Capsule speakers remain a niche product, but they offer some appeal to laptop users who want better sound but don't want to lug around a set of more standard-size computer speakers. The only drawback to going small is that even if the speakers sound better than most internal laptop speakers, they usually still sound pretty mediocre. What's slightly different about the iHM79s, then, is that iHome has made these mini speakers a tad larger than its early capsule models, and the result is that they sound better but take up a little more room in your computer bag.
The speakers weigh just less than half a pound (combined) and come in four colors, black, silver, white, and red. They have circular bases with a diameter of 2.5 inches, and are designed to expand accordion-style when in use to a full height of 2.75 inches. When traveling, you collapse each speaker--chopping half an inch off the height--then attach the bases together to form a sort of football-shape unit that fits in an included cloth pouch. The speakers link together via magnetic bases, and the manual does warn you to keep the magnets clear of computers and monitors (though we didn't experience any problems).
Each speaker is powered by a rechargeable battery. To charge the batteries, iHome provides a special split USB cable that also has an integrated 3.5mm minijack cable to plug into the audio input on your computer or an audio device such as an iPhone or an MP3 player. You can charge via your PC's USB port, or invest in a USB wall charger. (Travel with a multiport USB charger, for instance, and you'll be able to juice up the speakers and your iPod or music phone with a single wall wart; the Lenmar ACUSB4 ably powered both the iHome speakers and our iPod Touch.)
The cable's a little cumbersome to deal with and isn't very long, which means you don't have much flexibility in terms of speaker placement (the speakers can only be separated by about 21 inches). It's also worth noting that even when the speakers are fully charged, you have to have them connected to each other with the split USB cable. The only connection you save is the USB cable going to the power source. Still, the cable's design seems a bit more thought out than the one included with the very similar X-Mini Max II Capsule Speaker.
Small LEDs on each speaker indicate that they're turned on--blue means the battery has enough power, red means the battery is charging. (Each speaker has a power switch, too.)
As we said, these guys sound half decent for what they are. That doesn't mean they'll wow you with their sound, but what we heard exceeded our low expectations. There's not a lot in the way of bass, but it's not totally absent, and the iHM79s can play fairly loud relative to other capsule speakers. That said, they do sound better at low to mid volume levels and distort some when you crank your tunes. At low volumes, we also noticed some hissing; it wasn't very noticeable when playing audio, but you'll hear it between tracks or during quieter moments.
At $50, they're not a bargain, but they're in line with other portable speakers with a rechargeable battery option. In the end, we can recommend the iHM79s, though you should keep your sound expectations in check. Going small has its limitations.