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Several years into its life span, HD Radio still has yet to prove itself as a viable alternative to satellite and online radio. The public remains either unaware of or unmotivated by the technology, which delivers digital AM and FM streams over the air--including some substations not available on analog radios. Part of the reason has been cost: while the service itself is completely free, HD Radio-compatible hardware generally costs more than its analog counterparts. In the past year or so, price tags hit the $200 mark. Now, those prices have dipped even further. The iLuv i168 lowers the bar to just $130--but aside from its digital reception abilities, it's likely delivering little more than the clock radio you already own.
The i168 is small--about the size of a loaf of bread--and is covered in a slick, black plastic casing. At the center of the device is the display, a blue backlit LCD that can present station information, artist, and program type--as well as the time. The i168 has provisions for two separate alarms (wake to radio or buzzer), and both can be set at independent volume levels--a nice feature if you'd prefer to drift off to sleep with the music at a low volume, but have the alarm sound loud enough to sufficiently rouse you from a deep slumber. And speaking of drifting off to sleep: the i168's sleep mode can be set for 15, 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes.
For those unfamiliar with HD Radio, the digital broadcasts use the same frequencies as the analog stations. Once your device locks onto an HD station, you'll be able to navigate "sub channels," which are designated by a dash--for example, 92.3-2 would be a sub channel for station 92.3, offering a totally different music stream. Some HD radio stations have two additional sub channels. Also, nearly all HD Radio stations offer datafeeds, which let you view artist and track information while a song is playing. The i168 boasts 30 presets--10 AM and 20 FM (both analog or HD digital stations will work).
Other than the alarm clock and radio functions, there's not much here. While there's no iPod dock (you need to upgrade to the iLuv i169 for that), the i168 offers a front-panel auxiliary-in port allowing you to hook up any device that has a headphone jack. There's also a headphone jack for private listening. We wish the i168 offered an included remote control, but unfortunately you'll be using all the face buttons to control the device.
Sound quality on the i168 was just about average--around what we'd expect from a compact alarm clock radio. Even when we were able to acquire an HD radio signal, sound quality improvement was minimal, if noticeable at all. You will, however, notice a much bigger improvement in sound quality going from a standard AM signal to an AM HD radio feed instead. We wouldn't recommend pushing the volume too high, as we detected an audible distortion when things got too loud. Likewise, with speakers set so closely together, don't expect much in the way of stereo separation.
Summing up, the iLuv i168 is what it is: a slightly better-than-average clock radio that offers the still novel (if not very useful) ability to play HD Radio stations. While the iLuv i168 can be found online for as little as $100, we still think that's too much to pay for the debatable "advantage" of HD radio. For that price, we'd instead opt for the iHome iH9 or even iLuv's own i177, both of which include an iPod dock instead of HD Radio compatibility. That's a trade-off we'll take any day.