Review: Time Command is a spartan iOS alarm-clock dock
The future of appliances—refrigerators, toasters, washers, dryers, you name it—can be summed up as “smarter.” But this smart revolution has already come to the trusty alarm clock, of which Stem Innovation’s $100 Time Command is a good example. It uses a companion iOS app to transform your wake-up experience from simple to multi-faceted. Most of the time, this really does improve matters, but it’s not without the occasional glitch.
Cylindrically shaped, at 7.6 inches across and 3.32 inches tall, the Time Command features a wedge-shaped layout of buttons on the top, tapering inward towards an iPad-compatible 30-pin dock-connector cradle. Rather than using Apple’s Universal Dock design, Stem has used a movable dock connector and a rubberized backrest that allows the system to accommodate iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch models of various generations. (For the iPad, Stem includes two small, adhesive, rubber bumpers to attach to the edges of the unit for additional support.) The Time Command will also charge any iOS device you dock.
The front of the unit features an LCD display with prominent amber numbers, flanked by speaker grilles that wrap around the sides of the device. On the back of the Time Command is a a single port for the detachable power cable. There are no auxiliary inputs or outputs, so you won’t be using the Time Command with anything other than an iOS device. Underneath the unit is a battery compartment that holds a pair of AA batteries to keep the clock running if the power goes out.
Starting at the top of the unit, the buttons include a Clock control for setting the time; Alarm 1 and Alarm 2 buttons for arming, disarming, and setting the Time Command’s dual alarms; Decrease, Brightness, and Increase buttons for controlling volume and setting the time and alarms; and a Nap/Snooze/Sleep button that also doubles as a Play/Pause button. The wedge configuration makes it pretty easy to find any of the buttons by feel, and the buttons have a deep travel that gives them a satisfying ka-chunk feel when you press them.
You can use the Time Command without an iOS device and be woken by an effective, if not particularly pleasant, blaring electronic alarm. This approach also requires you to set the clock manually. But plug in an iOS device and download the free Time Command app (which you ought to be prompted to do as soon as you connect your device) and the clock will set itself—plus you’ll get access to a bunch of other handy features.
The Time Command app lets you set recurring alarms, either for every weekday, for weekends, or by choosing particular days of the week. It also lets you create multiple individual alarms. (I couldn’t figure out if there was a limit on this, but I created at least ten distinct alarms, so I feel safe in saying that it probably offers as many alarms as you need.) You can label those alarms, and choose the alarm sound for each: one of the four included alarm noises (Tech, Bells, Triangles, and Synth) or music from your iOS device’s library.
The app also provides you with a weather forecast for the day ahead, including the current temperature and conditions, as well as the day’s high and low. You can tap a tiny calendar icon in the top-right corner of your device’s screen to cycle through the week’s forecast, or tap the equally tiny WeatherBug logo in the top left to go to the WeatherBug site.
Swipe the weather forecast and you’ll see media playback controls, which you can use either for your iOS device’s music library or for Internet radio. (Again, enabling Internet radio is done by tapping an extremely tiny button in the top-left corner.) You can create a playlist of songs from your library or choose your preferred radio station by tapping the tiny icon in the top right.
One annoyance of the app is that in order to set alarms using the app, you have to tap the bell icon in the bottom-left corner of the screen, and then tap Set Alarms, but the settings for the alarm volume, snooze time, and sleep brightness are all in the app’s Settings tab. (Other options therein let you choose from a 24-hour clock and an analog clock.) However, I do appreciate that the Time Command app lets you control the brightness of your iOS device’s screen and the main unit’s display independently, including turning them both off.
There’s also a five-band equalizer that lets you tweak the audio output of the Time Command. The EQ includes five presets and the capability to adjust the unit’s stereo separation.
I found some of the Time Command app’s features difficult to discover. For example, Stem says that the Time Command app features “custom backgrounds with 6 designs to choose from.” But in order to change it from default gray to one of those designs, you have to swipe on the background itself—something I never would have thought to try.
One of the niftiest features of the Time Command is unique among iOS-enabled alarm clocks I’ve tested: The power adapter for the unit has a standard power outlet on it. The idea here is that you plug in your bedside lamp (incandescent bulbs only), allowing the Time Command app to control the light’s brightness, dim or extinguish it when you go to sleep, and turn it on in the morning when your alarm goes off. I did notice, though, that my bedside lamp tended to flicker somewhat when I used the app to dim it, but your mileage may vary depending on your lamp and bulb.
Note that unlike many of its competitors, the Time Command does not ship with a remote control. That said, I rarely find remotes useful for a device that is usually going to be used within arm’s length.
Aside from its ability to adjust your bedside lamp’s brightness, the Time Command does little that other alarm clocks don’t. The integrated app has some nice touches, but the iHome app for iHome’s iA100, for example, is a bit more full-featured. In addition, the Time Command lacks a number of options you’ll find on other alarm clocks, such as auxiliary inputs and a traditional radio. But at $100, the Time Command is also less expensive than some of the alternatives.