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Thread: Review: iHome iC3 Android Dock (Universal dock, Nexus 7 specific review)

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    Junior Member YAYTech's Avatar
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    Review: iHome iC3 Android Dock (Universal dock, Nexus 7 specific review)

    I picked this up today for my Nexus 7 tablet, and decided to take the time to do a review. Be sure to check the image gallery, as I didnít take the time to resize & upload the pictures individually (at least not yet).

    Product: iHome iC3 Universal Android Audio and Charging Dock

    Product page: iHome: Support: iC3

    Summary
    Pros:
    - Reasonable price ($35-40)
    - Attractive design
    - Solid build
    - Works pretty well for a "universal" dock
    - Cords are reasonably well hidden (in portrait)
    - Decent sound
    - iHome Sleep app looks to add a lot of function, particularly for use as an alarm clock

    Cons:
    - Some may balk at the price considering the cons
    - Cords could be better hidden
    - On the Nexus 7, landscape fitment results in very visible cables
    - Tablet doesnít fall right into place, you have to think about alignment
    - Plugging in audio requires two hands (a simple modification may remedy this)
    - Adjusting volume requires two hands (or adjusting via on-screen controls?)

    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Overall look & feel
    My overall impression of the stand is of decent quality for the price. Itís all plastic, but the silver metallic paint looks pretty good. The logo on the front is mirror-finish shiny & doesnít seem like it will peel or anything (Iím not sure if it would come off cleanly, for those who might prefer a logo-less stand.) The black area devices will rest against feels like slightly soft plastic - not real high end, but not cheap hard slick plastic either. Overall, it feels like it wonít fall apart or look tattered easily, but it doesnít have an ďoooohĒ factor either. The design is attractive, looking like a pyramid on its side, with a point at the rear. The bottom has 3 rubber feet to keep it from sliding around or scratching the surface itís on. They are just small round adhesive-attached pads, though - if somethingís going to fall off this thing, I think the rubber feet would be it.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    USB connection / Charging / Power

    Connector & docking The charging connector is a separate cord that plugs into a USB port on the left side of the base of the stand, winds around in the base to hide extra length, and then plugs into the bottom of the device. The device end of the cord has a large round grommet built into it, which slides into their "smart slide". This lets you set the device end of the cord to a custom position along the base of the stand to line up with different devices. It's reasonably stable, and I'm able to plug the Nexus 7 into it without having to hold onto the stand or cord, though you do have to look to line it up since the dock isnít shaped to fit the Nexus 7. Device-specific docks have a big advantage in this area. Still, I am hopeful that with time and practice I won't have to pay much attention to line it up and plug it in. The position of the audio port on the Nexus 7 does work a little against this, though - more on that later.

    Charging compatibility The bottom of the dock has an A/B switch to accommodate different Android devices. The instructions guide you to plug your device in and see if it is charging. If it's not, move the switch to the other position. At first, following these instructions, my Nexus 7 did not charge in either position. I found you have to remove the device, move the switch, then re-dock. It doesn't recognize the change while still on the dock. I assume it is an amperage change, though I am still looking into what amperage it is charging at. It is now charging fine with the switch in the B position.

    Power adapter The power adapter plugs into the bottom rear of the dock. The transformer is built into the plug (as opposed to being in-line or built into the dock), so the plug is a little bulky. It is a 2-prong (non-grounded) plug, and the plug extends sideways from the plug, so if you're plugging into a typical wall socket, it won't cover the second outlet. Good design here. The overall cord is a hair over 5ft long.

    Battery power option The front of the dock (the surface devices lean against) slides up and off, exposing a place for four AA batteries to power the dock without the AC adapter. I havenít done any testing to see if this makes any difference in volume, nor to know what battery life is like. The instruction manual does indicate that it does NOT charge devices from batteries, but only powers the speakers.

    I could see the battery power being nice occasionally, but donít really expect to see much use out of it. Maybe for alarm clock purposes when travelling, but I would really want to be charging my device at night, and the stand is a bit large for travel use in my opinion.

    Note that the dock has a power button for the speakers, but your device will continue to charge with the power button turned off.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Audio
    Sound comes through 2 speakers (the top grill does not seem to have sound coming from it, judging by putting my hands over each panel). The sound is powered on by a power button on the right side of the dock. Sound comes into the dock through a standard 3.5mm jack (more on this below).

    Sound quality
    I would call the sound quality ďdecentĒ. Itís probably on par with a typical pair of $30-40 computer speakers. Iíve listened to a couple albums on it through the Nexus 7 while typing this, and found it enjoyable. I did a sound comparison with speakers built into a computer monitor I have, and with the speakers in my Sager NP9150 laptop (which has a small subwoofer built into the bottom & is generally considered to have above average sound for a laptop... but itís still fairly awful), and the sound is much better than either one (I canít stand listening to much music on either the monitor speakers or laptop, Iím a bit finicky when it comes to audio, though not a full-blown audiophile.) The sound is of course nowhere near as good as my $150 M-Audio Studiophile AV40 speakers on my main desktop computer.

    Note: While playing with this dock and playing music via Google Play, I found the equalizer settings, and they can be pretty effective, so if youíre picking about your sound quality, go the extra step to play with the equalizer. I havenít looked into other music apps and how they may also affect sound quality.

