The iHome iP99 is the first clock radio to carry Apple's "Works with iPhone" logo, though it isn't the first iPhone-compatible clock radio (that was JVC's NXPN7). Unfortunately, although the system works with iPhones as advertised, eliminating buzz and pausing music when calls come, those features don't apply to the AM/FM radio. Still, the roomy LCD, huge numbers, and finger-friendly controls complement a very versatile alarm system that won't let you oversleep.
The matte black iP99 has rounded sides and measures 10.6 x 6.3 x 3.1 inches. The black metal grille on front covers two small speakers, and the blue-tinted LCD displays the time in huge numbers on a dark background, with the date in smaller characters. A compartment on the bottom holds two AA batteries that keep the clock (and alarm) running in the event of a power outage. On the back are an FM antenna, AM antenna port, 3.5mm line input, power jack, and clock adjust button. There's also a time zone-setting button and a Daylight Savings Time switch--both uncommon for a clock radio.
The iPod dock is on top, and the package includes adapters for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPod nano (3G), though it's compatible with iPods going back to the fourth generation (and iPod mini) as well as the iPhone 3G. We love the oversize On/Off and Play/Pause buttons, which are surrounded by mechanical scroll wheels that control volume, tuning, and time. The other buttons, including radio presets, EQ, sleep, alarm 1 and 2, and snooze/dimmer, are backlit--a big plus.
The blister-button remote isn't backlit and has about 30 feet of range. The button layout, except for the basic iPod playback controls, needs better organization for operation in darkness.
The iP99's dual alarm system is very flexible, allowing for weekend, weekday, or all-week alarms. Setting them is easy, and you can wake to the radio (12 presets), buzzer, or iPod playlist (provided you create one called "iHome" on your iPod/iPhone). The snooze button is large and easy to find even when you're at your groggiest.
The iP99's speakers sounded pleasant and full after we enabled the SRS WOW equalizer setting and adjusted bass and treble. With the unit a few feet away, REM's "Hollow Man" (good for waking up) and Billie Holiday's rendition of "Body and Soul" (good for dozing off) were clear and loud enough for a small or medium bedroom.
When calls came in on our iPhone, the music paused and we could hear the ringer, though the iP99 doesn't have a speakerphone feature. Music starts up again automatically when you re-seat the iPhone. If the iP99 is in AM/FM radio mode, however, music doesn't pause when calls come in, and you'll hear a buzzing noise from a docked or nearby iPhone, or even if the phone is just checking e-mail. This happened with both the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G. (The manual says to put the iPhone in Airplane mode to combat this.)
While the iP99 doesn't sound as good or have as many features as the excellent Cambridge SoundWorks i765 ($299), it's $150 cheaper and does its job well. We're disappointed with the unshielded AM/FM radio, but we'll overlook that given the unit's ease of use, clear sound, and sophisticated alarm system.