The Orbit iM237 is designed to sit on a flat surface (there are rubberized feet on the bottom) and fire upward, but you can also prop it up on its side and have it fire forward like a traditional speaker.
As one might expect from a speaker this small, it doesn't sound all that good. But it also doesn't sound terrible and manages to belt out tunes with unexpected gusto, though--not surprisingly--it does better with lighter fare and less bass-heavy material.
We ran some Beatles tunes through the Orbit and it did OK (audiophiles will cringe, of course, but this thing isn't about good sound). The bass lines on "Come Together" and "Something" just didn't have any punch, but the bass wasn't completely absent, which is all you can ask. It also did fine putting out the soundtrack to Napoleon Dynamite and some episodes of Family Guy.
Altec recommends that you adjust the volume on the source device to 85 percent to 90 percent of maximum and turn off any bass enhancement or EQ settings. We'd disagree on the first part, and suggest that the key thing is not to crank the volume too much. (Volume settings are strictly at the source; the Orbit itself has no built-in volume control.) We tested the Orbit with an iPod and computer, and every time we pushed the volume, the little Orbit's sound distorted and made us cringe. But with a little volume restraint we felt better about the speaker and chances are your friends will be impressed that it's able to deliver as much sound as it does.
The Altec Lansing iM237 Orbit MP3 speaker goes for $40. That puts it more or less in the middle of the other miniportable speakers we've seen: less than the Yamaha NX-A01, pricier than the LG MSP-100, and about even with the iMainGo 2. That said, the price tag is a little disappointing considering that the previous Orbit model was just $30. We hope the new Orbit will soon drift down to that price as well.