Waking up is an intensely personal experience: Some prefer to be awakened gently by the sound of music; others opt for the morning news; and still others want their iPad or iPhone within easy reach to check the latest news and tweets. The $200 iHome iA100 has something for all of those folks, plus plenty more bells and whistles, to boot.
The iA100 is a Bluetooth-enabled alarm clock with a dock connector that accommodates not just iPhone or iPod touch models, but also the iPad (original or iPad 2). Measuring in at 11.1 inches wide, 6.7 inches deep, and 3.2 inches tall, the iA100 is a bit larger than most of the alarm clocks I’ve tested, thanks in no small part to its iPad support.
The front of the iA100 features a big, easy-to-read LCD display flanked by a pair of speakers. You’ll find most of the built-in controls on the unit’s top: Volume Up and Down, End and Talk buttons for the built-in speakerphone, Bedtime and Wakeup buttons, a Snooze/Dimmer control, Previous and Next, Play/Pause, and buttons for input switching, the DPS audio enhancement feature, and Power. The Previous and Next buttons double as tuning buttons for the radio, and you can access and set radio-station presets using the Play/Pause button.
There are a few additional buttons on the unit’s rear: Clock Adjust, EQ, Pairing, Nap, and Alarm 1 and Alarm 2 controls. There’s also an AC-adapter jack, a standard 1/8-inch line-in jack (for connecting an additional audio source), and the wire for the built-in FM antenna. (The system doesn’t support AM radio frequencies.)
The controls are logically laid out for the most part, but there are some frustrations in using them from bed. For one thing, they’re hard to distinguish by feel, and I found myself frequently hitting the End and Talk buttons instead of adjusting the volume. Only the Power, Snooze/Dimmer, Bedtime, and Wakeup buttons are raised, though the configuration of the playback controls (three buttons instead of one long unbroken rocker switch) makes them fairly easy to find. Still, since the labels are all on top of the unit, it often takes some guessing to find the button you want.
Also bundled in the package is a small remote, about 5 inches long, 1.5 inches wide, and less than half an inch tall. It provides access to most of the audio-playing functions of the unit in a logical layout, though all the buttons are the same shape, so you’ll still need to look at the remote to use it. While I generally don’t find remotes extremely useful on speakers that I mainly operate at arm’s length, the ability to control the speakerphone feature (more on that later) from the remote is a nice addition that could help make the iA100 a more capable system for elsewhere in your house.
Unlike many docking speaker systems, the iA100 doesn’t use Apple’s Universal Dock design. Instead, it features a raised, tilt-able dock connector with a bar behind it for your device to lean against. To accommodate i-devices in cases, the rubber strip that surrounds the dock connector is removable, revealing a recessed groove that provides more room on the bottom for the case. I tested the iA100 with both the original iPad in Apple’s iPad Case and an iPad 2 with a Smart Cover folded behind it. Both worked fine, although docking them was a bit frustrating, thanks to the angle of iA100’s dock connector. The iPad 2’s thinner form factor also makes it lean back a little further which, although it made me a little nervous, didn’t seem to affect its stability.
While you’ll find the iA100 has plenty of features of its own—including dual alarms, a built-in speakerphone, and adjustable sleep and nap timers—you’ll get more out of it if you download iHome’s free iHome+Sleep app, which lets you control many of the iA100’s functions from your iOS device, as well as adding bedtime and wake-up reminders, social networking integration, weather forecasts, and sleep stats.
The built-in alarm clock features include the capability to set a schedule—weekdays, weekend, or every day—as well as a choice of waking to a buzzer, the radio, or music from your docked device. For the latter, you’ll need to create a playlist called iHome, unless you’re using the iHome+Sleep app, in which case, you can just select the music you want from your device.
If you don’t want to bother with plugging in your iOS device, the iA100 is also capable of streaming audio from any device that supports Bluetooth’s A2DP (stereo audio) profile. Pairing with an iPhone was a simple matter of pressing the Pairing button on the back of the iA100 and then connecting via iOS’s Settings -> General -> Bluetooth screen. To my ears, Bluetooth-streamed audio sounded roughly on par with audio grabbed from the iPhone dock-connector port.
The iA100 can also act as a Bluetooth speakerphone. If you pair it with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, the End and Talk buttons on top of the unit light up in red and green, respectively (a nice UI touch). You can answer and hang up on calls directly from the iA100, but you can’t use it to initiate calls. Sound quality was passable on both ends in my test, about the same as that of any speakerphone.
In terms of audio quality, the iA100 may not replace your main stereo system, but it’s capable at what it does. You can adjust the bass, treble, and midrange levels by pushing the EQ button in the back of the unit and then using the Previous or Next buttons to change the levels. The unit’s default levels result in audio that’s a bit thin, but the built-in Bongiovi Digital Power Station option (which is active by default and can be toggled on and off with the DPS button on top of the unit) helps flesh out that audio considerably. The iA100 also has a pretty high volume ceiling, so it can fill a bedroom easily—in fact, I found it took some tweaking to get the alarm volume to a point where it wouldn’t startle me awake in the morning.
The iA100 also sports a few nice above-and-beyond touches. For example, if you plug in your iOS device, you don’t even need to manually set the clock—just press the Clock Adjust button on the back of the iA100, and the unit will update its time from your device. There’s also a backup battery (actually a pair of double AA cells) that makes sure you don’t miss your alarm if the power goes out. And the adjustable dimmer has an option to turn off the display entirely—nice for light sleepers like me.
Macworld’s buying advice
The iHome iA100 is a very respectable alarm clock and speaker system—and one of the few that can accommodate an iPad—with a handful of extras that you may or may not need in your bedside system. Of course, those features come at a price, but if you’re looking for something that goes that extra mile—for example, if you love the idea of being able to make phone calls from your bed, or if you really want to dock your iPad—then the iA100 might sway you to cough up the dough. The integration with the company’s iHome+Sleep app expands the unit’s functionality, as well, showing what software and hardware can accomplish when their powers combine.