Aside from being a standard iPod and iPhone dock, the JBL On Air also has an FM radio, an alarm clock function and a full colour display that shows the details, and any artwork, of tracks playing. Oh, and Airplay – the dock’s main feature of note. At first the display seems a bit pointless – it’s around the same size as the iPod Classic’s screen, and significantly smaller than the iPhone’s. However, the font size used is pretty large, making it easy to read from across a room.
We found that it didn’t always keep up with what was playing when dishing out ditties from a docked iPod though, needing to be disconnected and re-docked. It also uses the thumbnail artwork rather than any high-res assets, looking blurry close-up.
Very odd for a dock like this, there’s also no way to browse through a docked iPod’s library using the on-dock controls or the bundled remote. The nav buttons only take you through the dock’s own menu system. We get that this is a device made with Airplay in mind, which makes on-device library searching dead easy, but there’s still a very conspicuous dock socket at its centre – it’s nowhere near as wireless-centric as something like the Philips DS9800.
Airplay is Apple’s wireless streaming feature, and it predictably works flawlessly – this being Apple and all. You have to setup your Wi-Fi network on the JBL On Air beforehand, but that’s as simple as inputting your security key, if you use one. And if you don’t, you should. When using your iPhone as a virtual remote for the JBL On Air, the lack of nav options and the screen niggles fade away, but then so does the need for an additional screen (when playing music at least).
There’s an auxiliary 3.5mm jack input just behind the iPod socket, letting you plug-in another source easily. This wealth of features demands a more involved menu system than you’d find in rivals like the Philips DS9000 or Zeppelin Mini, and it’s mostly traversed through using the three buttons directly above the mini display. The context-sensitive function of each is displayed at the top of the display. Like the snooze function, it helps this dock function well as an alarm clock – what’s the use of an alarm clock if it doesn’t have a clock display after all? So, for all the album art-displaying shenanigans, this is the display’s true primary function.