    Volume Adjustment
    The dock itself does not have volume adjustment - volume is changed through the device. The Nexus 7ís volume rocker is a little tough to use in the dock. The volume down button is just above the top of the dockís back, which means your finger rubs the top of the dock when youíre touching the volume down rocker. Also, because the dock isnít shaped to fully cradle the Nexus 7, if you just use one finger to push on the volume rocker, the whole tablet leans to the side. So to push the volume rocker properly, you have to brace the tablet with your left hand, and push the buttons with your right hand.

    It would probably be very easy to add some kind of pad to the base of the dock to support the side(s) of the tablet and potentially allow one-fingered volume adjustment (assuming the pressure to push the buttons isnít enough to tip the tablet & stand over).

    Iím not sure if there is an easy way to do volume adjustments on the touch screen, I havenít found one yet. Maybe thereís an app for that...

    Note that you can effectively use the power button as a mute button. The tablet doesnít realize that its output isnít going anywhere, so the music keeps playing when you turn the speakers off.

    Connecting Audio
    The dock comes with a 12Ē 3.5mm patch cable to run audio from the docked device into the dock at the base of right side. There is a groove leading into the area for winding up extra cable length, so very little is visible at the side of the dock. Unfortunately, they didnít do the ďsmart sliderĒ thing with the audio cable - itís just a normal patch cable. This means if you want to connect your device to the speakers, youíll have to actually grab the audio cable, plug it into the device, then set the device down onto the USB cable for charging.

    My understanding is that Android supports, or soon will support audio via USB. Whether or not thatís the case, this dock does not utilize that feature. Thereís no wireless or bluetooth connection either. You have to plug in the patch cable. If you expect to pick up & set down your device a lot, this is quite possibly a deal killer.

    The patch cable looks like its is long enough to plug into pretty much any device attached, except perhaps a 10Ē tablet set down in landscape orientation with the audio plug to the left. It reached decently far beyond the top of the Nexus 7, though having to plug into the top of a device would give a more cluttered look with the visible cable.

    Fitment
    Another downside of the patch cable is how it affects fitment in the dock for the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7ís 3.5mm port is at the bottom right of the device, which works great for keeping a clean look - the cable runs right up through the ďsmart sliderĒ opening. Unfortunately, the ends of the slider opening donít quite go far enough to the right, and with the patch cable plugged into the Nexus 7, you canít quite center it on the stand. The left side of the Nexus 7 is lined up with the left side of the dockís back, and 8mm (5/16ths of an inch) of the back is visible on the right. It has no effect on the function of the dock, but it may cause those with moderate to major OCD to form an eye twitch.

    Looking at the dock, it may be a drill bit away from both being able to center the Nexus 7, and perhaps even getting the patch cable to be held in place and remedy the issue of having to use 2 hands to connect the audio.

    Using the Nexus 7ís built-in speaker
    It occurred to me that sometimes folks may not care about using the dockís speakers. If thatís the case, thereís good news - the Nexus 7ís built in speaker isnít blocked by the stand, and without plugging in the patch cable, you can center the Nexus 7 properly too. The micro USB connector is just far enough out from the backrest that the bottom of the rear of the tablet (where the built in speaker is) is held out away and not covered. That said, the dockís speakers are MUCH better than the built-in speaker, so if you are going to do anything where youíll care about sound quality at all, the extra few seconds to plug in the audio patch cable will be worth it.

    Portability
    As mentioned above, the dock has a spot for four AA batteries to power the speakers without a wall outlet, but it will not charge your device from the batteries.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Landscape charging & audio
    If you want to place your Nexus 7 in the dock in landscape with the charging and audio cables attached, youíll have to route one or the other cable to the opposite side (depending on which way you place your Nexus 7), and there will be quite a bit of cable exposed. Itís a little ugly, but perfectly functional. If you normally have the charging cable set in the ďsmartslideĒ, it will take a little bit to undo the cable & re-route it. If you just want to move the audio cable and run off your Nexus 7ís battery, itís pretty quick to pull it out from the bottom of the dock & unwrap it, but youíll still have to turn the stand over to get at the bottom.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    iHome Sleep App
    I still need to explore this app, which is free from the Google Play store, but it looks very promising, particularly for using your Nexus 7 as an alarm clock. Iíll try to do a writeup on this later as I have a chance.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Final thoughts:
    "Universal" docks & stands for Android are often so generic that they border on useless, since there's not a standardized layout for the connections, but they've done a decent job with this unit. I think I will get use out of the stand, and I mostly like it. I currently expect to use it as a charging dock at home at night. If the iHome Sleep app proves to be as good as I hope, it may live on my nightstand. It won't completely replace my alarm clock, however, as I want to be able to roll over at night & see what time it is without pushing any buttons, and the LCD screen on the Nexus 7, even when turned waaaay down (using a filter app that goes beyond the stock dimmer) still puts out too much light to remain on all night. If not, it may live in my bathroom and be mainly used for charging, and sometimes hook up the audio for some tunes while Iím in the shower or adjacent bedroom.

    When I bought the stand, I wasnít sure if I would use it at home or my office. The extra hassle of connecting the audio is disappointing, but Iím not sure I would really use the audio at the office anyway, so the hassle wouldnít be that big of a deal. On the other hand, if I can find a cheaper stand that just does charging, it may make more sense for the office.

    Photos to come shortly...
    Attached Images Attached Images      
    drsky125 likes this.

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    Junior Member YAYTech's Avatar
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    More photos, 5 more to come...
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    Junior Member YAYTech's Avatar
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    Last 5 photos.
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    Senior Member YankInDaSouth's Avatar
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    DUDE!! Great review!! Thorough as all get out! Well done!
    ~~ You can't be on the on the bleeding edge without a little blood~~

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