Review: iHome IDL46 Alarm Clock and Speaker Dock

Like most people, when I go to bed at night, I plug my iPhone in to charge. iHome came out with one of the first, and then subsequently a series of combination iPhone docks, alarm clocks and sparker systems for the iPhone. It was one of the first, and most popular mass market accessories. While similar sized Bluetooth and AirPlay compatible speakers may be more popular today, iPhone owners still like to keep their phones nearby and charged at night and everyone needs an alarm clock. I believe the iHome line of speakers still fills and important need.

I bought one of the first iHome dock systems years ago and still use it with a bluetooth adapter in my office. With Apple’s move to the Lightning connector a few years ago accessor manufacturers had to adapt. iHome came out with their first Lightning enabled accessories last year, the iDL45, and have refreshed the line again with the iDL46 (Amazon), their Lightning-enabled clock radio for iPad and iPhone.

The iDL46 has similar features to previous iHome docks. It’s a speaker dock with support for dual alarms and has an AM/FM radio. New with the iDL45 is a modern look. Instead of the traditional square speaker dock, the iDL46 has a sleek new oval shape and an overall smaller footprint than its predecessors. I think it’s is quite appealing.

The Lightning port on the top of the dock will work with any Lightning equipped iPhone, iPad or iPad, though because the plug is recessed (I’m told to comply with Apple’s specifications) you may have trouble if your device is in a case. I don’t use a case with my iPhone 5 and it works perfectly with the iDL46 but the SmartCase that I use with my iPad is just thick enough that it prevents a good connection.

The iDL46 is capable of charging two devices simultaneously thanks to the USB charging port on the back. This means I can plug my iPad in with a second Lightning cable but really any other device that charges via USB would work, including legacy 30-pin devices. The USB port is a lower power port more suitable for phones. While it will charge an iPad with retina display, it will take some additional time to do so but I’ve found my iPad will always have a full charge if left overnight.

First and foremost, the iDL46 is an alarm clock and it’s my everyday alarm clock. It features two independent alarms which you can program for either weekend, weekdays or everyday. You can wake to a playlist, FM radio or traditional buzzer. The system is simple enough that just about anyone can figure out how to use it. In fact, you’ll commonly see similar iHome systems in hotels and I’ve even put a second iDL46 in my guest bedroom.

One of my favorite features is being able to set my standard weekday alarm and not have to worry each night about turning it on each night. Once it’s set and activate, it stays active until turned off. My only complaint is it doesn’t offer any advanced customization features for alarms. For example, I generally set my alarm on workdays for 6:00 am, but on Thursdays I have a breakfast meeting across town and get up an hour earlier. There’s no way to set a day-specific alarm so for this I have set an alarm on my iPhone. Likewise, there isn’t an easy way to set a one-time custom alarm so I again use my standard iPhone alarm for this purpose. iHome does have an App, iHome+Sleep, that can be used in conjunction with their products which may provide some of this functionality but it’s not a solution that works for me since the App has to be running in the foreground to trigger any alarm.

Speaking of Apps, the free iHome Set app works when your iPhone is connected to the dock. It allows you to sync the time of your alarm clock with your iPhone, configure radio presets, set alarms, adjust audio settings, and tweak nap and snooze settings. (Whose idea was it that 9 minutes was good for snooze?) You also use this App to check for firmware updates. While most of these settings are available through the manual interface of the iDL46 itself, the App makes things much easier.

Lastly, the iDL46 is a compact speaker system. Admittedly, I am not an audiophile but the speakers are good enough to fill a small room with sound. My music, podcasts and audiobooks played clearly and with reasonable stereo separation.

Priced at $99 (Amazon) the iDL46 is very reasonably priced considering everything they pack in a small package. If you were to buy an extra Lightning cable and USB power adapter from Apple, at $19 each, it would set you back almost $40 to add a separate charging station for your iPhone. Of course there are less expensive charging solutions, but for only $60 more, you could get the iDL46 which includes not only the charger but an alarm clock and speakers too. It’s a pretty good value.

Overall I’m very happy with the iDL46. I wish it included the ability to add additional custom hardware alarms and the power output of the USB port would handle a retina iPad. With these minor tweaks it would be just about perfect. I like the redesign style and packing so many features in such a small package makes it a good value, especially for a product I use every day.