Editors' Note: As of December 2007, this product has been replaced by the iHome iH9, which offers an updated design and some feature upgrades for roughly the same price. It does not, however, include the extra speaker.
In 2005, SDI Technologies had a surprise hit with its iPod-compatible clock radio, the $99 iHome iH5. SDI has followed up on that success by expanding its line of iPod-dockable audio systems. One of its latest models is the iH7BR, which is essentially an enhanced iH5 that carries a more expensive price tag ($150 list).
When we described the iHome iH5 in our earlier review, we couldn't decide whether its look is truly modern or retro-futuristic in a 1960s Space Odyssey sort of way. The same holds true for the iH7, because its design is virtually identical, except for an expansion speaker that can sit on an opposite bedside table and some added buttons (for preset radio stations) on top of the main unit, where you'll also find a USB port for the iPod Shuffle. The iH7 currently comes only in black.
The product ships with several inserts that make earlier dockable iPods fit snugly and securely in the cradle. When your iPod is in the dock and the iH7 is plugged in, your iPod will draw power from the clock radio and recharge. You choose songs, playlists, or podcasts with the iPod's scroll wheel as usual, but hear the audio through the iH7's speakers. Of course, you can't get today's news and weather on the iPod--yet--but you can toggle to the iHome's AM or FM bands at the touch of a button. We also appreciate the line-in connection on the back of the unit, which would allow you to connect other audio devices, including iPod models that aren't dockable. A line-out connection also is available for hooking up to larger audio systems.
We found setting the alarm easy enough (you can choose to wake up to your iPod, the radio, or a buzzer), and the display is amply sized and easy to read. Nice touches include backlight buttons on the radio, the ability to dim the LCD, and a well-placed snooze bar. Some buyers of the iH5 complain that the dimmer didn't really get the LCD dim enough, but you can turn it all the way off if you want. Others took issue with the viciously loud volume of the iH5's alarm (the volume was nonadjustable) that made folks literally jump out of bed. SDI has thankfully corrected that problem (to quote the company's Web site) with a "Gradual Wake and Gradual Sleep increase/decrease Alarm/Sleep volume," which offers the potential for a far gentler beginning and end to your day.