SDI Technologies adds to its line of iPod-compatible clock audio systems with the iH27, a model designed for travel that's powered by an included power supply or 4 optional AA batteries. Notice how we said "clock audio system" not "clock radio." That's because--unlike most other iHome models--the iH27 isn't equipped with an AM/FM radio; it simply plays back what's on your iPod through its stereo speakers and has a built-in clock with alarm functionality.
Weighing 2.3 lbs., the iH27 is lighter and smaller that the iH9, iHome's more full-featured iPod clock radio. (And unlike that model, it's currently only available in black.) That said, it's still fairly substantial for a portable system. However, what makes it more suitcase-friendly is its ability to fold flat (an inexpensive padded carrying case is included). Once you get to your destination you can then unpack it and fold the system up so the speaker sits upright. It's a pretty nifty design, but we would have preferred if had been shrunk down somewhat. Also, the shiny black plastic tends to be a fingerprint magnet.
There are a couple of benefits to the system being beefier than your typical tiny, portable iPod speaker system. First, while the iH27--which carries a retail price of $100, but can be had for $80 online--is designed for travel, it can do double duty in your home as well. It also sounds a bit better than some of the small mobile speakers out there, though not surprisingly, it doesn't deliver full, rich sound (read: it suffers from thin bass).
The product ships with "sleeves" or dock adapters that make all older dockable iPods fit snugly and securely in the cradle. When your iPod is in the dock and the iH27 is plugged in, your iPod (with the exception of the third-gen iPod) will draw power from the system and recharge. You choose songs, playlists, or podcasts with the iPod's scroll wheel as usual, but hear the audio through the iH27's speakers.
We also appreciate the line-in connection on the back of the unit, which allows you to connect other portable audio devices, including iPod models that aren't dockable. An AV line-out connection allows you to send iPod video (cable not included) to a TV. It is worth mentioning, however, that the iH27's speakers aren't shielded, so you can't set the unit right next to a tube TV without risking scrambling the picture. Likewise, the instructions clearly predate the latest fall 2007 iPod line, so there's no indication of whether the iH27 can properly output video from the iPod Classic, fat Nano, iPod Touch, or iPhone.
We found setting the alarm easy enough (you can wake up to your iPod or a buzzer), and while the display isn't huge, it's easy enough to read from 5 or 6 feet away, and can be dimmed completely. If you're comparing alarm functionality, this model only allows you to set the alarm to go off daily, whereas the iH9 gives you the option of setting it to go off only on weekdays, weekends, or every day.
As noted, the unit is powered by an included AC adapter or 4 AA batteries (not included). A smaller nickel-size CR2032 backup battery is on board to power the clock and alarm in the event of a power failure. However, it will not power your iPod or the speakers.
The iH27 doesn't have any bass or treble controls, but you can engage the SRS WOW "sound-enhancement" circuitry with a touch of a button on the side of the unit. According to the manual, "This circuitry is designed to provide a broader audio image with enhanced low range and mid range sound reproduction to bring added life to compressed MP3 files." We've seen similar modes on other iPod audio systems, and they're designed through a bit of processing magic to expand the sound stage (when you have two speakers spaced only a few inches apart you get very little in the way of stereo separation). Indeed, the SRS mode on the iH27 has a significant impact on sound quality, and we doubt you'll ever turn it off once you engage it.
The iH27 sounds OK and better than most clock radios you'll find in your hotel room. The system sounds best when you're sitting or lying about 4 or 5 feet away from it, but it can fill a small room or office with sound. As you might expect, it does best with lighter and more acoustically oriented stuff (we've got some Santana playing as we write), but so long as you don't raise the volume too high, it won't make you cringe with bass-heavy material.
As far as the competition is concerned, the iPod travel alarm speakers category isn't quite as saturated as the desktop [non-portable] iPod speaker lineup. Nevertheless, good alternatives such as the Altec Lansing inMotion iM600 and the clockless Logitech Pure-Fi Anywhere. In the end, the iHome iH27 delivers on its rather simple mission statement of delivering a travel iPod speaker/alarm clock. Frequent travelers who want to rock out on the iPod in a hotel room and get a decent alarm clock to boot will likely find that it fits the bill. It has a small drawback as a portable system (it's somewhat large), as well as a small drawback as a home system (there's no radio). If you can live with those shortcomings and can pick it up for less than $80, chances are you won't be disappointed.