Editors' note: As of August 2008, iHome has released the iP47, an updated version of the iHC5S that includes an iPod/iPhone dock and addresses many of the other criticisms listed in this review.
SDI Technologies' iHome iHC5S is one of those products that isn't easy to describe in a sentence. Sure, we could tell you that it's a clock radio that also doubles as a tabletop speaker--and enhanced speakerphone--for your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. But some people aren't going to know what we're talking about. So, we'll put it this way: The iHome iHC5S is a fancy alarm clock that will allow 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. As such, it combines the most notable functionality of Bluetooth home phone systems (GE Cell Fusion, Vtech LS5145) and Bluetooth speaker systems.
Pretty good, right? Well, in theory, yes--and the iHome iHC5S ($150) has some appealing aspects to it. First, it looks fairly polished (at least, from a distance). For some, it may have a little too much of a corporate office look to it, but its overall design is attractive enough and reasonably compact. That said, some of its design elements do call out the fact that iHome is a value brand. For instance, the spring-loaded retractable dialpad at the bottom of the unit that allows you to make calls on a cell phone sitting across the room (the cell phone must be within about 30 feet of the iHC5S), feels a tad flimsy. The buttons seem to quickly develop a worn look with just a couple of weeks of use. And the entire housing doesn't look like it would survive being knocked off the table.
We could probably come up with a few more small quibbles with the design but our bigger concerns involved the overall implementation of Bluetooth in the iHC5S. The technology itself is pretty finicky, and it doesn't help that you don't know from looking at the buttons on the unit which ones you use to pair your phone or playback music and make calls. You can kind of guess from the labels, but we ended up having to dig into the instruction manual to figure out just how everything should work--and we still had some trouble. Again, some of this is the fault of Bluetooth, but the iHC5S could have been simpler to use.
Put the iHome into discovery mode, and any Bluetooth phone should be able to pair with the unit (just search for a new device from the phone and enter "123" as the pass code). The iHC5S 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.