The Altec Lansing inMotion iM9 certainly isn't as stylish as the iPod products it's supposed to be paired with. Looking more industrial than innovative, the iM9 joins an ever-growing list of iPod-compatible speakers, with this particular product's unique twist being its portability.
Measuring in at 280mm by 76mm by 188mm and weighing only 1.8kgs, the iM9 has been designed to be a hardy little unit that can be easily transported. The iM9 features rubberised edges and sealed button controls -- although it's by no means waterproof, as the open dock at the front attests to. The front of the unit is covered entirely by a black speaker grille, with the dock in the centre bordered by a silver metallic trim. The dock unit itself (which is made from shiny black plastic similar to a video iPod) ejects tape-deck style, with the iM9 coming with several dock connectors compatible with different versions of the iPod.
The unit's controls can be found along its top edge. There's a power button, eject (for the dock) and volume controls. The volume and eject buttons are actually beneath a rubber cover, which sometimes makes it difficult to tell whether you've pressed a button hard enough. We often experienced frustration when trying to raise and lower volume on the iM9.
The back of the unit is curved, with a retractable base at the bottom allowing the iM9 to stand on its edge. The back also features slightly raised rubber feet which gives the iM9 grip when laying flat, although we're not aware of many occasions where we'd want a speaker pointing straight upwards.
The Altec Lansing inMotion iM9 is compatible with most versions of iPods, and comes with three adaptors to make sure they're all a tight fit. The iM9 also charges any iPod docked within it. For those with video iPods, the iM9 can also output images to a television thanks to a composite out port at the unit's rear.
It's not an Apple-exclusive player, however, as the iM9 also features an auxiliary input jack at the back for other MP3 players (although you'll need to supply your own 3.5mm stereo cable).
While the Altec Lansing inMotion iM9 is powered via an AC wall adaptor, the portable speaker also takes batteries. Four C size batteries, according to Altec Lansing, will power the iM9 for 24 hours worth of music.
The inMotion iM9's produce a fine sound, although it's not as nuanced as what you'd get from a dedicated home sound system. That said, the iM9 functions well enough for parties, impromptu gatherings or any other area where proper speakers and a sound system can't be found. Altec Lansing says its built-in MaxxBass technology makes for quality bass without a subwoofer. While the bass coming out of the iM9 is deep, it tends to become rather heavy and overpowering at high volumes. The iM9 also lacks any sort of equaliser functions -- there's no way to tweak sound levels with this unit. This is an odd step back for the company, as Altec Lansing's previous inMotion, the iM7, came with bass and treble controls. Bottom line is if you're a discerning music aficionado with an ear for quality, then you'd better look elsewhere. Portability and volume are this unit's main strengths. Speaking of volume, we encountered a strange quirk with the inMotion iM9. The portable speaker defaults to a pretty loud preset volume setting every time you turn it off and back on again. This gave us a few shocks as what we thought was a low volume when we turned off the unit jumped back to a loud setting when we turned it back on again.
We're confused as to why Altec Lansing omitted a remote control for the iM9. Remote controls are practically standard in portable speakers of this kind, making the lack of one with this unit a glaring point of difference. The design also left us scratching our heads -- this portable speaker doesn't actually feature a dedicated handle, meaning you have to lug it around by holding the bottom of the unit. There is a recessed area at the top which could pass for a handle, but it's hardly comfortable to use.