On a more positive note, we had no complaints about the sound when watching videos. We checked out authorized (read: legal) digital versions of "Bolt" and "Horton Hears a Who," as well as Netflix and the SlingPlayer Mobile app for iPad. The sound was decent. For bedside or kitchen watching, it's more than adequate.
In the end, the Octiv Stage MP450 is really all about design. Though it has a basic feature set, most people will use the iPad's massive app library to turn it into a small entertainment center, customized to their liking. Need an alarm clock? Run Altec's free Alarm Rock app (or any of the dozens of competing apps, if you prefer). Want to hear music? The Altec lacks a built-in FM radio, but that's irrelevant--just load up Pandora, Last.fm, or shuffle up your iTunes library. Ready to veg out with some video? Watch live TV via SlingPlayer or Dish Remote Access, or queue up Hulu Plus, Netflix, or the ABC app. And all the while your iPad's getting juiced up, so there's no battery drain.
If you're comparing this product with something like the iPad-docking iHome iA100, that model offers a bit better sound quality and more built-in features (such as a Bluetooth speaker phone and FM radio), but it costs $50 more than the Altec. Moreover, the Altec is the slicker-looking dock and its flexible tilt-and-swivel mechanism gives it a big leg up for watching video in landscape (wide-screen) mode, as well as typing on the virtual keyboard. We also thought that though the Octiv Stage may not offer better sound than the iLuv iMM747, the Stage's design is superior.
Despite its middling audio for music and somewhat high list price of $150, if you're looking for an iPad dock for playing back video--or just docking your iPad by your bedside and using it as alarm or to scan e-mails--the Octiv Stage MP450 has a lot to recommend it. Hopefully Altec will improve the sound quality in the next version and maybe add a USB port or two for charging other devices. But for now, design trumps performance and features enough to make this one worth considering.