You could be forgiven for confusing one iHome iPod speaker product with another--at last count, there were nine current models, and that doesn't include the five that are just different colored housings or the sole Zune product. One of the latest models in the lineup is the iP99. It's the first iHome speaker dock to be iPhone certified; that means it's properly shielded from the GSM cell phone interference, so you can dock your iPhone without having to toggle it to airplane mode (and thus miss all your incoming calls). Aside from that--and some minor cosmetic differences--the iP99 is basically a reworking of the iHome iH9, which remains one of the better sub-$100 iPod clock radios on the market.
The iP99 is a bit more modern and less retro-futuristic-looking than its predecessors, with a speaker grille that frames the LCD readout instead of getting split by it. The LCD itself is the same sort of high-contrast white-on-black display as the iP99, though the numbers on the clock are slightly smaller. That said, the clock was more than easy enough to read. It's currently available only in black (iP99BR), but we wouldn't be surprised to see it in white or other colors at some point.
It's worth nothing the iP99's plastic finish is more matte rather than having a shiny and reflective finish as the iH9 does. While we liked the overall look and design better, we did have one gripe: the scroll wheels on top of the unit that control volume and tuning/settings (and complement the iPod's own scroll wheel) were a bit stiff compared with the scroll wheels on the iH9. We don't know if this issue was specific to just our review sample or to all iP99s, but we thought it worth pointing out. Of course, since the unit comes with a remote control--it's slightly bigger than previous iHome remotes, which makes it a bit more difficult to misplace--you don't have to touch the buttons on the iP99 if you don't want to. But given the likely placement on the nightstand, we suspect you'll end up using the unit's integrated controls even more than the remote.
As with all these types of products, the iP99 ships with "sleeves" or dock adapters that make all dockable iPods--as well as all iPhones--fit snugly and securely in the cradle. When your iPod or iPhone is in the dock and the iP99 is plugged in, your iPod/iPhone will draw power from the clock radio and recharge. If we had one issue with the design, it was the fact that the top-mounted iPod/iPhone could be easily swiped by a sleepyhead going for the nearby snooze bar.
You choose songs, playlists, or podcasts with the iPod's scroll wheel (or iPhone touch screen) as usual, but hear the audio through the iP99's speakers. And while the iPod and iPhone have yet to include built-in AM/FM radios, both bands are available on the iHome iP99 at the touch of a button. We also appreciated the line-in connection on the back of the unit, which lets you connect other audio devices, including iPod models that aren't dockable. The folks at SDI Technologies (the producers of the iHome brand) left off the line-out connection for hooking up larger audio systems, but that isn't a big deal since most people wouldn't bother with that feature. (If that's a dealbreaker for you, note that it's available on the iH9.)
We found setting the dual alarms easy enough (you can choose to wake up to your iPod, the radio, or a buzzer), and--as mentioned above--the display is amply sized and even easier to read than past models. Nice touches include backlight buttons on the radio, the capability to dim the LCD display (there are eight levels of brightness, including "off"), and a well-placed snooze bar.
You can choose to set an alarm to go off only on weekdays, weekends, or every day, and even wake to a custom playlist. If you're someone who doesn't like the idea of a viciously loud alarm jolting you awake, the iP99 has what SDI calls a "Gradual Wake and Gradual Sleep increase/decrease Alarm/Sleep volume," which offers the potential for a gentler beginning and end to your day. This gradual volume increase also applies to when you turn on the radio--the music starts out faint then gradually builds to the volume you have the iP99 set to. A pair of AA batteries keeps the alarm and radio presets intact during power outages.
Other alarm clock niceties: the sleep setting offers a wide range of times (120, 90, 60, 30, or 15 minutes), and, while active, has a volume control that's independent of the main volume. That means that you can drift off to sleep listening to the radio (or iPod-based music, podcast, whatever) at a very modest volume, but still have the alarm be loud enough to wake you in the morning. Also, the snooze length can be set to any time between 1 and 29 minutes.