iHome iBT297 review: The little Bluetooth speaker that could

These days, it seems that Bluetooth speakers are ubiquitous and plentiful. In fact, it's hard to find a Bluetooth speaker that truly stands out from the crowd, and even harder to find one that is multipurpose with other functionalities. But that's exactly what you get with the iHome iBT297, which combines Bluetooth speaker with a color-changing lamp, alarm clock, radio, and it even has some smart home functionality with a touch of a button.

The Good

  • Small and compact size, pretty big sound
  • Lamp has different color modes to cycle through
  • Alarm clock functionality works well, stores two alarms
  • Smart Button lets you control smart home devices
  • Built-in USB port, FM radio has six presets, Siri/Google Now support

The Bad

  • Poor app interface
  • Smart Button only controls smart home devices through IFTTT
  • Buttons can be hard to press
  • Needs to be connected to your smartphone for digital assistant features

It does it all, kind of

iHome iBT297: Features

iHome iBT297 side glow pink

iHome is known for their home audio products, most of which double as other devices, like clocks and even lamps. The iBT297 was shown off at CES 2019, and it's a fresh take on a multifunction Bluetooth speaker and what they're capable of.

First and foremost, the iBT297 is a Bluetooth speaker. There's a button on the back of the device that connects it to your smartphone of choice, but to get the most out of it, you'll need the iHome Enhance app before pairing. With this app, you'll be able to connect to the speaker, give it a name for easy recognition, and configure all of its settings in one place.

With the Bluetooth speaker part, the iBT297 can be used to play your smartphone's audio, whether it's music, podcasts, audiobooks, videos, or even speakerphone for calls (it glows green when you get incoming calls). The audio quality was pretty good for the price, and despite the small size of the device, it fills a room with sound without issue.

The iBT297 is a fresh take on a multifunction Bluetooth speaker.

The iBT297 doubles as a lamp, similar to the Philips Hue Go, except it's a full globe shape. There are six color modes: Slow Fade, Fast (like Slow Fade but faster), Single Color (choose a color from the app), Pulse to Music, Sky Gradient, and Lamp. You can cycle through the color modes either by the Color button on the iBT297 itself or through the app. There's also a touch area near the top back of the device that lets you dim the light.

Even though most of us probably use our smartphones as alarm clocks, having a dedicated alarm clock is still nice. The iBT297 has the ability to store two alarms, which you can toggle on or off via the alarm buttons on the clock or through the app. You can set the alarm to weekdays, weekends, every day, or once, and you have multiple tones to choose from, including your own Bluetooth audio or FM radio.

If you prefer to listen to the radio, just press the Mode button until you get to the FM radio. You can then use the plus and minus buttons on the left side of the clock face to scan through the stations and set your presets.

A unique function of the iBT297 is the Smart Button, which is the button underneath the clock face with the iHome logo. You can configure this button in the app to have different functions with either a short or long press. Some of the things that the Smart Button can do are play certain playlists from Apple Music, Spotify, or iHeartRadio. You can also use IFTTT to configure the Smart Button to control lights and thermostats. If you have iHome Control SmartPlugs, then the iBT297 can seamlessly work with them without a workaround.

A fine addition to your bedside table

iHome iBT297: What I Like

iHome iBT297 dimmer button

As someone who has been looking for a good lamp for my nightstand, I'm very glad I got the iBT297. I truly enjoy the ambient color lighting that the speaker provides, and I especially like the "Pulse to Music" effect. This one, in particular, is fun to watch, and definitely turns your room into a party. However, when music isn't playing, I particularly enjoy Slow Fade, just because I find it so relaxing.

The iHome iBT297 is a device of convenience, eliminating the need for separate devices on your nightstand for a lamp, Bluetooth speaker, alarm clock, radio, and even a USB charger.

The alarm clock part of the device is also pretty great. I'm the kind of person who may sleep through alarms on my phone, but with the iBT297, the alarm tones are loud, and as I struggle to turn it off, it helps me wake up better than just a smartphone alarm. It's also nice to be able to store two alarms on the device, as all of my previous alarm clocks only could store one, so I had to change it often.

For a Bluetooth speaker, the iBT297 does a pretty good job. It may not pump out high fidelity sound like a HomePod or anything, but the audio doesn't sound distorted and it is loud enough to fill a room without being at max volume. When your phone is connected, you can press the large button on the front with the microphone to activate voice commands or answer incoming calls with the iBT297 acting as a speakerphone.

And finally, I love that this device comes with a USB port in the back that you can use to charge something else. It eliminates the need for additional charging mounts, though you should double check if it works with your device, as sometimes companies like to have proprietary charging.

It does it all but isn't perfect

iHome iBT297: What I Don't Like

iHome Enhance app screenshots connected device, 1-color lamp picker, main colored tabs

While I like the iBT297 overall, there are definitely some parts about it that I'm not too fond of.

For one, the iHome Enhance app that they want you to use is not the best app I've tried out. When I first downloaded it and tried to set it up with my unit, I had to download a firmware update, which seemed to take forever, and I had to leave it on the screen the entire time to make sure that it didn't screw up. This was while I was still in the pairing phase, so it feels like it took forever to get it up and running properly.

Now that I've had the unit for a few weeks, I've noticed that sometimes when I go into the app, it seems like it forgets about my paired device. Therefore, I'll need to wait for it to find it and pair with it again, even though I thought it was paired the entire time. Other reviews of the app also mention disconnecting problems, so it doesn't appear to be just me.

I also feel that the buttons on the device itself can be a bit hard to press, and the fact that they're angled inwards towards the clock face doesn't help much. It's impossible to push the button to turn your alarm off, for example, without holding down the top of the device so it doesn't move around your table. I also wish that the buttons around the clock face would light up because it's hard to see which one you're trying to push.

And the dimmer on the back, while nice, also dims the clock face itself, which I don't understand. I'd prefer the ability to separately dim the lamp and clock face so I could keep the face bright to help me see in the dark.

A pretty good multifunctional Bluetooth speaker

iHome iBT297: The Bottom Line

Aside from the issues with the app and how the buttons are, I've been enjoying the iBT297 quite a lot. It's nice having a colorful lamp on my bedside table that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker and a functional, loud alarm clock that actually wakes me up. For me, the pros of this little gadget definitely outweigh the cons.

See at Amazon

Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.

When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.