Best iPhone alarm clock dock under £100
29th May 2011 | 11:00
5 iPhone alarm clock docks reviewed and rated
Best iPhone alarm clock dock: 5 reviewed
With so much technology available, it could take over your whole house if you're not careful. Just look at your bedside table - you've probably got an alarm clock there, your iPhone charger wire will be lying around somewhere (if it hasn't fallen down the back) and you may even have a radio.
Now wouldn't it be good to do away with all that clutter and replace it with a single sleek bit of kit that does all those jobs? That's where the dock comes in, and we've put five of the best iPhone alarm clock docks through their paces so you can choose your perfect bedside companion.
We tested each one for real-world usability, looking at things like how easy it is to find the snooze button when you flail your sleepy arm in its vague direction in the morning.
They don't all have identical sets of features, so you won't get a DAB or FM radio in all of them, and others have neat features such as multiple alarms or twin docking ports, so you and your partner can both charge your phones as you sleep and then wake up at different times if needed.
But remember that even if the dock you go for doesn't have a radio, there are plenty of apps to give you these abilities on the App Store, so don't let this be a deal-breaker if you think the dock suits you otherwise.
Some models also have remote controls, so if you're really lazy you can flip through your music collection without even needing to reach your arm across. And while they're all models that plug into the mains, you need never be worried about missing your alarm if there's a power cut because you can put backup batteries in every single one of them. This means the beeper will still go off, even if there's been a blackout. Sleep tight!
How we selected...
Having a digital clock by your bed was a must here, as was an alarm to wake you in the morning. But aside from those key features, we went for a range of models, prices and sizes so there would be something to suit everyone's needs, budgets and space constraints.
iHome iP88 - £75
Logitech Pure-Fi Express Plus - £65
Memorex Mini Alarm Clock Radio - £45
Sony XDR-DS12iP - £80
XtremeMac Luna SST - £82
Test one: Real life use
Being woken up is possibly the least pleasurable part of the day, so you don't want an alarm clock that's going to make your mood worse by being tricky to use.
To make sure you get up smiling, we put our docks through rigorous early morning tests. (We are that dedicated.) When you're half asleep, fumbling around looking for a teeny-weeny button to shut the alarm up will only make you cross - you want something big and prominent.
All five obliged; our only complaint being with the Logitech's front-mounted dial - hitting it edges the dock backwards until one day you knock it over the edge.
Another essential feature we wanted was a screen dimmer so we could keep the room dark at night. The Logitech is the only one without a specific dimmer control, though its display darkens when you switch it off.
All five have volume controls for the iPod, but we were keen to see buttons on the dock to play, pause and skip tracks - having to unlock your iPhone to jump to the next song is too fiddly.
As for using the rest of the buttons and wheels, let's look at each dock in turn, starting with the iHome. Its twin dials are nice in theory, but the way they're set up - a play/pause button for the respective iPods at the centre of each, but only the left dial controlling the volume - is pretty counter-intuitive. The tops of the dials aren't grippy enough either, meaning they slip under your finger, especially if you've got dry skin. It's also missing controls to skip to the next or previous song.
The designers of the Sony dock have crammed a whopping 27 buttons onto its two top surfaces, and frankly, that's way too many. While some are easy to find, such as the full iPod controls, others aren't. Less is more, especially early in the morning!
Logitech has heeded those words, with just five buttons and a dial to set the alarm or alter the volume. Alright, there are no music controls beyond shuffle and repeat, and it doesn't need lots of buttons because its features are limited, but we still applaud this kind of simplicity.
XtremeMac has also done a good job at keeping it simple. The bare minimum of buttons is tempered only by the fact that there's little in the way of divide between them - perhaps a bit too much style over substance - but it's easy enough to use, despite the lack of controls to skip through your songs.
XtremeMac also makes two free apps you can install on your iPhone or iPod touch to control the Luna SST from your iOS device when it's docked. We liked the friendly iOS interface, but you don't get much in the way of added features.
And then there's the little Memorex, the only one that realises your iPhone or iPod needs to lie down just as much as you do. A little rest supports whatever device you dock. There are full iPod controls, including a superb volume dial, which you also use to alter various settings. For a bedside dock, it's pretty darn close to perfect.
iHome iP88 - 2/5
Logitech Pure-Fi Express Plus - 3/5
Memorex Mini Alarm Clock Radio - 4/5
Sony XDR-DS12iP - 3/5
XtremeMac Luna SST - 4/5
Features and audio quality
Test two: Features
Not all alarm clocks are equal, and we've got a really mixed bag here as far as special features go.
