Gear: The sweetest-looking iPod speakers

For travelers who never leave home without their iPods, it’s an extra convenience when hotels provide in-room docking stations that sound better than anything your ear buds or your laptop speakers can pump out. In fact, for a certain class of boutique hotel properties, an iPod dock is almost expected on the list of amenities (along with the flatscreen TV.)

In the past month, two of the five hotels I’ve stayed at (the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Kimpton-owned Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia) have all carried iHome docking stations. When I later searched for the model numbers online to compare prices and specs, I was surprised at how quickly those numbers are phased out and replaced with newer, sleeker models like the iP90 ($99.99).

If you stay in a hotel that doesn’t have an iPod dock, iHome makes a sweet set of portable speakers: the iHM78B ($49.99). The set, which debuted in January, sports a funky bubble design and is available in fun colors like red and blue. The accordion-like speakers pop up for fuller bass and swivel down into a compact capsule. Magnets at the ends keep the pair together in your bag, so you don’t have to root around for the other half.

But does anyone actually travel with portable speakers? I feel like I always get bogged down by all my cords and chargers. But after testing out this set, I have to admit that it’ll be hard to return to the puny sound. Whether the speakers were plugged into my iPod or laptop, I actually had to turn down the volume because it was way too loud. Note: There’s no master volume control on the speakers; you have to adjust the volume level from your laptop or iPod itself, but that’s a small annoyance compared to the huge sound you’ll get.

Luckily, the mini speakers are good enough to use in everyday life so it’s not some travel gadget you’d only use once a year. The bottom line? Sure, if you always stay in hotels with iPod docks, portable speakers won’t be as useful. For everyone else, the iHome speakers are a solid pair to make space in your bag for.

Take your music traveling

iHome Capsule SpeakersRemember when you used to see guys walking around the beach with monster stereos blaring on their shoulders? Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you were into that), those days are behind us. The advent of iPods and MP3 players has made traveling with music a lot easier — but it you want to have your music blaring for all to hear, you’re gonna need some portable speakers.

Fortunately, iHome has a whole line of travel-friendly speakers which fit iPods and iPhones and any player that works with a basic music cable. The speakers power your Apple accessories while they playing, and some are perfect for the beach: Splash-proof and battery-operated.

I’ve tried out several of the iHome products and actually use their Bose-rivaling speakers in my very own kitchen. I made it my mission to find out which products travel the best — check out our fave five in the gallery below.

When hotel high-tech goes bad – where is the user manual?

Several weeks ago, I wrote about technology being added to hotels that simply does not work. A different problem is when technology does work, but is too complicated for most guests to understand.

As an example – I recently stayed at a very nice $400/night boutique hotel. This place had it all; iPod alarm clocks, remote controlled curtains and 10 different light “zones”. All these things sound really good on paper, but in reality they were a major pain in the backside.

Remote controlled curtains are awesome – if you can find the button to control them. An iPod compatible alarm clock is only going to wake you up if you can figure out how to program it, and dimmable light zones are useless if you are confronted with 10 switches and need to fiddle around with them just to find the right one.

Of course, all this technology also meant that the hotel used up all the outlets by the desk, so I had to unplug a light just to be able to charge my laptop.

Don’t get me wrong – I love technology, and if I am spending $400 a night for a hotel, I expect a certain level of amenities that include more than just top notch toiletries. But if I arrive in my room at 11pm, I’d like to be able to set the alarm without having to get online to download the user guide. I’m sure anyone who has spent the night in a good hotel has spent several minutes trying to get the shower working.

My top annoyances with hotel high-tech are:

  • Overly complicated shower controls
  • Alarm clocks
  • WiFi that requires a password (that is not always provided at check-in)
  • Light switches without labels
  • TV without a channel guide lineup

If hotels plan to add more technology to their rooms, they need to design them with their guests in mind – simply adding more stuff isn’t going to make anyone happy if the amenities go unused because nobody can operate them.

A steam generator in your bathroom is awesome, but if you are confronted with a panel with 9 buttons and no markings or instructions, you’ll tend to be too afraid to be burned to try it out. So, if anyone from the hospitality world is reading this, how about printing a user manual for all those cool new toys?