Easy on the senses, hard on the wallet.
The new JBL ‘On Air’ wireless dock for the iPhone & iPods is quite a striking machine. On surface it’s supposed to be a good old fashioned iPod docking station with integrated iTunes playback, an alarm clock and a radio; but the functionality roots run much deeper.
The big circular design where the speakers are housed is covered in a pleasant silver mesh grill with chromed-out black edges on the outer and inner surface area. On the very top of the dock is the ‘Snooze’ button for the alarm clock. The base of On Air has a set of backlit control buttons on the left (Power, Home screen and Volume controls) while the right side has navigational controls, including a ‘select’ key. The center of the On Air is where the real magic happens; housing the iPhone/iPod docking bay, there’s a huge screen which is capable of showing high-res album art of the song/podcast you’re playing. On the top of the screen are three context-sensitive buttons whose functions are displayed on the screen below as and when you’re going through different menus and settings.
The rear panel houses the power adapter, USB input to update the firmware (and nothing else) and the FM (only, no AM) antenna. And just behind the docking bay there’s a 3.5mm AUX input as well. With just these handful of inputs, navigating through the menus is pretty easy.
The first thing you’ll want to do once you start up the JBL On Air is to setup the WiFi connection. After 2 minutes of getting that done, you’re all set to go. Simply start playing any song on your iPhone or iPod and then select the JBL On Air speakers from the playable devices through AirPlay. It’s literally a two click/touch process. There will be an awkward two or three seconds of silence, and then the song starts playing back perfectly, plus the album art will be displayed on the screen too.
At any time if you change the song, there’s still going to be this small lag between the On Air and your iPhone or iPod. And while you’re playing songs when your device is plugged into the dock, I would rather go through the iPhone’s menu on the phone itself, rather than on the On Air interface on the small screen. It’s just too slow and clunky compared to the smoothness of the iOS. If it’s just for playing back the next or previous track, then the remote control does a fine job. Anything more, and I always found myself going back to my iPhone to get the job done fast. Perhaps a future firmware update will speed things up a bit.