It's worth mentioning that when your iPod is docked and the SoundDock isn't plugged in, its battery not only powers the speaker but keeps your iPod charged at the same time. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but chances are the speaker's going to lose its charge before your iPod does, so it might not be the most efficient use of power.
A couple of other nitpicks: a lot of today's iPod speaker systems have built-in AM/FM radios. This one doesn't. Also, you won't find any bass and treble controls on the unit or its remote. If you want to play around with the EQ settings on your iPod, you can (we turned the EQ to "off" because any other setting seemed to have an adverse effect on the sound), but the speaker's settings are fixed and you get the impression that the speaker is processing/filtering your music to optimize it for the speaker's frequency range. That's mostly a good thing, but some audio purists might find the lack of flexible controls unsettling.
The body of the speaker itself has only two buttons--volume up and down--while the remote has just eight buttons that offer basic control over your iPod. You can skip tracks forward and back, pause and play tracks, do some rudimentary menu navigating, raise and lower the volume, and turn the speaker off. The remote is well-designed, with a rubberized coating on its face and buttons below that feel nice and tactile. No complaints there, but just remember you'll need to walk up to the unit to see the iPod's screen if you're looking for a particular song.
As far as the sound goes, we tested the SoundDock Portable with a variety of musical styles, and it did well compared to other compact iPod speakers. We went through a mix of songs--a variety including the Arcade Fire, Snoop Dogg, Annie Lennox, Prince, the Fray, and Angelo Badalamenti (the Twin Peaks theme), and more. A couple of severely bass-heavy tracks on Prince's 3121 album brought the little Bose to its knees (read: things got a little crunchy), but all in all, the low end held together well, even at relatively high volumes.
We expected the system to sound best with acoustic material, which tends not to challenge small speakers, but we were surprised to find that it actually did better with the pop and hip-hop stuff; the midrange just isn't as tight as you'd hope. That said, the speaker does play fairly loudly, particularly for its size, and is well-suited for deck and poolside listening. It will also fill a small to midsize room with sound, but like a lot of other compact iPod speakers, you won't get much stereo separation unless you stand directly in front of the speaker, a few feet away from it.
The Bose SoundDock Portable is easy to sum up. This is a nice product with good sound and solid build quality. It's missing one key feature--a built-in AM/FM radio--and it's at least $100 overpriced. What can we say? Buy it if you can live without the radio and don't mind paying a premium for the Bose name. Those on a tighter budget would do better with something along the lines of the aforementioned Altec Lansing or Logitech solutions, or even the dockless Tivoli Audio iPAL.