Everyone needs a way to wake up in the morning whether it be cock-a-doodling roosters, a Wallace and Gromit style pulley operated morning bucket of water to the face or a plain old traditional alarm clock. All the electronics in this here day and age such as smartphones and music players also require their internal batteries charging up on a regular basis. Here's a thought - wouldn't it be amazing to have these two completely unrelated concepts rolled in to one? Hang on a tick, TDK seem to have done just that with their TAC4525 Dual Charging Alarm in what is effectively an alarm clock and charging docking speaker system rolled in to one. Problem solved. Okay, so it's not a real problem and is really just another completely unnecessary gadget in the world masquerading as an excuse to splurge on more Apple related accessories, but it's still surprisingly useful in many situations and certainly not the worst thing to own in the world. The original RRP for this system seems to be £69.99 which is quite pricey really for what is basically a multi-purpose alarm clock but you can get it for as low as £23.86 from such places as Amazon.co.uk which turns it into quite a bargain.
==So what do you get for your wonga?==
* This system is fairly compact considering it features a charging port and dual speakers at 20cm (H) x 20cm (W) x 9cm tapering to 5cm (D) as the system rises in height. Also included in the box are the operational manual and the AC power plug and that's your lot.
* At the front of the docking system there are the two speakers with a hinged connection in between for an iPod / iPhone meaning those with bulkier protective cases can still fit in. At the bottom are large volume control buttons, a sleep button and a Set Time / Sync button either side of the large digital time display screen which also displays the other functions when they are in use.
* Along the top of the system is the Power button; a Source button to choose whether you receive input from the radio, a device connected to the line-in jack or your iPod/iPhone; an FM presets button to cycle through 5 stored radio frequencies; two alarm buttons with a snooze/dimmer button in between, and the usual range of track control buttons including play/pause and skip forward and backward.
* On the back is the extra USB charging port, the AC power input, the wire aerial and the line-in jack.
* On the underside of the system is the space for three AAA batteries to be used as an extra power source to take your docking system out and about with you.
==Setting up your system==
You can use this system as a standalone device without the need for an Apple device (although the point of buying it without one of these in mind would remain a mystery) which means you can set the time and preset radio stations through the device itself and simply use it as a clock alarm and radio. This however is a fiddly business (especially if you lose the manual like I foolishly did) involving pressing and holding buttons many many times and is alas not the most intuitive thing in the world and took me quite a few attempts before I successfully set the clock, alarms and figured out how to tune and save radio stations. For me, the best way of setting up the system is to actually do it through your iPod Touch/iPhone via the TDK Alarm Clock App which is designed purely for this kind of device. With your iPod/iPhone plugged in you can automatically set the time on the docking system by simply hitting the Set Time / Sync button which is handy, but unfortunately only does it to the minute and not the second, so you may have to sit there waiting for the minute to change and trying to synchronise as quickly as possible, although you will of course then be a few seconds out at best, but that's as close as you're going to get unless you have the reflexes of Superman. Oh, and this also overwrites any settings that you previously had saved on your docking system manually with whatever is on your iPod/iPhone such as the radio settings which go back to the default of 87.50MHz. Argh. You have been warned.
So, resorting to setting everything up via the App there is firstly an Alarm tab which will allow you to set one or both alarms depending how much help you need waking up with the start time, the source (iPod/iPhone, Radio or Buzzer) and the Volume and then you can press Sync (whilst your phone is attached obviously) which will automatically change the settings on the docking system. The next tab on the App is the settings section where you can sync the clock time here rather than pressing the button on the device (which is safer and should prevent overwriting of other settings), you can set how you want to view the time as either a 12hr or 24hr clock, set the sleep timer and choose how bright you want your display with the 7 level dimmer scale. Basically these controls are identical to the ones available on the device itself, but just another (perhaps easier) way of controlling things.
