iHome iP47BR (black)
SDI Technologies has released some of the better affordably priced clock radios in recent years under its iHome brand, but the iHC5S wasn't among them. It wasn't for the lack of trying, however. The 2007 product did double duty as a clock radio and a Bluetooth speaker/speakerphone. In other words, it allowed you to play back music wirelessly from certain Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, as well as place calls from said cell phones without you having to touch the phone. It was a novel idea, but the execution was flawed--the final product just wasn't really recommendable.
Thankfully, SDI went back to the drawing board and gave it another try. The result is the company's second-gen Bluetooth clock radio, the iHome iP47BR. We're not sure whether this model was in the works at the time we were writing our review of the earlier model, but we have sneaking suspicion that iHome's designers may have taken a peek at that review because the company has largely responded to our criticisms and built a much better product. But that improvement comes at a cost: the iP47BR carries a $200 sticker price--twice that of the iHC5S.
While the two units look very similar, the iP47BR is all black instead of black and silver, which gives it a cleaner look. The iP47BR doesn't have that budget feel that afflicted the iHC5S. For instance, both units offer a spring-loaded retractable dialpad that allows you to make calls on a cell phone sitting across the room. It felt a tad flimsy on the iHC5S, but it feels notably more solid and robust on the iP47BR. Likewise, the dialpad's hard buttons that developed a worn look with just a couple of weeks of use on the older product have been replaced by more durable rubberized ones on the iP47.
Another improvement: We complained that the iHC5S doesn't have an integrated iPod dock. The iP47 does--and the unit has GSM shielding so you can dock your iPhone and leave the cell radio on (instead of toggling it to airplane mode), so you can accept calls without worrying about annoying interference noise while playing your tunes.
To pair your phone or other Bluetooth-enabled device, you press the play/pause button above the Bluetooth logo to put the iHome into discovery mode and key in the pass code "1234" on your phone once it pairs. We had a little trouble getting one of the test phones to pair initially, but Bluetooth technology itself is pretty finicky, so it's hard to place the blame on the iP47. All in all, the setup seemed easier and more straightforward than that of the iHC5S. The connection also seemed to hold better with less hiccups.
The iP47 supports two levels of Bluetooth compatibility: speakerphone and audio streaming. The first works with pretty much any Bluetooth phone, with the iHome taking the place of a headset; the second will work only with phones that offer A2DP--that's the "Advanced Audio Distribution Profile," the flavor of Bluetooth that supports wireless streaming high-quality stereo music. For example, the Sprint Mogul, the Nokia 5300, and Nokia N95 were all able to handle speakerphone and music streaming, but the Apple iPhone--which currently lacks A2DP support--could only offer speakerphone functionality to the iHome (although the inclusion of the dock ameliorates this limitation to a certain degree). The cell phone must be within about 30 feet of the iHC5S for Bluetooth connectivity of any kind.
It's also worth noting that because the audio source is the one that initiates the pairing, it also needs the ability to verify the iHome's passcode. As such, we were unable to pair a Belkin Bluetooth dongle that we'd attached to an iPod, even though the same unit had no trouble linking to Parrot's Bluetooth-friendly (and more expensive) Boombox and Wireless Hi-Fi speaker systems.
As for the clock radio, the standard stuff is here: dual alarms, snooze bar, dimmer, along with 12 station presets via four buttons (the FM1/FM2 toggle yields eight total FM presets, plus four for AM). The alarms can be set to wake to your iPod or station presets.
In terms of connectivity, you get a line input for other audio devices, but unlike with the iHC5S, there's no external mic input (if you want to upgrade from the built-in speakerphone mic). The unit's powered by an AC adapter, but three AA batteries provide alarm clock backup in the event of a power outage. A small remote is also included; it can control basic functions (play/pause, track up/down) on paired devices that support Bluetooth AVCTP (audio/video control transport protocol). It also has a built-in dialpad that allows you to make calls on a paired phone.
iHome has improved the performance of this model compared with the earlier iHC5S. The designers integrated an FM antenna into the iP47BR, and the radio reception is now significantly better. The built-in mic also appears to have been upgraded because callers said they could hear us well when we spoke into the speakerphone (we could also hear them well). Alternating between the slide-out dialpad on the unit and the dialpad on the remote, we were able to dial numbers without ever touching our test cell phone. We also had no trouble answering calls with a touch of the Talk button (on the front of the unit) and end them by tapping the Power button (the remote has these buttons as well). In all, a solid speakerphone experience.
In terms of listening to music, the iP47's sound quality--like that of its predecessor--is only OK. Because of its compact size and the close proximity of its stereo speakers to one another, the iP47 is lacking in the bass department and just can't deliver a rich, full sound. Still, for a little bedside music system, it acquits itself well enough, especially if your musical taste tends to favor lighter listening as opposed to hard rock or rap and hip-hop.
In our review of the iHC5S, we found that model hard to recommend because of its flaws and suggested to wait until SDI Technologies worked the glitches out and released its next Bluetooth clock radio. Well, the company has--and it's largely addressed our earlier complaints. And that makes iP47 much easier to recommend. We just wish it cost about $50 less.