iHome has a number of compact, rectangular-shaped iPod clock radio stereo systems in its product lineup. In fact, these types of tabletop systems are how the company initially made a name for itself, and as the company has expanded, so has the selection of iPod clock radios. So, what does the iA100 bring to the table?
For starters, it's iHome's first product that's intended to work as a speaker dock for the iPad (though it also works with iPods and iPhones). At $200 list, the unit--it's effectively an oversize clock radio with an Apple dock on the top--is among the company's most expensive products. Not only does it pretty much throw in the kitchen sink in terms of features, but it also offers a higher level of sound quality (this is part of the company's "studio series" that's stamped with Bongiovi Acoustics brand). That doesn't mean the sound is all that terrific, but it is better than what you'll find in step-down models such as the $100 iP90.
In terms of design, the iA100 looks pretty nice. It's got a matte-black finish on top and a rubberized "insert" to help cushion the bottom edge of your iPad when docked. The unit itself feels fairly solid at 3.3 pounds, and overall, the design and build quality is a step up from iHome's $99 tabletop units. It measures in at a compact 3.21 inches tall by 6.66 inches wide by 11.1 inches deep.
As we said, the iA100 scores high in the features department. In fact, it has just about everything you'd want in a tabletop iPod/iPhone/iPad stereo.
For starters, you can dock and charge your iPad. The support system is pretty simple; a small, rubber-covered bar keeps the iPad standing at a slight angle. It's not a huge amount of support, but when the end of Apple's universal connector goes into the port on your iPad, your device ends up being locked in place pretty securely. The same can be said for an iPhone or iPod Touch (it supports docking of virtually all iPods) and it's worth pointing out that if you have a bulkier iPhone case, you shouldn't have any trouble docking your unit, which is a plus.
The iA100 has an FM radio (sorry, no AM) with six presets. It also has dual alarms along with snooze and sleep features (you can set the unit to turn off after 15, 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes). Alas, the alarm set buttons are on the back of the unit along with the Bluetooth pairing button. That's also where you'll find an auxiliary input for connecting other audio devices. Though the button placement is a minor gripe (we expect most people to set the alarms via the iHome app), it's worth pointing out.
Aside from Bluetooth, most of the onboard features are pretty standard. However, once you download the iHome app from the App Store--it's called iHome + Sleep--and dock your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad (both iPhone and iPad versions of the app are available), things get a lot more interesting. You suddenly have a very feature-rich clock radio that has a touch-screen display (you can sync the time on your iPad or iPhone with the time on the iA100's display with a touch of a button).
The app, which was recently updated to version 2.03, has a nice, clean interface on the iPad (it's optimized for the iPad's screen, not an iPhone app that you need to zoom) and it has some nice features. You can add various alarms that can be programmed to go off on certain days, so you can easily set up a weekday and weekend alarm schedules or even special nap times.
Beyond that, the app has integrated weather updates (it displays a stripped-down version of the weather forecast from the Weather Channel), the ability to set reminders to go off when you wake up, and you can even set the app to automatically post messages to your Twitter and Facebook accounts when you wake up and/or go to sleep. We're not sure you're going to want or need all the options that are available, but it's kind of cool that there's so much here.
The app also keeps statistics of what times you wake up, how many times you hit the snooze bar, and what songs you like to wake to most frequently. To tweak bass and treble settings you have to go to the unit itself (or hit the EQ button on the included remote), but the app does have a dimmer setting for the clock that's displayed on the iPad while you're running the app. (Note: you can use the app with other iPod speakers, but some functions, such as the stat keeping, will be disabled, though the alarms will work just fine.)
We'd seen the app on earlier products, but iHome has worked out some early bugs and continues to improve it with small feature enhancements. All in all, the concept of making what's essentially a robust, software upgradable alarm clock is a great way to go. That said, it would be more ideal if the app automatically launched when you docked your iPhone (alas, you have to launch it yourself, but that's an Apple issue).
How does the iA100 sound? Well, very good for a clock radio. Compact as it is, it plays pretty loud and offers reasonable clarity and bass (relative to other products of its ilk). There's a special "B" button for engaging the Bongiovi DPS Acoustics that essentially boosts the volume level and widens the soundstage. We're not sure why you would every leave it off (yes, the sound is clearly better with it turned on), but we suppose that if there wasn't a switch, you wouldn't know the difference between having it on and having it off.
What's interesting is that the unit fires sound from both the front and sides. This gives you a litter bigger sound, but we can't say the bass or treble were all that distinguished. If you're looking at strengths, we'd have to say it's the midrange, so expect this to impress the most with acoustical material. To be clear, we'd go a little easier on the sound quality if this were a $99 unit, but we're being harder because it's $200.
The speakerphone works well. It's a Bluetooth 2.1 connection (you can't run phone conversations through the dock connection) and what's nice is that you can either hit the end/talk button on the unit itself or answer and end calls using the included remote. You can also stream music to the iA100 from your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or another Bluetooth-enabled device.
As far as the competition goes, the $150 Altec Lansing Octiv Stage MP450 offers a more minimalist approach; far fewer features are built in to the dock itself, but so long as your iPad is docked and loaded with apps, you probably won't miss them. We'd say the iHome sounds better with music, but we loved the swivel design of the Altec, which lets you pivot the iPad into landscape (horizontal) mode for optimized video viewing. The iLuv iMM747 rounds out the group.
In the end, we liked the iA100 and thought it was a versatile, decent-sounding iPad/iPod clock-radio system that's packed with features. Is it worth $200? That's up to you to decide based on the type of system you're looking for. But we could more strongly recommend it if it were priced less than $150.