When you were a kid, nothing got you out of bed quicker than when your parents came in to your bedroom and turned on the lights. Stem's Time Command alarm clock dock aims to accomplish the same task, albeit more gently. When it's time to get up, this $99 dock can gradually turn on a lamp, easing you out of your slumber. The Time Command has pretty good audio and an iOS app, to boot. But is this the best dock for less than $100?
With a 7.6-inch diameter and standing 3.3 inches tall, the 1.6-pound Time Command's rounded design--which makes it resemble a Roomba-- helps it stand out from the crowded alarm clock dock market, which generally have more of a rectangular shape. Size-wise, it fits between the Philips DC390 (3.1 pounds, 10.4 x 9.6 x 6.3 inches) and the iLuv Vibro II (1 pound, 9 x 3 x 3 inches). In the center of its matte black top is the Time Command's dock connector, the base of which moves back and forth to accommodate bulkier iPad and iPhone cases.
Positioned in front of the dock are the Time Command's glossy black interface buttons. The dock's digital display complete with red backlighting is positioned on the Time Command's face between its wraparound speakers. Although the display's lighting was bright, we wish Stem had chosen to use a more soothing color, such as white or blue, rather than its intense red.
Setup and interface
After downloading and installing Stem's free Time Command app, it will ask if you want it to track your current location to provide you with weather updates. Tap yes to allow tracking and you're set. That's the extent of the setup process.
A bar at the bottom of the screen allows you to choose between Clocks, Brightness, Sonic IQ equalizer, Settings and Information. The Clocks tab serves as the app's home screen and provides you with your choice of a large digital or analog clock (we were partial to the analog version), as well as your alarm settings. Above that are the app's weather and music player panels.
Tap the calendar while on the weather panel to check the five-day forecast. If you want a more detailed forecast, you can tap the Weatherbug icon in the top left corner of the screen to open Weatherbug.com. To get to the app's music player, simply swipe from right to left while on the weather panel. The player was fairly useful and allowed us to choose between listening to our personal music collection stored on our iPhone or Internet radio stations.
In general, we appreciated the level of functionality the Time Command app offered. However, when we would navigate through the different settings, it would hang for a few seconds. At times, we had to lock and unlock our iPhone phone for it to become responsive again.
Time Command's best feature is its secondary outlet on the side of its power adapter. This accessory lets you connect a lamp and turn it on and off using the dock. The Time Command app gives you even more control, allowing you to dim or brighten the lamp's output (provided you're using an incandescent light bulb). You can also set your light to automatically switch on to full brightness when your alarm goes off. If the thought of being blinded first thing in the morning is a bit much, you can set your lamp to gradually increase its brightness level. It's a really great addition to the alarm clock formula.
Like most alarm docks, the Time Command syncs its time with your iPad/ iPhone/ iPod when connected. The one thing that's missing from the Time Command is the most basic feature of all, an AM/ FM radio. Granted, when you connect your iPhone or iPad, you can access all manner of music services via the web, but without those devices, the Time Command is basically a brick.
We tested the Time Command's performance by listening to 36 Crazyfists' "Aurora" and Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild." The guitar riffs on Aurora sounded crisp and the vocals were clear, but the bass sounded a bit too flat for our liking. Even when we changed the app's Sonic IQ equalizer to the rock setting and enabled its bass enhancer, the bass still didn't have that deep hit we were looking for.
Sonic IQ's's Sound Field Expansion setting allows you to spread the sound from the Time Command's speakers across a large area or make audio sound more concentrated. We found the latter setting offered richer treble and bass with more oomph.
While the Time Command was pleasant to listen to, overall, we found that the Vibro II produced a more authentic-sounding musical experience. Instruments sounded clearer and lyrics were easier to understand when they came from the Vibro II's speakers.
Stem's Time Command is a quality alarm dock that offers some useful features. We were equally impressed with the unit's bedside lamp integration, as well as its Sonic IQ equalizer. And while you won't get the kind of bass other more expensive systems offer, the $99.99 Time Command is one of the best sub-$100 docks we tested. For $79.99 the iLuv Vibro II provides a superior app experience and slightly better sound quality. But for especially deep sleepers, having the lights turn on may be the best way to wake up.