For many years I didn’t have an alarm clock radio or a watch. My iPhone basically served both functions. That changed when I bought the Apple watch in the fall of 2015. I found myself with a very complicated setup on my nightstand involving two smart devices and a bluetooth speaker. When I saw iHome iPLWBT5, I saw a possible solution: this clock radio had both iPhone and integrated Apple watch docks and could work as a bluetooth speaker. The iHome has not disappointed.
What’s in a Name
iHome is an established company known for making connected alarm clock radios. The one area they probably could use some help is in naming. Nobody is going to remember iPLWBT5. It means nothing to us. People are going to have describe this device to let other people know what it is. I know its a major nitpick, but there’s a reason why most companies give consumer products brand names and leave the model numbers to the support people, they’re easy to remember.
The iPLWBT5 has a lot packed into a small frame. The design is rather boxy and what you’d expect from an alarm clock. Its footprint is similar to a standard alarm clock at 9.4” wide and 4.65” deep. It’s taller though, at 4.1”. Overall its pretty compact and won’t take up much room on your night stand. You won’t be carrying it anywhere since there is no battery (save for clock backup), but it weighs just a hair under a pound. It feels heavier than that though.
In the front is a large LCD screen displaying your time, date, and other pertinent information. There are three banks of buttons: one on top above the LCD screen, one on back, and one on bottom. The top buttons are mostly clock and music controls. The back includes time set and pairing buttons. You won’t really have to deal with the former much since it syncs time with your phone. Lastly, There’s toggles for the the Dimmer Switch and Daylight Savings Time on the bottom. In other words, the controls are grouped in order of things you are most likely to use.
The iPhone dock is up top. Its set up for your au-naturel iPhone or iPod touch, but there is a rubber spacer that can be removed for use with most light cases. To prevent stress on the connecter, there’s a plastic bracing on the back to hold your iPhone’s weight. If you’re using something like a Lifeproof or Otterbox Defender, you’re chances of being able to dock that are slim. The one thing that sets this apart from every other connected alarm clock is the Apple Watch dock. Quite frankly, it hangs off the right hand side of the unit like a sore thumb; more or less because it has to. The magnetic charging and band of the watch doesn’t provide too many design options.
There are 4 different input options available
There is also a rear USB port, but sadly this for charging only. It does not do USB audio. If you have an Android device or an iPad and you want to charge it from the port, you have to run the audio through bluetooth. The switching between inputs is actually rather smart. It’ll automatically change from bluetooth to dock, but only if its the device that was previously connected to bluetooth. This does not work in the reverse though, if you remove your iPhone from the dock, it will not automatically select bluetooth again. You’ll have to do that manually. If you’re connected to a different audio source, it will not switch away from your current device. You can plug in your iPhone to charge without fear of losing your song or movie audio.
The radio, for those who still listen to it, is FM only. The tuner is digital, but it doesn’t seem to have any added information like you would with a Digital signal in your car. You can also set up to six presets for your favorite stations.
Overall management of the radio is done through iHome’s Set Set App. It does not do a lot, but it allows you to install firmware upgrades among other things. iHome also offers an upgraded clock app called Sleep with very tight integration for their integrated alarm clocks.
Sound is provided by what iHome calls Reson8 sound chambers. iHome does not explain exactly what this means nor do they provide the exact size or configuration of the speakers. However, I can make an informed guess based on my music background. The Reson8 Chambers are most likely hollow chambers that amplify sound from smaller speakers. the results might actually be better than using larger speakers. The sound is full with good bass response. The sound is also very consistent there is no real distortion or breakup even at the highest volumes. That leads to the next question: how loud is it? If you’re looking to shake the windows of your bedroom, this isn’t the radio for you. That said, its serviceably loud for bedroom listening.
The most important feature of the iPLWBT5 is convenience. There are better tabletop speakers out there, there are less complicated clock radios, and as I’ll tell you about in a bit, there are much, much cheaper options out there. However, there isn’t a single package of a tabletop radio that will charge your iPhone, charge your Apple Watch, and give you great sound and plenty of input options. This iHome definitely subscribes to the Jack of all Trades, Master of None paradigm.
What’s Not So Great
There’s not a whole lot i don’t like, but I have some grievances to air. First off, there is no included or available remote. When you’ve docked your iPhone for charging and are jamming to some music, the last time you want to do is go to the other side of the room to physically change the volume or track. They made a radio that sounds good enough to be more than just a clock radio, but designed it for people who ever leave their bed. The LCD display is also woefully underused. It’s limited to time, date, and input information. While both bluetooth and the dock connector will transmit track information, you won’t see it on the radio. Hopefully iHome will do something about this in a future firmware update.
The dual alarm clock controls are a little confusing, but let’s be honest, they’re slightly superfluous as most who buy this are going to use the on-phone alarms rather than on-clock. Yes, you could use the two alarms for a spouse or partner who needs to get up a different time, then again, both the Apple clock app and iHome’s own iHome+Sleep app allow for the creation for multiple alarms.
The biggest problem with this radio may be the exclusion of the manual in box. Yes, we are well into the 21st century and PDFs have largely replaced paper manuals, but make no mistake you will need that manual to fully under understand how to use this product.
Pricing & Availability
The iPLWBT5 is not cheap. Not in the least. Street price on this is going to be a few pennies shy of $130. Make no mistake, a good portion of that cost is from the MFI certified Apple Watch charging pad. If you do not have an Apple Watch or plan to buy one, there is no point in paying this kind of money for a clock radio. If you don’t have one with an iPhone dock and also need an Apple, $130 isn’t out of the question.
As for availability: the iPLWBT5 is sold at most major online an big box retailers including Amazon
The iHome iPLWBT5 offers convenience and good, though not terribly loud, sound in a small package. Its also an expensive package. If you’re looking for a combination iPhone dock, Apple Watch dock, FM clock radio, and bluetooth speaker, this is a good bedroom option.