The final usable tab is Audio which is where you can view your iPod/iPhone music playing, although controlling it via both this App or the docking system seems limited to simply playing, pausing and skipping tracks in both directions so any settings like shuffle, repeat etc. needs to be made either through the iPod or the music App on the iPhone; you can view and set the FM radio stations which requires spinning the radio dial round until you hit on the frequency you want then dragging it down to your chosen preset number (much easier than through the docking system), or view and control any auxiliary audio device you have plugged in via the line-in jack although I haven't yet come across a suitable device with such a connection myself, though I'm sure for all the technical aficionados there are plenty out there, and personally I think another USB connection could have been better rather than a line-in jack as most of my external devices such as my MP3 player utilises a USB connection, but ah well you can only work with what you're given.
==So how well does it work?==
As I mentioned you are somewhat limited to only having 5 possible preset radio stations, though I can't think of many situations where you would need many more, although it is not the easiest thing to set up without the instruction manual, and I would definitely recommend doing it via the App rather than the docking system itself for ease. The reception though I have found to be excellent and the quality of all the radio stations I've tried has rung through very clearly indeed once you get the aerial in a good spot, including XFM (104.9) which I usually can't pick up in my area without clutching my aerial whilst hanging perilously out the window secured only by my bed sheets so I am very impressed with this aspect. Flicking through the presets is a doddle either by simply pressing the FM presets button on the docking system or simply going under the Audio tab on the App and choosing your station. Finding stations that are not preset however is a pain when using the radio dial as it seems to have a mind of its own shooting all over the place so presetting is key in avoiding frustration.
===2. Alarm clock===
This system works very well as an alarm clock offering up numerous ways to wake up. Firstly you can set two different alarms from different or the same sources depending how adventurous you are for whatever purpose which originate from your iPod/iPhone, the radio or a slightly irritating buzzer which is an ever increasingly noisy beeping noise that will certainly get you out of bed, although rather in a huff I'd wager. Once an alarm has explosively broken the silence and caused unwelcome consciousness to reassert itself you have the option to simply turn it off or hit the snooze button which will turn the alarm off for a default of 10 minutes. For a laugh I set both alarms for the same time from different sources to see if I could cause some cataclysmic event to occur but basically only the first alarm kicked in. Making it so they clash a minute apart means the second alarm actually cuts in to the first. Good to know? Who knows? Any which way you look at it, you can easily use this device to tailor the way you wake up in the mornings through your choice of music whether it be your own or a radio station, at whatever volume you prefer or torturing yourself with an irritating beeping noise, or perhaps even a tried and tested combination of all of the above.
One option on the App is to use the "Alarm without Dock" which basically then just turns your iPod/iPhone into an alarm clock (obviously there was already this functionality available but this App is way more advanced) without the need for the docking system, but then you are limited to the speakers of your chosen device. By doing this though for some reason you suddenly gain more control over everything from setting your backgrounds for the display page, setting how dim the night display can become, setting the nap time anywhere up to 23 hours and 59 minutes and likewise a sleep timer with the chance to listen to the ambient sound of waves or rain to soothe you into slumber. Also, under the two alarm settings along with all the usual settings you can suddenly choose the days of the week you wish the alarm to sound on with repeat occurrences, set a specific snooze time and also trigger a text reminder to pop up with a message of your choosing, presumably to remind yourself to do something that day or give yourself a pep talk to make it through another torturous day at work. By simply reconnecting your device back to the docking system the two will begin communicating again and all the settings you changed whilst the docking system was persona non grata will remain in place, but in order to adjust the deeper settings like nap and sleep times you will have to forget the docking system for a while which seems a bit weird and overly complex but there you have it.
