Review: iHome's iC50 is a dock for Android fans
While iPhone users have roughly six hundred million accessories that range from charging docks and portable speakers to stands and other accoutrements, Android fans often have been left out in the cold when it comes to awesome smartphone extras.
iHome, the company that specializes in speaker systems for iOs devices, has expanded its product line to include some accessories for Android lovers, including the iC50, a stereo alarm-clock radio that lets you charge and play an Android (or Windows) smartphone.
The iC50, a square dock with rounded edges, measures roughly five inches square and weighs about a half a pound. The front panel features the alarm display; the top holds shallow, soft-touch style menu buttons to control power, modes, dimmer, alarm, and radio functions.
The top rear of the device also has the device rest and dock, called “SmartSlide”, which consists of a slot through which a 3.5mm jack and micro-USB cord can be threaded. The micro-USB cord can be slid or twisted along the slot in order to enable almost any non-iOS handset, or a variety of MP3 players, to be connected. The back portion of the dock has the power connection, the FM antenna, a time-set button, and a Daylight Savings Time button to enable you to easily adjust the time (at least twice a year).
Unfortunately, it’s a challenge to build a dock that can offer universal functionality across the wide array of available Android hardware, and the iC50 suffers from trying to be so inclusive.
It’s worth noting that the limitations of the software hinder the functionality of the iC50; many Android handsets cannot broadcast audio from the micro-USB connection (a feature that wasn’t available until Android 4.1 Jelly Bean), so the majority of handsets will need to connect to the dock using the 3.5mm headphone jack in order to play music. This is a bit cumbersome if you also would like to connect and charge your handset using the micro-USB outlet.
I used a Samsung Galaxy S III and a Nokia Lumia 900 to try the iC50; the Lumia 900 had to be connected upside down, as both the micro-USB input and the 3.5mm headphone jack are on the top of the handset. The Galaxy S III was very nearly too tall to connect to both the jack (located on top of the handset) and the micro-USB input (located on the bottom). I was able to get the job done by first connecting the 3.5mm jack, then tilting the device so I could connect the micro-USB along the bottom.
The “SmartSlide” slot caused further problems after the hardware was connected: because there is no support on either side of the jack, handsets wobble when docked or touched. This made me worry about the wear and tear this would cause on the micro-USB input.
In trying to offer connectivity to any device, in either horizontal or vertical positioning, and while wearing a case, the iC50 falls short of providing a basic, solid docking experience.
Programing and operating the iC50 was occasionally an exasperating experience as the menu and functions were not always intuitively designed—for example, adjusting the volume while setting the alarm requires you to use the forward and back buttons, not the volume buttons. And speaking of volume, the levels on the alarm mode seemed markedly different than the levels for the radio: with the alarm set to volume 25, I could hear almost nothing; with the radio set at 25, I was covering my ears.
While my first attempt at setting the alarm was a failure (alarm went off silently), the second was a success, and I liked the way the alarm gradually grew louder the longer I let it go off. And while the dimmer function did indeed lower the display brightness to near-disappearing levels, hitting the snooze button causes some of the icons on the display to flash—something that would agitate me if I hadn’t reduced the brightness.
While the iC50 does work with iHome’s Sleep alarm app, there’s a disappointing lack of integration between the handset and the dock: the phone’s alarm functions cannot be controlled through the dock, and (without the app) you cannot program the dock to wake you to music from your handset, only with the buzzer or the radio, and there are no options to preset radio stations.
All that being said, while the iC50 was playing music, I was a happy camper. It sounds good: clear, with a healthy dose of bass, and a volume that goes to some impressively loud levels. However, on three separate occasions, for no reason that I could determine, the iC50 stopped broadcasting music in the middle of a song. On another day, the alarm randomly went off while the iC50 was sitting unplugged at my desk (and I hadn’t even enabled the backup battery).
While the sound is solid, the functionality is too flawed for me to recommend the iC50; Android users, hold out for a dock with a friendlier design.
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