First and foremost, the wake-up function: how many alarms can you set and how does the dock raise you from your slumber?
Well, all but the Logitech can do so using the songs on your iPod or iPhone or their built-in radio (the Sony even has a DAB one). The Sony and XtremeMac docks have two alarms, while the iHome lets you set three. This is useful if you and your partner/sibling/whoever else you share a room with have to get up at different times, but remember you can still set more alarms on your iPhone.
Another neat feature of the iHome and Sony is that you can set your alarm to be for all days, weekdays or weekends, so you'll never again be woken up at 7am on Saturday because you forgot to turn the alarm off when you stumbled into bed the night before.
All bar the Memorex have mini remote controls, and while this is novel, you're never really going to be so far away from a bedside dock that you can't reach it easily.
One thing that drew our eye to the iHome was its twin docking ports, so that you can charge two iOS devices at the same time and be woken by the tunes from either.
Also of note here is the XtremeMac's left speaker, which can detach from the unit and be placed elsewhere in your room (perhaps on the other side of the bed). Again, a nice idea, although it does mean the snooze button may no longer be within your reach. You have been warned.
As we mentioned previously, all of the clocks here will take backup batteries so you needn't worry about power cuts. The Logitech will even run off its batteries, though you do need six of them.
iHome iP88 - 4/5
Logitech Pure-Fi Express Plus - 2/5
Memorex Mini Alarm Clock Radio - 3/5
Sony XDR-DS12iP - 4/5
XtremeMac Luna SST - 3/5
Test three: Audio quality
Getting amazing sound isn't the most important consideration when it comes to a bedside speaker dock, but equally you don't want your tunes to sound awful. And they needn't, because there's good stuff here.
Strike off the iHome iP88, which sounds flat and a bit tinny - not for the audio aficionados. We weren't expecting much from the Memorex given its small size, but were pleasantly surprised by the detail in the sound. Its sideways-facing speakers also give good stereo separation.
It's the same for the XtremeMac, although its sound wasn't the best we've ever heard. The Sony and Logitech are a cut above, the latter being our favourite. The sound is full-bodied and the bass deep and well-defined - we'd listen to it all day.
iHome iP88 - 2/5
Logitech Pure-Fi Express Plus - 5/5
Memorex Mini Alarm Clock Radio - 4/5
Sony XDR-DS12iP - 4/5
XtremeMac Luna SST - 3/5
And the best iPhone alarm clock dock is...
Memorex Mini Alarm Clock Radio £45
This cute and unassuming little unit does the job near enough perfectly
Had this been about sound alone, the Logitech would have won, with the Sony not far behind. But these docks aren't meant to rock your party or be the soundtrack to your cooking - they're to wake you up with a smile every morning.
Not that we ignored sound quality altogether, but we focused on usability. That's why we discounted the Sony - great and feature-packed though it is - as being too complex for a bedside dock.
The Logitech hit the other extreme of not quite packing in enough features, especially the lack of iPod controls or using your music as the alarm.
We liked the iHome because of the twin docks and triple alarms, but it wasn't as easy to use as the Memorex, the sound quality was inferior and the whole thing just felt a bit cheap despite its relatively high price.
The XtremeMac Luna SST is well-made and as far as features go, it's pretty good; the only thing that really lets it down is audio quality.
The Memorex does pump out much better sound than the XtremeMac, but there are other reasons we love it, too. Its controls strike the perfect balance between too little and too much, and the volume dial is excellent. If only the rear-mounted dimmer switch was slightly more accessible and the music controls had raised dots on them, this would be inching towards a five-star rating.
A second alarm would be nice too, but as we said, it's not a deal-breaker since you can set more on your iOS device. We also love the Memorex's diminutive footprint. Bedside tables are often pretty small, and this is by far the least space-hungry of the five (although if you detach the XtremeMac's second speaker, the remaining unit is only marginally bigger).
And just in case you hadn't noticed, it's also the cheapest by a long way.
First published in Tap! Issue 302
Liked this? Then check out Tap! magazine for more apps, games and kit reviews for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
Sign up for TechRadar's free Week in Tech newsletter
Get the oddest tech stories of the week, plus the most popular news and reviews delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register