s Remote app, my previous favorite thing, Bluetooth audio streaming is instantaneous. When it comes down to it, however, it’s a feature largely muted by the fact that this isn’t a sound system anyone should choose to seriously listen to music.
The iHome iD50 capably does everything it tries to. Helped by the iOS accessory apps, the iHome provides a very simple and well-designed experience. But if that’s all you’re going to buy it for, there are other, cheaper models that are certainly just as good. The main feature pushing the iD50 to the rather hefty $170 price point is the Bluetooth audio streaming, and though that works perfectly well, you could find much better quality Bluetooth speakers if that’s what you’re looking for. At the price point it occupies, the iD50 is either a really expensive iPod dock and clock radio, or it’s a pretty crappy Bluetooth sound system. In the end, it comes down to whether you’re willing to pay.