Altec Lansing InMotion Classic and Compact
Altec Lansing sells an ever-growing range of iPhone and iPod speaker docks. The two I've had an opportunity to test most recently--the inMotion Classic and the inMotion Compact--are both exceptional. Each looks great and sounds even better.
The Compact's design is especially clever. At 9.5 inches wide, 4.7 inches tall, and 1.8 inches thick, the system is decidedly portable, and it's ensconced in its own permanently-attached, protective cover that latches snugly shut. When you're ready to listen, you fold the cover underneath the speaker, where it locks into a groove on the back of the device, forming a perfectly angled stand.
Once you've set up the Compact, you simply snap your iPhone or iPod into the Universal Dock, power on the system, and start getting your groove on. There's also an auxiliary-input jack on the back for connecting a different audio source, but note that as soon as you connect a cable to that jack, audio from a docked iPod or iPhone is muted.
The Compact's name refers to its size, but thankfully not its sound. The system can frankly get louder than I could comfortably listen to from across the room. At normal, or at least loud-but-not-insanely-so volumes, the Compact sounds incredible to me, given its small size. The dual (left and right) 2-inch drivers provide rich, full, and unquestionably powerful audio, with enough upper-bass to provide solid impact.
The Compact's on-board controls are limited: along the top edge are buttons for volume up and down, as well as a power switch, but nothing else. If you want to skip a track, or find a specific track, you'll need to use your iPhone or iPod's controls directly. Given how loud the speaker can get, I frequently found myself listening to it while across the room, so a remote would have been handy. I also would have liked dedicated track-control buttons, but I suppose if you're close enough to hit a button on the speaker, using the iPhone's on-screen button isn't much tougher.
You can power the Compact using the included AC adapter (which, unfortunately, doesn't fit into the speaker's integrated case), or you can go truly portable with 4 AA batteries. Altec Lansing claims you can get up to 24 hours of music on battery power; I got about 21 over the course of a week, using rechargeable batteries with the volume dialed way up. When the system is connected to AC power, it also charges your iPod or iPhone.
The inMotion Classic, at 13 inches wide, 6 inches tall, and 2 inches deep, is the Compact's taller, wider cousin. While it unfortunately lacks the Compact's built-in case, it features a clever mechanism of its own: The integrated carrying handle rotates behind the Classic, doing double duty as a kickstand. Also clever is the Classic's built-in remote cubby, which should make it slightly more difficult to lose the system's tiny, wireless remote control.
As with the Compact, you can snap your iPhone or iPod into the Classic's Universal Dock cradle or use the auxiliary-input jack to connect another audio source. But the Classic goes beyond those options, as it adds a digital FM radio, complete with a retro-feeling telescoping antenna. When not in use, the antenna folds flush with the top-back edge of the device.
Across the Classic's top edge sit both volume and track-navigation buttons, the latter of which double as FM-tuning buttons in radio mode. The system also features an LCD display that shows (in radio mode) the radio frequency or (in iPod/iPhone mode) the name, artist, and album for the current track. The latter feature is nice, though somewhat unnecessary, since the same information is of course visible on your iPod or iPhone.
The included infrared remote requires line-of-sight access to the Classic, but lets you adjust volume, change tracks, tune the radio, switch listening modes, and power the unit on or off. The remote's layout is cramped, and the buttons are a bit squishy for my taste, but I found it worked fine across an obstruction-free room.
Like the Compact, the Classic includes an internal rechargeable battery. However, if you're not near a power source, you can get only 5 hours of playback per full charge.
Despite these differences, the Classic matches the Compact quite closely in audio quality. The system's 3-inch left and right drivers deliver very good clarity, solid lower-end impact, and impressive loudness. The Classic packs a bit more overall oomph, but I didn't miss that slight extra power when listening to the Compact.
Macworld's buying advice
You can't go wrong with either of these Altec Lansing units. If you need more portability, and you don't mind using AA batteries in exchange for better battery life, then go with the Compact. If you prefer a built-in battery, along with the luxuries of a remote control, an FM radio, and more onboard controls, the Classic will suit you perfectly. (Both systems carry the Works-with-iPhone and Made-for-iPod designations.)