Review: iHome’s iD9 Portable App-friendly Rechargeable Speaker System for iPad/iPhone/iPod
Given that I very rarely move more than 10 feet during a given day, it’s odd how obsessed I am with portable iPhone speakers. I guess it’s sort of like how on the night before the first day of school each year I would run my hands across all those brand new school supplies, with thoughts of the potential of what might be. Similarly, portable speakers conjure up visions of various fun social activities (picnics, outdoor parties, camping trips) I’ll probably never experience, as I have no friends or social life. Still, something about the portable nature of these devices speaks to me, and today we have one of the best-looking portable speakers to date – iHome’s iD9 ($99).
“Sleek” is probably the best word to describe the iD9, and its well-designed contours and choices of plastics give it a truly wonderful look and feel. There’s a very nice weight to the unit as well (roughly 3 lbs), just enough to give it a “solid” feel without ruining the portable nature of the device.
Unlike other portable speakers we’ve reviewed, however, the iD9 is not one of the more rugged, outdoorsy-feeling speakers. Its futuristic design feels more like you’ll want to carry it from room to room, from home to work, or perhaps from inside to poolside more than from home to the beach or some dusty camping trip.
Control-wise, the iD9 is fairly idiot-proof. Aside from the power and volume buttons on the front of the unit, the only other physical button on the iD9 is a switch on the back to enable the use of the (not included) remote control. There is also a Line-In audio jack on the back, allowing you to use the iD9 with pretty much ANY audio source if your devices doesn’t have a dock connector, or is an ancient, unsupported iPod model (although the iPod compatibility chart looks like it goes back a ways (5th gen click wheel).
Aside from looking cool and only costing $99, the main selling feature of the iD9 is its built-in rechargeable battery which allows you to take your music just about anywhere – for an impressively long period of time. How long? Well, we couldn’t find any published specs on audio playback time, but in our tests we got a whopping 23 hours of playback on 1 charge, listening to a mix of internet radio and spoken word podcasts.
While the iD9 will charge your docked iDevice when plugged into a power source, it will not do so when running on battery power, so if you’re going to take the iD9 to some remote cabin retreat, remember the speaker’s battery will likely far outlast your iPhone’s, and you’ll need some other sort of power plan.
One of the other really cool things about the iD9, and the recent line of iHome speakers in general is the way they work with iHome’s two iOS apps: iHome+Sleep (free) and iHome+Radio (99¢) . Using the iD9 with the iHome+Sleep app turns the iD9 into one of the best alarm clocks around, allowing you to wake up to your favorite songs, as well as a display of your local weather and other info. It also makes for a fairly foolproof wake up system, as even in the event of a power outage the iD9’s battery and your iPhone’s built-in clock will ensure you don’t oversleep. Even if you don’t own an iHome speaker, you should probably go download the iHome+Sleep app as it’s one of the best (and free) alarm clock apps out there (although the recent update DID make it a bit crashy. I’m sure they’ll fix it).
Above: The iHome+Sleep app
As with most portable speakers, or speakers of the the size of the iD9 in general, audio quality needs to be graded somewhat on a curve. I would certainly rank the iD9 above most $100 speakers that DON’T include a rechargeable battery or offer the portability of the iD9, but at the same time, you probably won’t be replacing your home stereo system with this device either. The iD9 features SRS® TruBass, which helps add a bit of balls to the sound, but bass fans will still find themselves feeling a bit unsatisfied. One of the odd things about reviewing speakers is that the more you listen to them exclusively, the better they tend to sound to your ear. Much like a wine taster, you need to occasionally cleanse your audio palette with a higher-caliber speaker to be able to subjectively rate them. Of course, that works both ways, and I found listening to the iD9’s over a period of a week at both home and in the lab to be enjoyable. While bass was never pounding, audio quality varied a bit by song, and I found setting my iPhone’s EQ at “Rock” worked well to help boost the low end for most music.
I have only one real issue with the iD9, and depending on how you use it, it could either be a big annoyance, or a non-issue. The problem lies in those 4 EXTREMELY bright white LED lights on the front of the unit. For office or daytime use, you’ll likely never notice them. However, the second you try to use the iD9 as an alarm clock (or even just a bedroom charging stand/speaker) you’ll find that the iD9 lights up an entire room. There appears to be no way to turn them off if you have the unit plugged in, they blink while charging, and while playing. I had mine on my bedside table and had to place a sock over the lights each night when trying out the alarm features. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness of a room, the iD9’s LEDs provide the light of 2 or 3 nightlights. I suppose you could unplug the iD9 every night if you’d still like to wake to iHome’s iHome+Sleep (free) app and not have the light flashing in your face, but that seems less than ideal. So if you’re afraid of the dark, great, otherwise you may find yourself grabbing a piece of black electrical tape to cover those up.
Never one to not be able to nitpick, I suppose if I HAD to come up with something else to complain about, it might be there is no included carrying case, which the iD9 could really use in order to keep it’s sleek chassis looking good on long trips. Also, the fact that iHome doesn’t include the remote with the iD9 is a little lame, as I have yet to see an iHome remote that looked like it cost more than 79¢ to manufacture. At the same time, as lazy as I am I have still yet to USE a remote of any kind on any speaker of this size (even I can get up occasionally), so I suppose I would rather save the 79¢ than have the remote’s inclusion jack up the price, even by a little bit.
The iD9 is the coolest looking and most versatile iPhone speaker we’ve seen this year. Its sleek design looks very much like something that might have come out of Cupertino itself. The extremely impressive battery life of the iD9 makes it an ideal companion for travel to remote locations, although the beautiful casing is not necessarily designed for rugged outdoor use. iHome’s strong move into the Alarm clock app space signals a well thought-out break from the company’s traditional “build a clock into everything we make” approach, and the apps work great with the iD9. Audio-wise, the iD9 lacks high-quality low-end sound, but the audio is consistent to above average for the $100 price point, and the versatility of the speaker adds value that few comparably priced devices can touch.
Pros: Awesome design, amazing battery life, good sound, portable, works well with iHome’s alarm and internet radio apps
Cons: No travel case, remote is extra/not included, audio lacks bass