Monday, 11 December 2017
Reviews

Tech review: With retooled clock radio, iHome makes a spot for your Dot


The Echo Dot is the smallest member of the Echo family and it has the smallest speaker, but that’s by design. The Dot is also the only Echo with an aux-out jack, allowing you to connect your own speakers for better sound quality when you ask voice-activated assistant Alexa to play music.

I have a multiroom Sonos music system in my house, so my Dots are not connected to any external speakers – I primarily use Alexa for voice control of my home automation system.

I’ve seen some accessories for the Dot that have a small battery so you can take the unit out on a back porch or perhaps to the backyard pool. The Dot has to have power (provided via USB) and it needs Wi-Fi.

The company iHome Audio has introduced a new product designed to augment the Dot with stereo speakers and a digital clock.

The iHome iAVS1 Bedside Stereo Speaker System for Amazon Echo Dot ($70, www.ihome.com) is the first product from iHome Audio made just for the Dot.

How it looks

The iAVS1 is a smart-looking unit that’s 6.7-inches square and 2.3 inches tall. It has a circular spot for your Dot on the center of the top.

As the really long name says, it’s designed to be a bedside accessory, so it looks a lot like iHome’s other clock-radio offerings.

The iAVS1 has top-facing stereo speakers inside a Reson8 speaker chamber for enhanced bass.

Setup

When you unbox the iAVS1, you’ll notice almost every surface is covered with that clingy protective plastic film. You’ll have to spend a few minutes getting it all removed.

The iAVS1 is a pretty simple device. There are four buttons.

The only visible button looks like it ought to be the snooze button, but it is used to set the brightness of the digital clock. There are 8 brightness levels, from very bright to off. I was pleased with the brightness choices.

There are three buttons on the bottom to set the clock. Unlike my other iHome clock radio that has an iPhone lightning charger on top, the iAVS1 does not get its time setting from the Dot; you’ll have to set the time manually, but it’s easy enough.

The Dot settles into its spot, where you’ll connect a built-in aux-in connector and an included and very short USB cable for power.

The iAVS1 gets its power from an AC cord. There are two AAA batteries (included) under a door on the bottom to keep the time if the power goes out.

Once set up, there is no on-off button – the Dot simply uses the iAVS1’s speakers for its output.

Alexa’s answers to your questions will now boom with a bit more bass.

There are also no volume buttons, but the Dot has volume controls on top, so that’s a moot point.

Likewise, there are no alarm controls (or snooze button) on the iAVS1, because you can control all those functions with your voice through Alexa.

Lastly, there is a handy one-amp USB port on the back of the iAVS1 to charge your phone or tablet.

In use

The iAVS1is pretty foolproof once you set it up.

Ask Alexa to play some music from one of your music services such as Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, or SiriusXM, and the music will start and it will definitely sound better than with the Dot’s tiny speaker. However, I’d call the sound “clock radio quality.”

There isn’t a ton of separation from very small stereo speakers that are 6 inches apart, but for bedside listening, it’s above average. The speakers make Alexa sound a bit husky, but not in a bad way. It’s kind of like Alexa is trying out her disk jockey voice.

Some reviewers noted problems with the Dot’s microphones being able to pick up the Alexa wake word or the voice commands when playing back music because of the proximity of the speaker to the microphones.

I didn’t find this to be the case at all.

I started some music playing, and then asked Alexa to turn it way up to a point louder than I would normally want music in my bedroom. I then said the word “Alexa” in a normal voice from 7 feet away, and the Dot heard me every time. It paused the music and waited for the command and then resumed the music after our interaction was complete.

Conclusions

The iAVS1 is a nice little speaker dock for the Dot.

My parents have a Dot, and they use its tiny speaker to listen to music in their living room. For them, the iAVS1 would be a welcome enhancement.

Likewise, if you have a Dot on your bedside table and use it as an alarm, it’s a worthy addition.

But to be honest, there are better sounding portable speakers to be had for $70. Heck, iHome makes some better sounding portable speakers, but they don’t have a digital clock or a spot for your Dot.

Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at jrossman@dallasnews.com.



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