The iLuv i199 iPod audio system impressed us with its seemingly endless array of features crammed into a tight package at an affordable price. Enter the iLuv i399: it's larger and more expensive than the older i199, and delivers a more thumping bass line, thanks to its built-in subwoofer. But it loses the CD player, USB port, and alarm clocks that helped make the i199 such a great value. Yes, the iLuv i399 still keeps an iPod dock and radio, and its Bluetooth 2.0 module offers noticeably better sound quality when streaming audio from compatible devices such as music phones. However, even with its better overall sound quality, we always find it tough to recommend a more expensive product that delivers fewer features.
The design of the iLuv i399 is much more reminiscent of a classic "boom box" shape: wide, but not very deep. All of the function controls have been organized on the right side of the iPod dock in favor of a minimalist design. The cloth speaker grille extends the entire width of the unit, with two handles on either side for easy carrying. The display on the i399 has taken a hit as well--it's now much smaller than the one on the i199. At the very top of the device, mounted all the way to the left are two flaps, one hiding the headphone and auxiliary-in jacks, the other for the removable BluePin adapter, which lets the unit wirelessly receive audio from compatible Bluetooth devices. (You won't be able to close the BluePin flap when you're taking advantage of it.)
Around back, you'll find for a spot for batteries, requiring a whopping eight D-sized batteries to take the i399 on the go. There's also a slot for two AAA batteries that will keep the clock ticking in the event of an electrical power outage. (As mentioned above, there are no alarms--just a clock.) That's quite a lot of batteries, and--while you can always invest in some third-party rechargeables--it would've been nice if the i399 had some sort of built-in rechargeable battery option instead.
The i399 also has a row of rhythm-sensitive blue LED lights that run along its base, hearkening back to the glory days of flashy Aiwa minisystems. Unfortunately, the lights don't react very much unless you really crank the volume. Thankfully, this feature can be easily disabled.
The included remote control is an improvement over the one bundled with the i199. We had complained about the flimsy feel to the previous remote, and while the i399's isn't a drastic improvement in that regard, it does perform noticeably better and doesn't require the need to hit buttons over and over.
We were pleased to see that the Bluetooth capability of the i399 was upgraded to the 2.0 version of the standard (up from the version 1.2 found on the i199). We were able to transmit audio from our HTC Mogul smartphone and the result sounded good--much better than the BluePin performance on the i199. The device also has the capability to transmit audio, which we successfully did with a pair of Bluetooth headphones. The resulting sound quality was solid, with a reasonable range as well.