Thanks to Airplay, Apple’s wireless streaming tech, you can now play the contents of  your iOS device on your TV or speakers without having to dock it.  However, a drawback to many Airplay compatible devices is that their location is fixed, which all but reflects the convenience of the tech.  Case in point, if you connect a set of speakers to an Airport Express, those speakers have to remain in a fixed location for them to work; they need to be plugged into a power source.  However, this isn’t the case for the iHome iW1.

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The iHome iW1 is rather unassuming device.  It’s an all black box, that boasts a mesh speaker grill and a set of touchscreen buttons on the top.  Changing the speakers volume is as simple as dragging your finger from left to right, where upon a set of LEDs will light up reflecting the selected amplitude – they also double as a battery status indicator by hitting the associated button on the rear of the device.   Surrounding the volume indicator is a set of media controls for pausing/playing and skipping trackings along with a source button for those of you that decide to plug into the device using the USB port.

To setup the iHome iW1′s Airplay you’ll first need to download their iHome iConnect app to our iOS device.  Next, it’s as simple as plugging in your iOS device into the USB port and following the on screen instructions.  There you’ll be asked to select your home’s WiFi network and punch in your router’s passcode.   While I was able to achieve a connection with my wireless network, it did take a few attempts as the application wouldn’t recognize that it was plugged into the iW1′s USB port.  Fortunately, once I added the iW1 to my home’s network I never had to do it again.  However, I should mention that the first iW1 I received from iHome wouldn’t stay connected to the network, constantly needed to be readded to my home’s network and would intermittently drop the Airplay single. After speaking to some iHome folks at CES, they said this was an Airplay firmware problem, though receiving a second loaner unit seemed to have resolved the majority of these issues, though I still experienced the occasional audio drop out during playback.

Once the iHome iW1 is connected to the network, anyone that has the privelege of leaching off your WiFi will be able to stream tunes from a compatible application.  Now, keep in mind that with Airplay you can stream tunes to the iW1, even when out of earshot since it’s transfered over your home’s WiFi network.  That said, what makes the iW1 so attractive is that you can take it any where you go in your home thanks to its built-in battery.  To charge it you just place it down on the included battery dock, which during my testing I left in my living room where I spend most of my time listening to music and NPR.

From a battery pespective, iHome says that a complete charge takes up to 10 hours, while playback time will vary depending on amplitude, though they spec the speaker at 3.5 hours at full volume and double that at 50% amplitude.  Unfortunately, my battery experience was less than stellar.  Leaving the iHome iW1 turned on, and undocked from the battery charger caused the battery to drain to empty in under 10 hours after less than 1 hour of use.  It would seem that the iW1 doesn’t enter into a standby mode on its own, but I’d expect as much after nonuse for a set amount of time.  So expect to get about 3 hours of use, at most, from the iW1′s battery.

Price aside ($299) the iW1 performs realtively well from a sonic perspective given its size and portability.  That said, the range of the speaker, as in the lows to highs, is rather lack luster and doesn’t boast the same gusto I’ve tested from similarly price docks of a similar feature set (Bluetooth, not Airplay).  Mids are a bit muddled and bass response is on the short end.  The iW1 is capable of achieving a loudness that can fill a small room, but fidelity is lost at higher volumes, which forced me to listen to it at no greater than 85% of max volume.  So suffice to say, this isn’t iHome’s best sounding dock, but again keep in mind the feature set, size and convenience.

Needless to say, the iHome iW1 stands apart from most speakers on the market.  The Airplay feature alone adds siginificant cache to the unassuming speaker, but that unfortunately doesn’t negate what I’d ultimately deem lack luster sound quality compared to other speakers of a similar price.  That said, there aren’t any other speakers on the market that offer this level of convenience, which is the ability to wirelessly stream audio from any iOS device as well as carry the speaker from room to room without the need to plug it in.  If iHome addresses the battery life concerns and improves the audio quality, they’ll have a homerun on their hands and in turn set the bar for Airplay speakers.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Good

Bottom Line:

iHome’s iW1 offers an unprecedented level of convenience thanks to the built-in battery and Airplay. Unfortunately, dismal battery life and lack luster sound don’t make it a top pick.

Pros:

  • Airplay for wireless playback
  • Built-in battery means you can take it any where you roam (in your home)
  • USB input for non-Airplay device playback
Cons:
  • Battery life is questionable
  • Sound quality is just ok – not up to par in this price range
  • Airplay signal intermittently drops out



Christen Costa

 
Grew up back East, got sick of the cold and headed West. Since I was small I have been pushing buttons - both electronic and human. With an insatiable need for tech I thought "why not start a blog focusing on technology, and use my dislikes and likes to post on gadgets."