iHome ZN9 Zune Clock Radio Review

ihome zn9 main iHome ZN9 Zune Clock Radio Review

Non-ipods have always received the short end of the stick when it comes to cool docking stations. Docks are still lacking but the Zune is getting a little bit of face time for these types of accessories. iHome has typically made docks for the iPod but has now made a slight deviation and released one for the Zune family, compatible with the Zune 4, 8, 30, & 80.

So if you are in the market for a Zune clock radio, this is more or less your only choice at the moment for a Zune dock with alarm functionality. Read on for my thoughts and a full rundown of the ZN9’s features.

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In the box

In the box you will find, in addition to the clock: a power adapter, loop antenna and dock adapters for each size Zune. Also there are two AA backup batteries installed. What was a very big disappointment is that a remote control is not included, but what added insult to injury was an advertisement card telling you that you can purchase a remote for $19.95, “offer valid while supplies last”, and “allow up to 30 days” for shipping. Even more of a disappointment is that the Zune remote will not work with the iHome.

Build Quality / Design

The one thing that attracted me to the ZN9 was the design- its modern and minimalistic and flat black. The design doesn’t scream alarm clock but it fits into your room décor (ok so I might watch too much HGTV, in HD of course).

Unfortunately, the build quality is poor. It feels very toy like, but not in a “quality” Fisher Price way- more of a knock-off-from-China way. Button tolerances are very poor and make and loud hollow clicking sounds when pressed. There are two volume and time adjustment wheels on the side that wobble like an imbalanced bike wheel.

The docking inserts are also hard to change. They don’t pop on and off easily. I had to stick a pocket knife in the crack and pry it off, sending it flying across the room.

The Clock

Setting the clock is easy with the press of a button on the back and the right jog dial will scroll to the adjust time, date, and year. The nice thing about this is there is a daylight savings time switch so that you only have to set the clock once, only to flip a switch twice a year for adjustment. One feature I found odd is the ability to change the time zone to any one of the US time zones including Hawaii. I guess this is good for travelers, but it’s not really a travelling alarm clock.

Setting the alarm

One of the most important things I personally look for in an alarm is how easy it is to set and knowing it is set. I along with many of you have an ingrained paranoia that your alarm won’t go off and you will miss an important meeting, a class, or some other important date. The ZN9 definitely eases this paranoia with a very clear indication of the time the alarm is set and an easy to set alarm.

You have your choice of waking up to the radio, Zune, or buzzer. It also has a fail safe mode where if your Zune is not connected it will default to the buzzer. It will also divert to buzzer if the power has failed- the battery backup will keep you from missing the alarm.

The clock has dual alarms and has the ability to be set on weekday, weekend, or all 7 days. So if you like you can have an alarm for the weekend and one for the week or the second alarm can be for the special someone on the other side of the bed. This may not work too well for students or people who have different classes on various days of the week since you can’t say set the alarm for Mon/Web/Fri. This feature would have been nice.

The sleep mode is adjustable from 1 min to 29 min activated by pressing the big snooze button on top.

Playback

Zune

The iHome ZN9 will control the power, pause/play, and volume of the Zune. The rest of the Zune’s functions are controlled by the buttons on the Zune. The problem I have with this is that I always feel like I’m going to knock over the Zune 80 in the dock since it doesn’t sit too firmly in the stand, the Zune 30 and Zune 4 / 8 sit a bit more firm in the dock. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if you coughed up $20 for the optional remote.

Radio

Radio reception is good even with the small wire that dangles from the back of the clock. Additionally, they supply a loop antenna for better reception if you are in more remote areas. This didn’t really improve my reception since I’m in a fairly populated area. But from my experience with those types of loop antennas, you should have a nice improvement in less populated areas.

Line-in

There is also a line-in plug on the back of the player. You can hook up any other MP3 player or any other audio source for that matter. You will however not be able to set the alarm to wake on line-in.

