Editors' Note: As of December 2007, this product has been replaced by the iHome iH9, which offers an updated design and some feature upgrades for roughly the same price.
In 2006, SDI Technologies followed up on its original iHome iH5 iPod-compatible clock radio with the iH7BR, an enhanced version of the iH5 that carried a more expensive price tag ($150 list) and featured an expansion "bedside speaker" that provided better stereo separation for slightly improved sound. Now we have the iH8, which costs $50 less and is essentially an iH7BR minus the extra speaker and the USB slot for an iPod Shuffle.
When we described the iHome iH5 in our original review, we couldn't decide whether its look was truly modern or retrofuturistic in a 1960s Space Odyssey sort of way. The same holds true for the iH8, given that its design is virtually identical. The biggest cosmetic difference is that SDI has given the plastic on top of the unit a brushed-like finish instead of the shiny, reflective style found on the earlier models (the iH8 is available in black, white, and silver). We suspect that's because the shiny finish was a fingerprint magnet. Unfortunately, the brushed styling doesn't eliminate the fingerprint situation, but it arguably makes the unit look a little more upscale.
The product ships with the usual assortment of "sleeves" that make earlier dockable iPods fit snugly and securely in the cradle. When your iPod is in the dock and the iH8 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 iH8'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 with the touch of a button. We also appreciate the line-in connection on the back of the unit, which allows you to connect other audio devices, including iPod models that aren't dockable (instead of a built-in USB slot for the original iPod Shuffle, you get a little stand that props up the device and a cable that connects to the Shuffle's headphone jack). A line-out connection also is available for hooking up larger audio systems.
We found setting the dual alarms 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 display, and a well-placed snooze bar. Some buyers of the iH5 complained that the dimmer didn't really dim the LCD, but you can turn it completely off if you want. Others took issue with the viciously loud, nonadjustable volume of the iH5's alarm, which 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 gentler beginning and end to your day. (This upgrade was also included in later versions of the iH5.) A pair of AA batteries keeps the alarm and radio presets intact during power outages.