Is it a bird, is it a plane?
Certain sections of technology lend themselves to the concept of convergence, where the mad scientists in the world's biggest tech manufacturer mix together the coolest gadgets to make even cooler gadgets — think smartphones. But what would happen if you mixed together three seemingly boring gadgets, say an alarm clock, an iPod dock and a digital photo frame? Cue the Sony Dream Machine (and Corey Haim is nowhere in sight).
The result is surprisingly sexy, or at least as sexy as an alarm clock ought to be. The centrepiece of the Dream Machine is a 7-inch colour LCD display with a pretty standard WVGA. When viewing videos or photo slideshows the results are colourful and reasonably sharp, and seeing as it's to live on your bedside table it has four brightness settings to dim the screen when its time to sleep.
Rock around the clock, dock
The Dream Machine can play media from four main sources: from its 1GB of internal memory, a USB connection to a PC or portable storage, an SD or M2 memory card, or from the media stored on your Apple iPhone or iPod, though unfortunately there is no 3.5mm socket for connecting any other brand of MP3 player (even a Sony). Apple products connect via a slide-out dock located on the right-hand side of the Dream Machine, and there are two plastic cradles to secure your iPhone in the dock correctly.
While having an iPod dock is a huge bonus for a product of this kind it does come with the most inconsistencies. Firstly, you can't start video or image files using the Dream Machine's control panel, instead you have to set the player into iPod video mode then start playback from the handset itself. You can control the iPod player's music controls using the buttons on the dock and can set music on your iPod as your alarm clock music. You also can't transfer files from the iPhone/iPod to the internal memory, though considering how tightly Apple control these aspects of its products we really shouldn't be too surprised.
The speaker in the Dream Machine is adequate for the job, especially if you plan to watch videos or listen to music close to the unit, as in with your head on your pillow and the Dream Machine an arm's length away. It also features AM/FM radio tuner, which all good alarm clocks should. If you don't feel like being woken up to your heavy metal collection you can record a "Fun Wakeup" (which sounds like an oxymoron to us). You choose a photo from your collection and marry it with a voice recording and create your own custom wake-up call. The Dream Machine supports a range of media file types including MP3 and WMA audio and MPEG4, AVI and MOV video files.
We have a few nitpicks and grumblings, but overall the Dream Machine is a happy marriage of a few popular electronic appliances. There are features missing that you might expect if you bought one of these appliances as a stand-alone, like Bluetooth or internet connectivity in a digital photo frame, but we feel that the combination of functionality makes up for the shortcomings of each of its parts.