Alarm Clock with Alexa inside – the iHome iAVS16
When we got our very first Amazon Echo we weren’t sure exactly what to do with it. We had been looking for a speaker system to let us play music in our bedroom so we used it to replace our aging wake-to-light clock radio.
Fast forward years later and we have Echos all over the house controlling most of our smart home devices. Even after all this time, we were still looking for an alarm clock with the most basic feature – a digital clock. This holiday season we were intrigued by the new iHome iAVS16 bedside speaker, with Alexa built in, and decided to give it a try.
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Amazon has been allowing third parties to integrate Alexa capabilities into their hardware since they first announced the the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) in the summer of 2015 and more and more consumer devices have been adding Alexa. The first one we saw was the Nucleus family conferencing device that was launched in December 2015 (it now appears to be out of stock), and there were a plethora of others shown at CES this year and last.
The iHome iAVS16 was one of the first clocks we saw and we chose it over the Echo Spot, since the Spot includes a camera and we didn’t want that in our bedroom. We have a few other iHome products and we have found them reliable and easy to use so far, so we decided to give the iAVS16 a try.
The iHome iAVS16 looks just like any traditional clock radio, with a digital display and a small speaker. It is important to note, however, that it is not a stand-alone alarm clock – it is a Bluetooth stereo speaker system – it requires an Amazon Alexa account to provide the alarms.
The display shows the time, plus a little icon indicating the weather (which incidentally does not come from Alexa) and the alarm time. The display also runs words across to show what you are doing with Alexa, for instance if you are playing a Pandora station, listening to a flash briefing or using another Alexa skill like Headspace.
The Alexa light ring around the bottom is much larger and a bit more intrusive than our other Amazon echos, but easier to see and you can change the color. The speaker seems as good if not slightly better quality than the original Amazon Echo it replaced.
The iHome iAVS16 setup was pretty straightforward, but a little more complicated than a regular Amazon Echo. We plugged in the iAVS16 and downloaded the iHome AVS app which guided us through connecting to our Wi-Fi network. Once it was on the network, we connected it to our Alexa account and it appears in the app as one of our Alexa devices.
To customize the iAVS16 using the app, you need to be on your home Wi-Fi – so you cannot change any of the app settings when you are away from home. So far this has not been a problem – once we set up the speaker we don’t really need to use the app too often.
There are a few things our iAVS16 can’t do that our Echo could – most notably missing for us was the ability to use the Alexa messaging and drop-in features to communicate with the other Echos in our home. If you try to use those Alexa tells you very nicely that those features are not enabled on this device. According to the iHome website, this feature is coming soon.
One thing our iAVS16 has that our Echo lacked – a snooze button! Sure, you can tell Alexa to snooze the alarm too but sometimes she doesn’t hear you, and after you yell at your Echo a few times you are pretty much awake and snoozing is no longer an option. It also has a handy mute button for Alexa in case you want temporary privacy from your voice assistant and a USB port in the back if you want to charge your phone or other devices.
The iHome iAVS16 also offers some additional features with its own app. You can choose to wake up to a music from either your iHeartRadio or Spotify account or one of iHome’s tones. You can set a pre-wake light to come on 10 minutes before your alarm goes off and you can customize the volume for your alarm in case you want it louder or softer than normal.
Outside of the alarm customizations, the iAVS16 also includes two smart buttons that you can customize for different shortcuts. The buttons allow you to turn music off and on, change the color of the ring, and control iHome Smart Plugs registered to the same user account.
When we tried to customize the smart buttons we encountered a problem connecting with our iHome Smart Plugs, so we contacted iHome support for help. They offer email and phone support between 8 a.m. and 4p.m. Eastern time – a bit tough for us on the west coast but we managed.
It took a couple of calls to figure out what was going on and while we were on hold we actually figured out the problem ourselves. Our iHome Smart Plugs were set up in a different user account (in this case, Mark’s). We could see them come up in the app, but they didn’t work until we removed them and paired them under Valerie’s account. Within an hour of our call, iHome had already updated their support website with the information.
Updating the firmware
When we first got our iHome iAVS16 the latency to use Alexa was pretty terrible – compared to all our other Echos it seemed to take forever for Alexa to answer, and sometimes she didn’t answer at all. We visited the iHome booth at CES this year and got to meet the product manager, who was surprised to hear this and asked us to make sure we had the latest firmware update.
We came home and sure enough, after cycling the power and refreshing the app, we saw that we needed to update the firmware and the latency issue was gone. However, the update failed a couple of times before it finally worked. The AVS app does not proactively notify us when updates are available, so we have registered our device with iHome to make sure we get notified in the future. As geeks, we are happy to update the firmware occasionally to get new features and bug fixes, but we wonder how many traditional iHome consumers are going to take this step.
It has been great to once again have a clock in our bedroom after a couple of years with just the Echo. There were a few times that we woke up in the middle of the night and asked Alexa what time it is – which is not good if your partner is still asleep. The brightness of the clock took a bit of getting used to – luckily after a couple of weeks we figured out how to dim it. The iHome iAVS16 stores the alarm data locally in case there is any Wi-Fi interruption – reassuring since we had more than one Echo failure in the past. However, it is not a battery back-up like a traditional clock – if the power goes out, no alarm will go off.
The weirdest thing about the iHome iAVS16 is when it has a connection error and uses its other Alexa voice – it’s just different enough to be freaky.
At $149, the iHome iAVS16 bedside speaker is a bit expensive for what it does and the app is a bit clunky. But we have been happy with it so far as a bedroom Alexa with a clock display, great sound, and without a camera. It would probably be a great starter Alexa device for someone to use in their bedroom, apartment or dorm room, especially if bundled with an iHome Smart Plug to use for a bedside lamp, fan or coffee maker.