Wednesday, June 28, 2006

JBL On Time Time Machine Alarm Clock/Dock for iPod - worst purchase ever

After some research I bought the JBL Time Machine Alarm Clock/Dock for iPod - White (JBLONTIME).

Here's a quick list that I'll expand on over the next week or so, after which I'll put this on Amazon.
  • It does not work with my 5G iPod. The iPod wakes up and starts to show the last song played (as designed), but it then starts playing the first song in the Library. It is unacceptable that the vendor sells this device as though it worked.
  • With my old 3G iPod it behaves as designed. It awakens to the last song played. I use it with my 3G iPod so I won't return it.
  • It has a really dumb eerie blue glowing LED at the top. I guess that's for those who want to dream of alien abduction. It serves no purpose, it doesn't even illuminate the clock controls (that might have been useful). I taped over it.
  • It starts quietly and the volume ramps up. You can't control this. That's the worst "feature" so far (and a surprise -- so much for the Amazon reviewers!); I'd prefer disable this depending on how I arrange my playlist. A remote would have compensated a bit, but ...
  • There's no remote. I decided that was ok because it's one less thing to lose, one less set of batteries, and one less place for designers to move controls to. This thing is, after all, an alarm. We don't get to sleep in. Ever. The volume ramping does make me miss this more than I'd expected however.
  • The documentation is weak with multiple typos and grammatical errors. It doesn't tell you what the RDS On/Off setting does, for example.
  • The sound is ok, very acceptable for an alarm clock. It's not a high fidelity system but it's fine.
  • The buttons seem flimsy and cheap.
  • It has a big, heavy, wall wart power brick. At least the color matches.
  • It's not documented, but if you have young eyes and good light you'll find text describing the matching iPod beneath each of the cradle inserts.
The system reminds me of the gulf between Apple and most other consumer goods manufacturers. Apple stuff does not have ugly wall warts, mistranslated manuals (of course their printed manuals are rather brief, but they're good), ultra-cheap buttons and gratuitous glowing diodes. Apple would have given us the option to disable volume ramping.

So how come design nuts like me are so rare in the world? Grump. Two stars for users of older iPods.

Update 2/16/07: Since I bought this thing about 6 months ago it's been no end of bother. The internal OS would crash every few weeks, then it began losing time. To make the alarm reliable, I have to mount the iPod, press the mysterious "on" (really is a Play button, not an On button) button, and double check that the play state of the JBL is in sync with the "play" state of the iPod. I'll eventually check out the warranty. Blech.

Update 11/30/09: This was one of the worst purchases I ever made. It was so bad I couldn't get it to die. The horrible UI, the frequent crashes, the missed alarms ... Today, after my son was late for school, we bought an extremely crummy clock/radio and the JBL became a basement mini-stereo. Ironically, as a mini-stereo, it's not bad. I've got an old, unused iPod in the cradle loaded with music, an aux-in from one of our two half-broken combo DVD/VCRs, and it gets FM and AM stations. My kids may get some use from it at last.


Anonymous said...

The sound quality is great but I do agree that the volume ramping is a disaster. When I'm up, I'm up, I do not fall back asleep but I do like to listen to some tunes while lolling around in bed. This machine does not allow that, because if you don't get up and shut off the alarm, pretty soon the whole block will be hearing your alarm. Fatal flaw, would not have bought it if I had known.

Familia NoreƱa said...

I've used it for a few years and when my old iPod stopped working I put my newer one uncovering the flaw described in this blog. Now I know it is a design flaw. I like the sound but I mostly kept because of the design, I wish it had a smarter set of features and that it didn't have the volume ramp up feature all of us hate.