Review : I-F3 Portable iPod Speakers

Travel with your iPod in confidence with this system.

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Product Manufacturer: Sonic Impact

Price: $169.99 US

The Good

  • Great sound. Rugged design. Global plug adapters included. Excellent travel protection. Robust zipper closure. Remote included.

The Bad

  • Quirky buttons and ergonomics. Heavy. Poor auxiliary-in sound.
Sonic Impact's I-F3 Portable iPod Speakers is an update to their popular iFusion. These rugged speaker systems with a built-in protective housing withstands travel well. The original iFusion has suffered through much backpack travel without missing a beat.

Great Sound

The best feature of the I-F3 is its sound. For its size, it really fills the room and is loud enough for outdoor use. It also has decent bass given the small speakers and lack of any subwoofer. Not only does it sound good, it has more than enough amplifier power to crank it up.

Rugged Design

The I-F3 is definitely built to withstand virtually any activity and is particularly useful for camping, sporting events, sitting on the patio, or on the road in a hotel room. It features a three-phase lithium ion rechargeable battery that Sonic Impact claims will last up to 20 hours, which is probably accurate given the heft of the battery pack. That said, the I-F3 weighs in at approximately three pounds, but it earns its place in a backpack or luggage with its protective features. While most companies use thin small-teeth zippers in their cases, Sonic Impact uses a large nylon zipper that does not wear out over time.

Made to travel

While the I-F3 is heavier than I prefer, it certainly comes prepared to go anywhere in the world. Featuring a switching mode power adapter rated at 100~240 VAC and 50/60 Hz, it comes with a set of global plug adapters, so it is ready for use in any country. Unfortunately, while the I-F3 features a very nicely designed zippered case, there is no place to store the adapter or country plugs, so you'll still need to drag these along separately. The built-in alarm clock provides two separate alarms that can wake you to your own play list or favorite FM radio station.

Not for Auxiliary Use

While the Sonic Impact I-F3 features very nice sound when connected to an iPod or with the built-in FM radio, you probably do not want to use it with a computer or any other auxiliary audio source via the Audio In jack. Not only is there virtually no amplifier power, the sound is muffled and lacks any dimension. This is unfortunate because the I-F3 might otherwise double as a decent set of computer speakers, especially with a notebook computer when on the road.

I would not recommend the I-F3 for use with anything but an iPod or for use with the built-in radio. To its credit, when it is connected to your computer, you can download or transfer files while listening to your music and charging the iPod.

Quirks and Ergonomics

One issue that has happened several times is that when turning on the unit, the sound goes to the maximum possible volume, which is startling and certainly unpleasant. This happens when the I-F3 goes into the standby state, following a period of inactivity of more than five minutes, and then is turned on. It did not occur when the I-F3 is turned off manually after use. This has happened approximately 4-5 times over a three-week period.

Another issue is the power button, which doesn't always turn on the first time. Furthermore, the overall keypad is not very ergonomic. Compared to other products designed for the iPod, the keypad is not pleasant to use and could be described as "cheesy."

A minor style issue is the use of a very old fashioned red backlit LED for the display. While blue LEDs seem to be the norm everywhere, the red looks right out of the 1990s, blue would have looked better.

Finally, while the Seek function works fine with a 4th generation 60 GB and a 5th generation 80 GB iPod, with a 1st generation 1 GB iPod Nano, the only keypad or remote control options are Play and volume control. The Seek and Pause do not work. There is no documentation in the manual to suggest this is normal operation.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Sonic Impact I-F3 features great sound but comes up short in a few areas. For the price, I expect a slightly more refined and reliable product. If you can put up with the quirks though, you may not find a more robust sound product for traveling.

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Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor