This little charmer sounds great and uses almost no electricity!

I recently bought an iHome clock radio to replace a cheap 20-year-old alarm clock that went on the fritz. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this little wonder, not only because of its easy setup and superior sound, but because, as it turns out, it is extremely energy efficient.

I doubt many people worry about how much electricity a clock radio uses. After all, a typical clock radio probably draws only 5, 10 or 15 watts, right? Maybe 20 when the radio itsel is on? The trouble is that the 5, 10, or 15 watts are a continuous draw every hour of every day. At 12 cents a kilowatt hour, that 5 watt clock radio costs you $5 a year to operate – a bargain, you think. Over 20 years, that’s $100 – which is more than most clock radios cost. A 15 watt clock radio such as the one we just replaced could cost $315 over a 20 year lifetime.

My iHome clock radio, an iP90, consumes a tiny fraction of that amount – 0.4 watts, to be precise, or less than 10 watt hours a day. Over a 20 year period, I’ll pay about $9 in electricity costs to run it. My only regret in buying it is that I waited so long. The ease of programming and quality of sound are both far superior to the dinosaur we recently retired, and although the $99 price tag made it significantly more expensive than its predecessor (or than the cheapest clock radios now on the market), the improved features and reduced power consumption make it more than worth the investment.

Main features of the iHome clock radio

Let’s review the highlights of the iHome clock radio: sound, audio inputs and controls, clock control and display.

Sound: While the sound may not quite rival a Bose, sound quality is an order of magnitude better than clock radios from a decade ago, or than that Walmart $20 special. The iHome clock radio has excellent clarity and a much stronger base than you’ll find in a cheaper radio. Its twin stereo speakers project sound from the front of the unit – unlike cheap clock radios which tend to project their faint, high-pitched sound upwards. The sound is so good that I find I am much more inclined to turn on the radio to listen to music while changing for an evening out, or getting ready for bed. Jazz, pop, rock, classical music all sound great on the iHome clock radio; on my old clock radio I couldn’t stand listening to music at all!

Audio inputs:The iHome clock radio ip90 comes with an iPod/iPhone dock that lets you wake up to your choice of music, along with the required iPod adapters to accommodate the full range of iPod base sizes. There is a Play/Pause button directly on the iHome clock radio so you can control your iPod from the unit.

We haven’t used the iPod feature much – we like to wake up to the news – and the FM reception is excellent. The unit comes with a 4 foot FM antenna which gives it better reception, as long as you have a place for the wire to dangle.

There is also an AM antenna and an audio input port, in the unlikely event you want to listen to an AM radio station or connect the iHome clock radio to an external audio device such as a CD player.

iHome Clock Radio controls

Audio controls: All audio controls are located on the top of the unit, along with alarm clock selection buttons and the snooze / brightness button, as shown to the right. For an alarm clock, the iHome clock radio comes with excellent sound control. Volume is easily adjusted using the large, pivoting square volume button on the left. One thing I had trouble getting used to is that the lefthand pivoting square, which controls volume, has speaker icons on it – should be pretty obvious – while the righthand square has “+” and “-” icons on it, which are for selecting the radio station or controlling balance and other sound characteristics. I found myself frequently trying to adjust volume by pressing the “+” and “-” button, which when you have just woken up is an easy mistake to make, and has the unfortunate effect of changing the channel when all you wanted to do was turn the volume way down so you don’t wake the kids up!

The “EQ” button is a very useful button that lets you control treble, base, balance, and stereo. Both treble and base offer settings from -5 to +5. There are nine different balance settings, and both stereo and mono, although the terminology may be confusing, since instead of “Stereo” and “mono” the display indicates “3D sound on” or “3D sound off”. I’m not sure who would want to change the balance or turn off stereo sound on a unit whose speakers are only 2 inches wide and only 5 inches apart; perhaps these features were provided so they could claim more features than competitors. But the base and treble control are of course useful.

The iHome clock radio provides 6 station presets on 3 buttons. To preset a radio station to preset numbers 1, 3 or 5, you just tune to that radio station, then hold the appropriate button down until you hear a beep. To preset to numbers 2, 4, or 6, tune to that station, click the appropriate button quickly once, and on the second click hold down until you hear a beep. It takes a little time to get the hang of it but fortunately you don’t have to do a preset very often. To change to an odd preset station just press the corresponding button once; for the even presets, press the corresponding button twice.

iHome Clock Radio - back panel

Clock control: One thing that took me a long time to figure out was how to set the time. For some reason the iHome clock radio upon being plugged in didn’t show that telltale flashing 12:00 – instead it showed 7:32 pm. This seemed like an odd time to start at and I spent at least 2-3 minutes trying to use the + and – buttons to adjust the time up or down, but nothing came of it. Finally it dawned on me that the actual time was exactly one hour off the indicated time. Lo and behold I found a “+1 / -1 DST” button on the back, flicked the switch, and the correct time was instantly displayed.

