By Nate Adcock on Sun, 07/10/2011
Dock choices for your iPhone or iPad, are seemingly as numerous as apps. We have reviewed a ton of them here on the blogs or in the mag, and it's easy to get overwhelmed picking one. The Stem TimeCommand dock is "simple-smart" gear (coined that term just for this review) to charge your iOS device in the wee hours, and wake your butt in the AM (the simple part). It does the essentials as well as pump out crisp audio. It also has some very cool features (the smart part)...
In the box, you get the dock, a somewhat bulky power cable, product pamphlet, and resting pads (for iPad 2). The dock is made of solid construction, appealingly shaped like a thick, oversized hockey puck. The front of the unit has a soothing amber digital display that tells you just the time (no frilly date or world-time features to fumble through or configure). Once you dock, it grabs time input from your device simple as pie.
The power connector in the back is a monster 4-prong input that can even juice up your iPad, but make sure to turn the white line mark on the plug to the top when connecting to the unit. The overlarge plug end in also has a standard two-prong receptacle for plugging in a lamp. Yes, you can turn on/off your bedside lamp with this dock (wake to lamp too). It even has a dimmer feature (requires incandescent bulb).
The left-right speakers are built into either side of the dock, and produce good response when playing from your internally loaded music library. I tested with my iPod touch 2G/4G, and my iPad 1G, and was well-pleased with the playback functions and quality, though controls are tight on iPod screen. The dock is lacking a remote, which I do miss sorely however.
The top of the unit has a tree-shaped button input panel for snooze, alarm setup, volume level, clock and display functions. The dock connector pivots so you don't risk bending any prongs during connection of your device. If you download the stem:connect app, the coolness factor is multiplied.
Want to fall asleep to music, or relaxing sounds (sounds are included)? You can do that. Want to configure multiple alarms--either on iOS, or the clock--and have them applied/saved? You can do that. Listen to internet radio natively in the app? You can do that. Want to just use it like a normal alarm clock without any iOS device? Yep, also battery-backed up protection. This dock/app combination has a lot to offer.
The Internet radio is an amalgam of basic local FM station streams (selectable by category). The stream quality seemed to be pretty low, and volume was limited. I ended up using my own stream player app instead, though can still use Connect features with that running in the background. Also, the Weather Bug-based weather function created some issues that were jamming up the app and at least once, I had to disable location services to get around the problem.
The main display is a minimalist panel with weather info and alarm info shown above and below the time. Until I performed a reset, several more features didn't work reliably (always reset after installing new software). 2 items I would like to see added: allow custom streams to be added, and allow a sleep mode for playing streams. On the iPod's small screen, the player controls were tough to select and not always responsive. Weather bug must have gotten something mixed up about my location, because there was a T-storm outside, and it kept reporting fair weather..?
I ran an audio shootout with 2 of my fav iOS clock/docks. The TimeCommand versus my old-school Sony Dream Machine and the Speakal Cool iPig. All 3 have respectable audio sound for a low-wattage, small speaker system, though the Dream Machine is a bit outdated. The iPig takes the prize on pure loudness with low distortion--but the TimeCommand (combined with the Connect app) allows you to adjust 5-bands of EQ and increase the speaker separation (or your perception of it). The top volume was lower, but a little better perceived quality was possible by tweaking the settings (better separation of bands), and no distortion was evident even at highest output. The Dream Machine competed well with both docks, but the older tech didn't quite measure up to either in overall quality, sounding flatter by comparison. In the end, I think I was more attracted to the stem product.
The TimeCommand is a good dock clock, and one that adds a veritable kitchen sink of capability when paired with the app. A couple of rough spots should be cleared up however (i.e. add a remote, better stream options, and fix the Weather issues). Unless you have to have the remote, I would definitely give this product a serious look, though I admit to being a bit disappointed that the weather services caused significant app problems (though it can be turned off). A list of features follow, and go here to learn more about the TimeCommand and here for the free app. Available only though Apple retail stores (RP $99.95)...
- App-enhanced, customizable dual alarm clock
- Nap/Snooze/Sleep controls
- Bedside lamp control with dimming*
- Precisely tuned Sonic iQ acoustic system
- Unique curved LED display offers expansive viewing angles
- Display is fully dimmable and brightens to the touch of a button
- Pivoting dock connector accommodates devices in or out of protective cases
- SafeWake battery-backup feature wakes you when power is out