The JBL On Air Wireless is a $350 Internet-connected FM radio alarm clock that features Apple AirPlay functionality. It's the first device I've personally tested with AirPlay, and now that I own an iPad 2 I was anxious to get started testing the unit.
Though its price is certainly much higher than we would have liked, the JBL On Air Wireless is an overall above-average-sounding speaker dock. Its AirPlay features are mostly unique in the current market, save for newer products like the iW1 from iHome (which we have yet to review). Of course, another logical alternative would be the Sonos Play:3, not for AirPlay functionality--it doesn't have any--but for its capability of streaming music from any Mac, PC, or NAS. The iHome iW1 and the Sonos Play:3 are both $50 cheaper than the JBL, to boot.
Design and setup
The JBL On Air Wireless' most eye-catching feature has to be its oddly shaped, circular speaker that domes around the iPod dock, LED screen, and control buttons. The silver grille feels tough and is complemented by a circular snooze button cut out of the same material placed at the apex of the curve.
A color LED screen rests at the center of the device, and shows a large digital clock when the JBL On Air Wireless is switched off. It's quite bright, but, luckily, the setup menu offers dimming options. The screen acts as a liaison for all the device's features. Unfortunately, some of this requires text entry, which without a keyboard is a tedious task. However, items like Wi-Fi network passwords are stored, even if the dock loses power.
The entire interface doesn't feel quite as snappy as we would have liked. Button response seems to lag slightly. It's by no means a deal breaker, but definitely takes a bit of getting used to--especially for the impatient user who wants to fly through menus.
All of the onboard buttons are represented on the included remote control. The remote is slim and light, but its buttons have enough tactile feedback for a satisfying response.
Because of its unique shape, the JBL On Air Wireless isn't exactly the most practical piece of electronics. It's not easily portable, nor does it support any kind of rechargeable battery apparatus. For its steep $350 price tag, we really wish the JBL's design lent itself to more versatility.