Curvy. Smooth. Uncomplicated. Think of any product One Infinite Loop has spat out over the last decade or so and you’ll almost invariably and immediately come up with a few key adjectives to describe them (and if you don’t, you’re probably not reading this right now anyway).
But The Bluetooth-equipped Altec Lansing InMotion Air ($200) is pretty much the opposite of anything and everything Jony Ive and his colleagues at Apple believe in. At least, that’s true as far as its aesthetics and ergonomics are concerned; under the hood though, it packs a punch.
As with so many of Altec Lansing’s creations, the Air is an elongated rhomboid, but this time with a shallow oblique slice off the top forward crease where the controls sit. There’s a big, roomy handle at the back for easy portability, and right next to it a clever slot for the unit’s clean, button-packed remote (one of the most feature-filled we’ve seen on a portable dock) to hibernate in when not being used. Then there’s the exterior finish — a strange, sexy texture that feels a little like fabric, as if the dock had been dipped in a vat of liquid satin before being boxed up.
With its jagged edges and smoky, satiny exterior, the Air’s design is anything but safe. Unlike Apple’s light, easygoing designs, this dock takes a bold, aggressive stance that probably either really appeals to — or really annoys — anyone looking at it; but either way, its designers deserve kudos for taking a chance.
There’s an auxiliary jack in the back, but the Air is built to function mainly via a Bluetooth connection. If you have an older Mac (or PC) without Bluetooth capability, Altec Lansing ships the Air with a USB Bluetooth dongle with a claimed range of a whopping 300 feet (we didn’t test this). The Air lasted a good six hours under battery power, good for its class.
Then there’s all that muscle under the hood. Bluetoothed music could stream clear across my (small) house; not even two walls and about 20 feet between my iPad and the Air could make the music stop.
Sound is very different from a lot of other docks in this range. The Air managed to reproduce really clean, crisp highs, and bass was deeper and smoother than expected for its size — even if it wasn’t very powerful. There was an odd lack of punch in the middle though; it’s a good dock for chilling at home with some lounge music — maybe a little Groove Armada — but not the best for setting outside on the patio for blasting a little Ozomatli. Still, sound was impressively well-defined for a dock this size.
While the Air’s aesthetics are largely a matter of taste, its other un-Apple like characteristics are not — it seems to have been built with more than its fair share of weirdness and complexity.
First there’re the controls, a line of identical silver buttons which, while very neat, aren’t exactly easy to differentiate between under normal circumstances, let alone party conditions. Some of those buttons seem superfluous — do we really need a button for the auxiliary port? And track controls on the iDevice you’re playing from and on the remote and on the dock itself? Also, the LED Source and Bluetooth indicator lights alternate blinking slowly like the lights on the bridge of the original Enterprise. Why?
That rhomboid design is cool, but isn’t the easiest shape to pack in a suitcase unless you happen to be packing a large tangram puzzle.
More seriously, there seemed to be occasional connectivity hiccup where the dock would, suddenly and for no apparent reason, drop my iPad’s connection — with the iPad inches away from the dock. I have no idea why, and I couldn’t replicate the issue between my iPad and two other Bluetooth docks.
A provocative, stylish Bluetooth speaker with good sound and excellent features that’s been saddled with more than its fair share of eccentricities.