The iHome clock radio comes with two AA batteries installed, and the correct time is set at the factory. (Someone must also have set the correct time zone!) The radio supports US time zones – Atlantic, Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific, Alaska and Hawaii. I’m not sure how the unfortunate folk of Newfoundland will feel about the iHome clock radio time zone support, since they are half an hour later than Atlantic, but there is a time adjust button on the back which when held down lets you move the time forward or back (using the + and – button). Not only does this clock radio let you set the time, it even keeps track of the date. It never occurred to me that a clock radio would need to know what day it is, but it turns out this is useful for the alarm feature – more on this later.

The battery backup is useful not only to allow the iHome clock radio to be preset to the correct time, but to ensure you still wake up on time in the event of a power failure. Note that one implication of this feature is that you can no longer just unplug the clock radio to keep it from going off on weekends, as our daughter tried to do with her new clock radio the first Saturday she owned it. She unplugged it, then left on a sleepover, and we were still woken up at 7am thanks to the battery backup in her clock radio!

Clock radios in the last decade or so have had the very useful feature of bidirectional clock control – allowing you to move the clock or alarm time forward or backward. This is one of the other reaons I regret not replacing our old clock radio with the iHome clock radio sooner. If you need to set the alarm a few minutes early one day because of an early work meeting, on an old clock radio you would need to fast forward the alarm time by 23 and a half hours! I could really have used this on our old clock radio because its first symptom of failure was that it started gaining time, so every night we had to fast forward through most of a 24-hour clock cycle to get it back to the correct schedule.

If you like to go to sleep to music, the iHome clock radio offers preset sleep times of 120, 90, 60, 30 or 15 minutes. This is less flexible than earlier clock radios I’ve been familiar with, where you could use the time set buttons to control sleep time to the exact minute. But I have to say that on the few times I use the sleep feature, I tend to set it for around 15 minutes anyway, and I can now do that with a single button click.

Alarm control: There are two alarms on the iHome clock radio, so you can set one time for weekdays and another for weekends (for example). I mentioned earlier that you can actually set the date – day, month, year – and the reason this is handy is that the iHome knows, from the date, what day of the week it is, and you can set each of your alarms to go off on weekdays only, weekends only, or every day. This is a great feature for folks who like to sleep in on weekends. No longer do you need to turn off the regular alarm every Friday night.

The unit has a snooze feature to allow you to grab an extra 10 minutes of sleep after the alarm goes off. I haven’t used this feature yet but it does seem to have less flexibility than what I’m used to, since it seems only to let you snooze 10 minutes at a time. It would be nice to be able to set your snooze time, either to set a default time for what the snooze button does, or to easily snooze for longer than 10 minutes, but I was not able to figure this one out.

One thing I really like about the iHome clock radio alarm (and the radio ON switch too) is that the volume climbs slowly when it turns on, so you have a few seconds to finish up whatever dream you were having, and drift gently into consciousness.

iHome Clock Radio - 8 brightness levels

Display: There are 8 dimmer levels on the iHome clock radio (I’ve shown 6 here). The light level affects not only the display on the front of the unit, but the buttons on top, so the brighter you set the dimmer level, the easier it is to see the buttons and read what’s on each of them. The brightest dimmer level casts a substantial glow on your bedroom – not enough to read by, but enough to gaze into a loved one’s eyes – while the darkest is basically pitch black. You can read the time on the darkest setting only if there is another light source in your room

Overall, a great unit and worth the investment

About two years ago we bought our daughter a replacement clock radio – a cheap $20 unit from Zellers, which is a Canadian big box store comparable to Walmart. The sound quality was terrible but it got her up on time for her daily school commute.

Within a year the display started to go. The clock still worked but some of the lines on the number readout were much fainter than others, until eventually the time was incomprehensible. That cheap clock radio has been shipped off to the dump. It’s sad to see how poor the quality of entry-level electronics has become. Our own old clock radio lasted 23 years before it gave up the ghost; hers barely two. The iHome clock radio appears to be more solidly built, and customer reviews on Amazon and elsewhere suggest that we are in for a better ownership experience than we had with the Zellers unit.

I would heartily recommend this clock radio to anyone looking for high quality sound and a good range of easy to use features. But above all, as an energy efficiency nut, I’m impressed with its power consumption. As I said at the outset, a clock radio that uses 10 or 15 watts steady power draw will cost you $2-300 in electricity costs over an expected 20 year lifetime. The iHome clock radio uses so little power it registers 0 watts of power draw on my Kill A Watt meter, and the only way I can measure its power consumption is by measuring kilowatt hours consumed; over about ten days of measuring it made it up to 0.1 kilowatt hours. That means that in 240 hours it consumed about the same amount of electricity as leaving a 100 watt lightbulb on for one hour. You can’t beat efficiency like that!

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