When XtermeMac announced the Luna iPod alarm clock ($149) in November, it really grabbed my attention. I’m not the kind of person who drools over every shiny new iPod gadget that comes along, and I’ve never given more than a passing thought to buying an iPod alarm clock, but the Luna’s combination of features and design was pretty irresistible. I finally broke down and bought one from XtremeMac’s booth at Macworld last week. After sleeping with Luna for a few nights, I’ve found it to be an attractive bedside companion… with a few annoying quirks.
The Luna is a Kleenex box sized dual-alarm clock stereo with a built in iPod dock, AM/FM tuner, and AUX audio input. Four large circular buttons on the top of the unit control the alarms, volume, brightness, and menu settings. A small remote controls play/pause, track select, volume, bass/treble, and several other functions.
Sound quality is reasonably good for a bedside stereo. Don’t expect the rich, room-filling sound of the Bose SoundDock or Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi. Instead, the Luna features clean, if not somewhat thin, sound reproduction that is better at lower volumes. Forget about hearing any trunk-shaking sub-bass, it’s well outside of the small speakers’ dynamic range. The bass and treble controls don’t seem to help; they just make things more or less ‘muddy’ and ‘tinny,’ respectively. The best way to tweak the sound is with your iPod’s EQ controls, though there’s only so much you can do. I have to admit that I was initially disappointed with the Luna’s sound quality, but my expectations may have been too high. I’ve since listened to several other popular iPod alarm clocks, and the Luna compares quite favorably.
One major selling point for me was the two independent alarms featured on the Luna. Each can be set to a different time and sound source. You can wake to iPod, radio, or alarm buzzer. For example, you can go to sleep listening to the iPod and wake up to the radio. Unfortunately, you can’t go to sleep listening to one playlist and wake up to another. The alarms are easy to set via the menu system, and easy to turn on/off via the two large silver buttons toward the rear of the unit. Another nice touch is that the display clearly indicates which alarm is engaged.
Another selling point for me was the display. I can’t sleep with a blue backlight next to my bed, no matter how dim it may be. The Luna features a large grey on black LCD display with a fully dim-able white backlight. I find the display easy to read when set to a very low backlight level, and it doesn’t bother me at all in a completely darkened room. Another help is that the contrast level can be adjusted to make the display easier to see under low lighting conditions. One gripe about the display is that it may be too customizable. You can set the default backlight level, as well as a separate alarm backlight level, and a separate sleep backlight level. It took me a little while to get my head around all of these different levels. Also, whenever you use the remote, the backlight brightens temporarily. This is annoying in a darkened room. The backlight can be quickly adjusted by turning one of the silver buttons on top of the unit.
A feature I was looking forward to trying was the sleep timer with gradually decreasing volume. I’m usually able to fall asleep pretty quickly, and the idea of twenty minutes of gradually fading music sounded like a nice way to avoid being startled by my music suddenly stopping. I’m sorry to report that this feature is a disaster. The problem is that the volume control on the Luna does not decrease smoothly, but incrementally, in very noticeable “steps.” Just turning on the sleep feature causes the music to fade by one step. Then, every two minutes, the music fades another step. I initially set my volume at a comfortable bedtime listening level, and not only could I hear the volume drop every two minutes, but after six minutes, I could no longer hear the music at all. XtremeMac needs to subdivide Luna’s volume steps into much smaller increments. Luckily, you can use the sleep timer with the decreasing volume feature turned off.
The Luna’s primary controls are the four dollar-sized silver buttons on the top of the unit. The two rear buttons switch the two alarms on and off, and the two front buttons control volume, display brightness, and menu navigation. You can turn the two front buttons, as well as click them, providing a lot of easy to use functionality. In fact, almost too much. While the buttons are easy to use, remembering which button does what can be a challenge (especially when you’re half asleep). Luckily, the Luna comes with an overlay that fits on top of the unit and lists the functions of each button. This was a very clever idea, and after five nights, I’m sill using mine. However, one of my biggest Luna complaints has to do with the buttons: They make a ridiculously loud “click” when you press them. If you sleep in the same room with someone else, good luck setting your alarm or turning on the sleep timer without waking them up. They’re the loudest alarm clock buttons I think I’ve ever heard. It was the first thing I noticed when I set the Luna up at home, and can’t imagine how the designers didn’t think it was an issue.
The remote is another odd thing. It has the full compliment of buttons: play/pause, skip forward and back, volume up and down, source, shuffle, skip between playlists, alarm on/off, snooze. Those are all handy. But about 20% of the remote is taken up by bass and treble controls. Not only do they not work very well (see above), but how often do you adjust bass and treble? Much more useful (and oddly missing) are buttons to control display brightness and set the sleep timer. For people who like to keep their alarm clocks across the room, I can see these two functions being sorely missed. Another issue is that the remote is all white with slightly raised buttons, making it very difficult to quickly see or feel what you’re pressing in the dark. More contrast between the buttons and the face of the remote would be a big help. Lastly, the remote functions reliably for all functions but one: play/pause. Pressing the play/pause button is a crap-shoot. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I often just end up reaching over and pressing the play button on the iPod, which usually works. The person demonstrating the Luna to me at Macworld had the same problem, though at the time I chalked it up to all of the wireless interference in the hall. That was clearly not the issue.
I realized I’ve picked on a lot of things that I think could be done better on the Luna, but overall I’m pretty happy with it. It has a lot of features (most of which I can use), sound quality comparable to similarly priced iPod speakers, and an attractive design that looks great on my night stand. No, it doesn’t live up to my wildly inflated expectations, but I’m not planning to return it either. If you’re interested in the Luna, I suggest that you make a date to try one out at your local Apple Store. Decide if it’s the right bedroom partner for you before bringing it home. You may find it too quirky for anything more than a one night stand.
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