Also, if you can't be bothered to set the alarm and simply want a quick nap there is this option on the App on the main page which simply sets a timer for 10 minutes for you and wakes you up with the buzzer, which you can then turn off or hit the snooze button to repeat the cycle. Not only can this device be used as a waking aid however but through the App and to a certain extent the docking device it can also be used as a sleeping aid. By simply using the sleep button on the docking system itself you can listen to your own music or a radio station and set the sleep button between 10 and 90 minutes in 10 minute intervals and drift off if this is a preferred method. However, you cannot seem to set sleep mode via the App itself particularly well as you seem limited to 10 minutes and if you cancel, it stops playing. Under the main page of the App where you simply see the display of the time and date you can also hit a Night button which dims your display making your docking system less intrusive at night or you can choose "Sleep to night sounds" under the Timer option which sets a timer to turn the sound off after 15 minutes amidst the sound of the ocean tide coming in on the beach with chirping birds...personally I do not find this sound relaxing at all and know I could never fall asleep to it, but this may well work for some people so is a nice extra, although you only have the choice of one sound so they could have included a bigger selection.
As a charging device what can I say? It works. Plugging my iPhone in takes the same amount of time to charge it up as plugging it in directly to the mains, with the added advantage that I always remember to charge it up now as I'm reminded every time I set my alarm for the morning, and then it's always the first thing I see in the morning so I never forget to take it out and about with me which I have often done in the past which is a very frustrating thing to do as you imagine all kinds of text messages and missed phone calls coming throughout the day...inevitably totalling zero when you actually return home. Having the second USB charging port at the back is also extremely handy for me as I have my own separate MP3 player which I usually charge up through my laptop and now I don't have to randomly turn that on anymore and can simply insert it into my docking system, so this is very useful for any device you have that uses a USB connection to charge up, and again spotting it in the morning means I'm less likely to forget through the debilitating sleep deprived blurriness of new found consciousness.
===4. Playing music===
As a method to blast your music out with a much louder and better sound quality than possible with your iPod or iPhone this docking system works very well. Obviously designed to control an iPod or the Music App on the iPhone it is simple to simply plug either device in and use it as you usually would, just with the sound coming out of the speakers instead of headphones or each device's own speakers. Controlling tracks through the App or using the system own controls is limited to basic functionality of only simple skipping and pausing which is a bit of a drawback. If you decide to use other media to play audio files, for example You Tube or Spotify, then you can indeed also hear the sound through the speakers, in fact I believe this docking system simply transfers any sound to the speakers so running any application that produces sound will be heard through the speakers, but you will only be able to control this method of playing music through whatever software you're using and not the TDK App or docking system. For me, the sound quality this docking system produces is excellent - very crisp and clear with a great range of volume (the end extreme even being a little too loud for me) and a nice bass level. As a way to transform your personal music device into a more public one this means, for example, something like entertaining guests with a large selection of no doubt eclectic music from your personal library is made simple and I'm sure there are many other applications out there as well.
So, if you look at this TAC4525 dual charging alarm, at first glance it looks like an alarm clock that has been pimped out with some speakers, but there are a lot of hidden facets and functionality that make it surprisingly useful with the extra charging port at the back, the hinged connection to make fitting puffed up devices easier, App control with some nice accessories like soporific night sounds to name a few. It may take a little bit of setting up and getting used to issues of synchronicity between your Apple device and the system itself, and learning which functions are better run via the system against the App may require a bit of trial and error, but once you've got it all down this really is a nice, useful alarm clock complete with handy accessories. I believe my version of the product must be an older one as the product information in most of the current retailers state a slightly larger frame and a hidden handle for portability somewhere which is absent from my own system but otherwise everything else remains seemingly unchanged. I've not really had call to try the system on battery power making this mobile charger mobile as I primarily use it as an alarm clock so have it constantly plugged in on AC power so I can't really comment on how good this feature is, but nonetheless useful for portability outside and as a backup in a power-cut so you'll need new excuses for work tardiness.
Is it a must have product? Nah. Is it worth full price? Probably just about but If you can get it for a bargain price it will be much more worth your time. I'd recommend giving it a whirl if you need an alarm clock, enjoy listening to music and are already a sucker for Apple products but if you have less than three hits there are probably cheaper solutions out there.