Sound Quality

The ZN9 sounds good, but about what you would expect a small “boom box”. Sure, good for a clock radio, but you won’t get any “wow, is that big sound coming from that clock radio?” reactions. It sounds like a pair of $30-40 single driver computer speakers would. The sound is a bit hollow resonating from the cheap plastic housing- at times some frequencies at slightly above moderate volumes would vibrate the housing creating a vibrating buzzing sound. It is however loud enough to fill any bedroom and perhaps a small apartment. Bottom line is it’s a great sounding alarm clock but don’t expect to be blown away.

Conclusion

The ZN9 is a bit overpriced considering the lacking build quality. I can help but feel shafted that I just paid $100 for a clock radio and they didn’t include a remote. Adding this $20 remote in the package may have softened that hundred dollar blow.

On the flip side the features, even though they are standard alarm clock features, are easy to use. I could see this being a great accessory for someone in a dorm room or small apartment, but also nice for anyone’s morning routine or getting ready for a night out.

Bottom line is, I like it but I don’t love it. I spent $100 on it without hesitation for the review, but if I was purchasing this for my own use I likely would have spent the money on something with better quality. The problem is this is your only choice for a Zune alarm clock for now s
o you will have to pay a premium. I can’t get behind it at its current price tag, but if it drops below $80 and they possibly threw in the remote, I would give it the green light.

Pros

  • Easy to see if the alarm is on
  • Two alarms
  • 2 / 5 / 7 day alarm settings

Cons

  • Dock inserts are hard to change
  • Remote not included $20 extra
  • Poor build quality
  • Zune remote does not work with the dock

7 Comments

zaw on July 2, 2008 6:12 PM

Why can’t these Audio player makers can’t come up with ONE Universal Dock connector yet?You buy anything but ipod player and you got no accessories go with. If they agree on a plug that have enough pins to out put.HDMI, Componet, Svideo, Composite video, USB, Analog Audio and a RS232 for all controls needs.There will be two plug, basic and advance, it will work like old ISA type, 16bit use both slots, 8 bit only use one but same form factor. Advance HD video players will use both bus, and Audio and basic Video player will use the smaller potion of it.With RS232 you can integrated in to whole wide range of custom audio systems and easy for anybody to make a dock/remote control etc with it.And agree on make the use of plug FREE of license, every non ipod player will have it and manufactures will make docks and speaker systems for it without having to pay anobody.

Metroiddad69 on July 3, 2008 11:03 AM

why can’t microsoft themselves come out with various radio and speaker docks for the zune since other companies are totally beholden to the gag me ipod. i like the zune alot, if microsoft came out with their own brand and have varying prices and units. they would clean up. the other problem i do have with microsoft is the availability of their products (zunes in particular), ipods are everywhere (i digress). for an american company they should not assume that other dock makers where going to capitulate to them and make docks for them, like they have for ipod.

Michael W on July 8, 2008 9:06 PM

I’m buying this dock when I get some extra money. Thanks for the review.

Michael on July 8, 2008 9:10 PM

I’m buying this dock when I get some extra money. Thanks for the review.

Steve Hughes on July 17, 2008 12:28 PM

Graham,How is the quality of the Audio out? I currently use an iHome Radio for made “another player”, it even has a USB port to charge Zunes, Stones, Zens, Clips, several USB based phones etc. I feed the audio out to a receiver that powers some Polk in ceiling speakers,it sounds pretty good. It sucks that this version cost $30 more than what I paid for the one I got and it doesn’t even come with a remote control. :( Does the snooze bar dim the display? The LEDs look much better than the very bright backlit LCD panel on the one I have. I don’t know why they don’t just have a photosensitive switch that even my ancient SoundDesign clock radio has to auto dim the display.One thing I do like about the iHome radios is the way the alarm works in that it gradually increases the volume to the preset value so you gently wake up. This is the reason I still use it. Plus the fact that it has two alarms incase I shut off the first “by accident”

Czzar on August 17, 2008 9:19 AM

Just buy a Zune compatible RCA jack, and hook your Zune to a home stereo you probably already have. Turn your stereo or boom box around, if you see red and white jacks, connections, on the back you are good to go!!

Denise on February 22, 2009 7:21 AM

I think that this is amazing but i have never seen it in stores could you please tell me where i can find these.Thanks sooo much’-♥-Denise-♥-

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