iPhone gadgets are big business, and from time to time we like to dip our paws into the water to sample the latest and greatest from the world of "Made for iPhone" cottage industries. iHome has been one of the biggest names in iPod/iPhone docks and clock radios since the genre was born, and they recently sent me their new flagship clock radio, the iP90, for review.
I've gone through a few iPod/iPhone clock radios in my day, since I had a series of iPods long before Apple started selling phones. In fact, I've still got an iHome iH5, one of their earlier models whose white plastic body has started yellowing from age. That was a great unit save for one flaw that rendered it unusable for me: There was no dimmer control for the LED display, and so the thing was just too bright to keep in the bedroom. I literally couldn't get to sleep at night, it was so bright.
I'm happy to report that iHome long ago started installing dimmer switches on their clock radios, and the prone-to-yellowing white plastic bodies have been upgraded, too. The iP90 they sent over comes in both black and silver finishes with contrasting trim; I received the silver, and it's a nice looking unit. But it's big. Measuring 10.7 x 6.1 x 3.3", I'd even call it really big. I've most recently tested the Vers 1.5R and Sony ICF-C7IP iPhone clock radios and the IP90 really takes up quite a bit more room on a nightstand than either of those units did. The clock feels well-made and has a neutral but modern aesthetic that should have a broad appeal, even if it's not a uniquely beautiful style.
The iP90 has actually been living on my wife's side of the bed (yep, she's an iPhone user), as the Sony unit was a gift to her awhile back, and while she loves its small size and easy to read display, the iPhone dock has proved maddeningly frustrating to use. For whatever reasons of flawed design, it's really, really hard to get her iPhone to seat properly in the dock. iHome's dock design is much, much better, and the overall design of the iP-90 is quite nice as well: Buttons are clearly marked and easy to reach, controls for everything from the dual alarms (with separate weekday/weekend settings) to radio presets are intuitive - MUCH more so than the Sony's - and the display is large, clear, and yes, dimmable across a broad range from "light up the room" to "off." Controls on the unit are also backlit, which makes for easier smacking of the correct buttons in the dark.
Audio quality on the iP90 is good for a single unit clock radio. I dare say the aforementioned Vers sounds a bit richer, but iHome did a pretty nice job with the 90. Casual listeners could use the unit as a sound system for a small bedroom or den (there's an aux input in addition to the iPhone/iPod dock and AM/FM radio), while more discerning music fans will enjoy waking up to the radio's clean sound. You won't get much in the way of stereo separation or rich lows and midrange from most any iPhone dock in this price range, but that said the iP90 holds it own so long as you keep the volume at low to moderate levels to avoid distortion. The unit does feature user-adjustable bass and treble controls, though, which is a nice surprise.
For some reason, iHome chose not to grace the iP90 with "app enhancement," so you can't use the company's free iHome + Sleep iPhone app here like you can with the iA5. Weird. There is a nifty button on the back of the unit that lets you sync its time with your docked iPhone/iPod Touch, though, which is kinda neato. And the included remote control works well and controls basic iPod functions as well as those of the iP90 itself.
All in all the iHome iP90 is a nice docking station/clock radio for under a hundred bucks, if you like its style and don't mind its size. Frankly, it's just too big for me. But that's just me - I like my gadgets as small as reasonably possible and don't really use my clock radio as a stereo system very often, so this iHome is iOverkill for I ... um, I mean, for me. But you? You should give iP90 a look if you're wanting a full-featured dock/alarm clock/music system for less than a hundred bucks. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's Awesome, but it's Totally Solid, man. Totally solid.