iHome iP99 iPhone Radio Dock Reviewed

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I’ve been using the iHome IP99 as a clock radio for the past week. This $149 device claims to filter out the annoying “buzz buzz” that is commonly heard when the iPhone receives or sends data. With other standard radios you can get around this issue by putting your iPhone into “Airplane” mode. However that means you won’t receive any calls or data. The iHome claims to fix this by filtering out the buzzing. Does it work? Sorta kinda. Keep reading for the details.

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Here’s what’s included with the iP99:
– Radio
– 3 adapters (iPhone, iPod Touch, Nano 3G) – unknown whether these will work with the new 3G model
– Remote control
– AM radio antenna

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After you insert the iPhone adapter, you dock the phone by inserting it vertically at a slight angle.

Observation: Docking is tough to do if you are using the iHome iP99 at your bedside. If the room is dark it’s tricky to line up the iPhone with the adapter base. With a little practice you can do it a bit easier. I always find that it takes me some time to find the proper docking angle.

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There is an AM and FM radio for which you can use up to 6 presets. More on the AM/FM radio later – because if you’re a radio listener then this iHome is NOT for you. There are two alarms which let you wake to either buzzer, radio, the last song played or a specially named (ihome) playlist on your iPhone.

I really like the alarm’s snooze and on/off function. When I wake to the alarm in the morning I’m able to find either of these buttons rather easily.

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My first test was to listen to the music and see how it sounded. Out of the box the iHome was configured without any equalizer settings. In order to get half way decent sound I had to manipulate all the equalizers. Even then the sound is what I’d classify as clock radio-ish. It’s neither great or terrible – just about what you’d expect from a bedside clock radio.

I found that unless I turned on the SRS equalizer enhancer, that everything sounded very flat and tinny. Fortunately the iHome contains equalizer controls so you can boost the Bass and Treble as well. Out of the box the sound seemed better configured to AM sports radio than for music playback.

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The remote control included with the iHome plays an integral part in operating and controlling the radio. There are no controls on the radio itself to change songs or cycle through the iPhone playlists. If you want to control your iPhone while it’s docked you have to do so gently while it’s perched upright in the base. Push too hard and it feels like you’re iPhone is about to bend backwards.

Operating the remote in darkness is all but impossible. The controls are also illogical (to me). In order to start browsing songs you use the >| key. But to actually start them playing you must push enter. My hands always get out of position on this remote and I continually find myself pushing the wrong buttons (mostly the up volume) at the wrong times.

Because almost all the control of the iPhone song selection is done via this tiny remote, you have to focus on exactly which keys to push in order to get the proper song playlist. This is definitely NOT a device to gift to someone who is “gadget challenged”.

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Luckily I find that each night I listen to the same song (a recording of ocean waves) and when I place my iPhone into the dock and press play – it automatically finds the last song and starts to play from the start. I find this convenient for my use.

In actual practice I find that there are some issues with this radio.

The first issue (which is huge) is that the “buzz buzz” noise – that is supposed to be prevented by the designed for iPhone certification is present whenever I listen to AM or FM radio. I tested this by calling my iPhone while it was docked. A very definite buzzing occurred through the radio speakers for the first few seconds of the incoming call.

I also have an issue with the controls on the top of the iHome. Both the volume and tuning knob are circular flat dials. You must turn them in a circular motion using the tip of your finger. There is no recessed opening to make your finger pressure easier to apply. You must push down on this flat surface and increase the volume or tune the radio by making a circular motion. iHome should include a recessed area on their volume and tuning controls to make it easier to turn. This seemingly minor issue is actually a major annoyance and would be one reason that I’d recommend avoiding this model.

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If you absolutely must have a radio that is designed to work with the iPhone – AND you don’t mind that it still has an annoying buzz-buzz while receiving AM/FM radio – then the iHome iP99 isn’t a bad choice. In my opinion this device is overpriced for the features and sound quality delivered. If you are looking for better quality sound from a docked iPhone, then I recommend the Bose SoundDock (10% off through June 28 2008).

The hard to maneuver volume and tuning controls on the top of the iHome are real deal breakers for me. You may not notice these controls if you intend primarily to use the remote control device to control the volume (I think that all radio tuning has to happen via the radio versus the remote).

I don’t know whether this device will accommodate the new 3G iPhone when released in July. The base is wide enough that I am pretty sure you’ll be able to get another adapter that will allow your 3G iPhone to fit. The cynical side of me say’s that you’ll probably see an “iP99-3G” whose primary new feature is an increased price tag.What I Liked:
– Attractive design
– Convenient bedside radio
– Alarm clock is simple to configure and control

What Could Be Improved:
– Eliminate iPhone buzzing from AM/FM radio
– Re-arrange remote control layout so it is less confusing
– Too pricey for the sound quality and features
– Docking your iPhone via a line in/out to a regular clock radio (or Bose) may be just as convenient and produce much better sound.

Availability: Brookstone – $ 149

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About the Author

Wayne Schulz
Wayne is a diehard Android user and consultant specializing in Sage 100 ERP Accounting Software. He lives in Glastonbury CT with his two children. When not helping them with their homework or pushing the latest school fundraiser off on his co-workers, he is active hiking and investigating all manner of technology.