SDI Technologies, the makers of the iHome line of affordably priced iPod audio systems and clock radios, is also manufacturing a line of Timex-branded clock radios with varying degrees of digital-audio compatibility. While you can hook up your iPod to the model reviewed here, the Timex TM80B is really designed to work with USB flash drives and SD memory cards filled with MP3 or WMA files.
The TM80B is an attractive-looking little clock radio. Measuring just 4 inches tall by 4 inches wide by 8 inches deep, it'll fit on even the most cramped nightstands. Inspect it closely and you'll notice that the plastics aren't exactly high-grade, and the shiny black finish is a fingerprint magnet. But the unit is heavier (2 pounds) than you'd think at first glance, which makes it a little easier to understand why you're paying $75 (list price) for it. It also comes with a small credit-card-style remote control for accessing its key functions from afar.
In most areas, the clock will set itself. If that doesn't work, it can be set manually, of course; there's even a daylight saving time toggle switch on the back side that can add or subtract an hour without the need to reset the whole system. You can program in a total of 12 station presets--four AM and eight FM (four each on the FM1 and FM2 "bands." A slot on top of the unit accommodates SD cards. Next to it, there's a little bay with a flip-up USB connector for plugging in any sort of flash drive. Ideally, you'd use a thumbdrive, which would lie flat in the bay and hide under the bay's rubber cover (think of it as a mini coffin for your thumbdrive). As your music files play--it works with MP3 and WMA files--title and track info scrolls across the bottom of the clock's display. You can skip forward and back through tracks, pause and play songs, and navigate from folder to folder on your flash drive if you have songs organized in multiple folders. There's a line-in jack on the back panel, so it can double as a speaker for an iPod or any other audio device.
The Timex TM80B is pretty simple to operate. We took a quick look at the manual to figure out how to toggle between the radio, flash drive, or external audio source and discovered pretty quickly that if you hit the "settings" button, it adjusts the equalizer settings (you have a choice between Jazz, Classical, Flat, and Rock, with Jazz seeming to offer the most bass). To set the time and alarm--you can awake to either an MP3 on your SD card or flash drive, the radio, or a buzzer--you use the buttons on the front of the unit. The snooze bar on top of the TM80B doubles as a dimmer, so you can turn off all the blue backlighting on the clock's display if it bothers you. The numbers on the clock are of ample size and easy to read, so no complaints there. We only wish that there was a tuning knob to match the nice big volume control--we'll take dials over up/down buttons any day.
As with the alarm, the sleep timer can be set to lull you to sleep--by radio, MP3/WMA, or line-in source--in increments from 15 to 120 minutes. Unlike the sleep and alarm functions found on more expensive tabletop radios (such as the Cambridge SoundWorks 820HD), the volumes for each alarm and sleep functions can't be set independently--but the alarm does ramp up from zero when it goes off, so you won't be blasted out of bed.
As noted, the TM80B has a line-in jack for plugging in other portable audio devices. It also comes with two AA batteries (they slip into the bottom of the unit) that keep the clock running in the event of a power outage. But the speaker and flash drive adapter are powered by a 10V AC adapter, not batteries, so the TM80B isn't really designed to be moved from room to room.
As you might expect from a single speaker this small, the Timex TM80B doesn't deliver a terribly impressive sound experience, but--as clock radios go--it isn't bad, either. Keep the volume in the low to medium range, and it delivers perfectly passable sound. A home stereo system it isn't, but it's well suited for a little light bedroom or home office listening.
Interestingly, we were able to browse and play back the contents of an iPod Nano when plugging it into the TM80B's USB port. Of course, if you're really interested in an iPod-friendly clock radio at this price point, you're better off with one of the TM80B's companion products--the Timex TI700S or the iHome iH8--both of which are manufactured by SDI.
Bottom line: we like the Timex TM80B's compact size, simple, attractive design, and it sounds OK for what it is. While there are certainly less expensive clock radios out there, few (if any) allow you to play tunes from a flash drive or memory card. We'd like to see it priced closer to $60 (sorry, SDI, you've spoiled us with your entry-level units), but at $75, it's not a bad deal.