iP99 Clock Radio & Audio System for iPhone

iHome was one of the first manufacturers to release a clock radio with the “built for iPhone” seal of approval from Apple, and its large set of features makes the iP99 a strong competitor in the iPhone clock radio market. The iP99, along with being iPhone compatible, features dual alarms, iPod navigation via remote control, and an AM/FM radio.

Description: The iHome iP99 Dual Alarm Clock Radio comes with an infrared remote control, power adapter, AM antenna loop, and three universal dock inserts (the iPhone insert fits the iPhone & iPhone 3G). Although the unit I used was black, you can also get the iP99 in white and silver. The unit itself has a reasonable footprint which fits well on a nightstand. The display and all of the buttons, except for the power and play/pause buttons, light up. The illumination can be dimmed using the snooze/dimmer button to your preference, anywhere from 100% brightness to totally black, which is great for a bedroom.

On the top, you’ll find an array of buttons and two large knobs. The knob surrounding the power button controls volume and the one surrounding play/pause is used to set various options in the unit. In the center are buttons for radio presets, audio source control, EQ, sleep, the dual alarms, and the snooze/dimmer. In the center you’ll find a universal dock, which fits nearly every iPod with a dock adapter, including the iPhone.

The audio system itself is made up of two speakers with rear bass ports.

On front of the unit is the clock display. The current time is displayed in large, easy to read text, along with month, date, and which alarms are active. An 1/8″ line-in connector, DST switch, antenna connector, and power connector are all on the back, along with an FM antenna.

On the remote, is a directional pad for iPod control, playback control, volume, EQ, input selection, shuffle, repeat, mute, and a power button.

Pros: Starting with the audio, the iP99 sounds pretty good for its small size. Although it only has a 10 watt amplifier and twin speakers, it fills a small to medium sized room nicely. At its highest volume, you get only minor bass distortion, which can be easily tweaked with the EQ settings. You can increase and decrease both bass and treble by 5 “units” in either direction. You can also adjust the balance. The unit also comes with SRS WOW 3D audio processing capabilities, which significantly enhance its performance. SRS was off by default in my unit, but it can be activated from the EQ menu.

The most obvious iPhone feature is that the iP99 doesn’t require you to activate airplane mode on your phone. Because its shielded from cellular interference, all you need to do is plug your iPhone in and start listening. The play/pause button is the only one on the unit itself which directly controls the iPhone, although its more than adequate.

One of my favorite features is that the iP99 can actually use your iPhone’s music as an alarm, something the iPhone doesn’t currently do on its own. In fact, you can have the unit either simply start playing music, or have it play from a specific “iHome” playlist which you load onto your phone with iTunes. The iP99 also has a sleep timer which you can use to fall asleep to your tunes as well.

The iP99 has two separate alarms, which are individually customizable. You can obviously choose the time, but you can also choose which days you’d like to have them go off; weekdays, weekends, or every day. Additionally, you can also specify whether you want to wake up to your iPod/iPhone, the radio, or a simple buzzer. If the iPod is chosen but not present, the buzzer is used instead. When anything but the buzzer is used, the last set volume level is used when your alarm goes off. This could be a bad thing if you’re listening to music before bed at a low volume.

The iP99′s remote came in very handy, as you might expect. Aside from the obvious playback controls, I really appreciated the ability to change the input to iPod, radio, or line-in. You can also play with EQ settings, volume, or even mute the audio. If you’ve chosen the radio, you can flip through presets as well.

In addition to all of the standard features, the remote can also control the iPod interface of an iPhone or standard iPod. Using the directional pad in combination with “enter” and “menu” buttons, you can find just about anything you’re looking for from across the room (provided you can see the screen). I did have some difficulty adjusting to the iHome remote, since it’s a bit different from the Apple Remote that I’ve grown accustomed to.

Other handy features of the unit include the ability to dim the backlight, a backup battery, and a customizable snooze feature. You can also adjust for daylight savings time by simply flipping a switch on the back.

Cons: Although the most “obvious” feature is that the dock works with the iPhone, the iPhone 3G doesn’t seem to like it. When you dock a 3G, the dreaded “This acessory is not made to work with iPhone” dialogue pops up. Fortunately, this is only an error (not sure who’s to blame), and tapping “No” will keep your cell radio on with no interference. I won’t take points off for this little annoyance, but it’s worth pointing out.

For those in need of a powerful iPhone/iPod “stereo”, this isn’t it. The iP99 only has a 10-watt amplifier and doesn’t deliver enough juice to truly fill a room with lush sound. If you’re looking for a fuller sound, the 60-watt Altec Lansing T612 may suite you better, although it doesn’t have a radio, clock, or alarm.

The rest of my complaints are minor annoyances. I found that most of the features were difficult to operate without having read the manual. I was also annoyed by the fade-in that the dock adds whenever you initially start audio on your iPod, which cannot be disabled. Lastly, powering on the unit with an iPhone docked, it immediately started playing, even though I hadn’t actually pressed “play”.

Bottom line: When I first got my hands on the iP99, I was taken by its vast feature set. The combination of decent sound, iPhone compatibility, and the solid set of clock radio features blew me away. If you’re looking for a great clock radio to compliment your shiny new iPhone, the iHome iP99 is a must have.

The iP99 Clock Radio & Audio System for iPhone is available for $149.99 at iHome’s website at iHome.com.

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