It’s great to have music when you’re cooking or doing the dishes. But the kitchen can also be a difficult place to play your iPod: Many dock speaker systems are too big for kitchen counters, and few of them are designed to withstand environmental insults such as water and grease.
These are two of the challenges iHome hopes to overcome with its iP39 Kitchen Timer and FM Alarm Clock Radio Speaker System for iPhone/iPod. (Let’s just call it the iP39.) The iP39 is compact, with a footprint that’s roughly four inches wide and four inches deep; and at just 8 inches tall, it should fit under just about any overhanging cupboard or cabinet. The iP39 is also designed to be sturdy, with solid, brushed-metal sides and a plasticized control panel on top that’s easy to clean—greasy finger-smears should wipe right off.
The kitchen-friendliness doesn’t stop there. The iP39 has two digital timers built in, so you can actually use the system as a cooking aid. One of these timers is a Quick Timer: Tap its button once for each minute you want; when you stop tapping, the countdown starts. The other timer takes more effort to set, but gives you finer increments of time.
The system’s bright-blue display is easy to read from across the room. (It’d be too bright for me if I used the iP39 in the bedroom.) There’s an alarm clock, too, and while a clock is nice to have in the kitchen, I’m not sure why I’d ever need the alarm—I suppose it’s there to make the iP39 a bit more verstatile. One nice touch is that the clock automatically syncs with your iPod or iPhone when you insert it into the built-in dock. On the other hand, the iP39 isn’t currently compatible with iHome’s iHome+Sleep alarm clock app or iHome+Radio Internet-radio app.
Another way the iP39 saves room is that its dock cradle slides out of the base of the unit when you want to dock your iPod or iPhone, and slides back inside when not in use. Unfortunately, the dock feels somewhat rickety; when extended, it rattles around loosely, making me fear for its longevity.
The dock cradle, which charges your iPod or iPhone, uses Apple’s Universal design, so it’s compatible with all recent iPods except the iPod shuffle; iHome includes dock inserts for the iPhone 3G, second-generation iPod touch, and the fifth-generation iPod nano. (For whatever reason, the iP39 doesn’t include inserts for Apple’s latest models—an omission common among recent speaker systems we’ve seen. If you have a compatible i-device that didn’t come with its own dock insert, you can order one from iHome’s Web site.) If you want to use the iP39 with other devices, it has an auxiliary-input jack and a USB-charging port.
Once you dock your iPod or iPhone, you can control playback using the included remote control, which, conveniently, attaches magnetically to the iP39’s side when not in use. The remote provides basic playback control, but it also lets you navigate menus in the Music app (on an iPod touch) or the iPod app (on an iPhone)—although you must launch the app manually. Unfortunately, while the remote also lets you control the system’s volume and timers, it doesn’t let you change shuffle settings or access the Genius feature on iOS devices; to control those, you’ll have to use the iPod or iPhone itself.
The iP39 also has an FM radio that, in my testing, provides quite good reception. I missed having AM (for, say, weather reports in the morning or a baseball game at night), but more acutely, I missed being able to preset my favorite FM stations; switching between favorites requires that you run up or down the dial using manual controls.
Despite the iP39’s compact size, its left- and right-side-mounted stereo speakers produce a surprisingly wide soundstage. The sound itself is a bit unbalanced, however—boomy in the midrange and light in the bass.
Macworld’s buying advice
If you don’t already have an iPod or iPhone audio system in your kitchen, the iP39 is certainly tailor-made for the job. It’s missing a few too many features to make it a must-have, but it gets the job done without taking up a lot of space and without requiring delicate handling.