The first product iHome ever released was an iPod clock radio dock back in 2005. It was a huge hit, and iHome's been making bedside docks for popular gadgets ever since. Their latest, the iAVS1, is built to house an Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker, amplify its sound a little bit, and fully transform it into a voice-activated alarm clock.
On paper, it's as much of a no-brainer as that original iPod dock. After all, plenty of people -- myself included -- already keep an Echo Dot on their nightstand and use it to wake up in the morning. Why not commit to the bit and dock that Dot in a clock, complete with better sound quality?
In my case, the price tag gives me pause. This thing costs $70 ($20 more than Echo Dot costs by itself), and it really offers nothing beyond a clockface, a modest bump in sound quality and an extra USB port to charge your devices. The iAVS1 might be a tempting upgrade if you catch it on sale, but at full price, I'm not sure it's worth the splurge.
Let's start with that design. Available in both white and black, the dock itself is fairly large as alarm clocks go, with an upward-facing speaker spanning its top face. iHome pitches it as a stereo speaker system, and it definitely offers fuller sound than what you'll get from an Echo Dot on its own. To my ear, though, it's a fairly modest improvement -- I wonder if the addition of forward-facing speakers on the front of the dock would have helped.
Using the dock is a cinch. Just pop Alexa into place, then connect the short-length audio cable and an included short-length USB cable into the central USB port to keep the Dot powered. The top half-inch or so of your Dot will stick out of the device -- that's because iHome wanted to make sure that people with first-gen Echo Dots could still access the ring around the top of the speaker that controls the volume. The reason that's important? The iAVS1 doesn't have volume controls of its own, and instead relies entirely on the Echo Dot.
In fact, the iAVS1 hardly has any controls of its own. There's a button on top to adjust the brightness of the clock and a set of buttons on the bottom of the dock that you'll use to set the time, but that's it. No volume controls, no radio and no snooze button: All of it gets outsourced to Alexa.
People who use an Echo Dot to wake up in the morning are already used to grumbling at Alexa to shut the alarm off as opposed to slapping a snooze button, but I still think iHome could have done more here. Simple audio controls would have been a nice start -- a button you could pair with one of iHome's smart plugs to turn a lamp on and off from across the room would have been even better. Features like that would have gone a long way to help justify the $70 price tag. Instead, they're missed opportunities.
Something else worth mentioning: The microphones at the top of your Echo Dot might have a harder time hearing you during music playback because of the amplified sound coming from the dock's speaker.
To test this out, I took the iAVS1 into a quiet room, cranked some local Louisville rock up to 75 percent volume, then tried talking to Alexa at three distances: a foot away, a few feet away and several feet away. Up close, the Echo Dot heard me say "Alexa" on the first try. But from a few feet away, it took two tries. From across the room, it took three. By comparison, an Echo Dot on its own in the same test heard me on the first attempt from all three distances.
That's a pretty minor annoyance (most Alexa users have come to learn that raising your voice is an occasional necessity), but again, I wonder if front-facing speakers that blast music in your direction instead of straight up at the Dot's array of microphones wouldn't have been a better design choice.
As I mentioned before, I use an Echo Dot to wake me up each morning -- but I also keep a small clock next to it for quick, groggy glances at the time while I'm in bed. A dock that essentially combines the two is a no-brainer product that I'd welcome to my nightstand if someone got it for me as a gift. But to spend $70 of my own money on it, I'd need it to offer more than just a convenient spot for my Dot and a slight uptick in sound quality, especially given that likable, fully-featured competitors like Beddi don't cost all that much more.
With no additional features to speak of -- no programmable smart buttons, no playback controls, no built-in wake-up light -- that's the mark that iHome misses here. The iAVS1 is a decent enough device, but it's too basic to justify the $70 price tag. Wake me up when it's on sale, though.
EDITOR'S NOTE, 4:15 PM EST, 7/7/2017: This review originally stated that iHome's alarm clock dock required you keep the Echo Dot plugged in separately. It actually includes a short-length USB cable that plugs from the Echo Dot into the back of the clock's base to keep it powered, a fact I simply missed during testing. The text of the review has been updated accordingly, and the score has increased slightly, but the overall buying recommendation remains unchanged.