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Earlier in 2010 we reviewed the Altec Lansing Octiv Mini iPhone-iPod speaker and praised its compact size and attractive minimalist styling. Now Octiv is expanding the line with the dual-dock Octiv Duo, which is nearly double the size of its smaller sibling and costs about twice as much--a still affordable $99.
As with the Octiv Mini, Altec keeps things simple. After all, why build in a bunch of extras like an LCD for the clock, an AM/FM radio, or fancy alarm systems when they're all basically redundant to the impressive built-in capabilities of the iPhone or iPod Touch? Instead, like
When you first plug in your iPhone or iPod Touch, it will prompt you to install not one but two free apps: Alarm Rock and Music Mix. Alas, once installed, the apps won't automatically launch when you dock your device; that's an Apple issue.
Since we last saw the Alarm Rock app, Altec has improved it a bit. In addition to snooze and sleep modes, you still get the capability to set alarms only on certain days so you could, for example, have a weekend alarm and a weekday alarm; you can set the alarm to go off on individual days as well, such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. There are also a handful of themes to customize the clock's appearance. You could, alternately, use any other clock or alarm apps you'd prefer.
As we said, the Octiv Duo is about twice as large as the Mini and takes the form of a wedge or a hearty slice of pie. The speaker is 3.7 inches tall by 10.5 inches wide by 5.5 inches deep and stands out for having a classy, modern look with a black, matte finish.
Though you don't get a lot of features with the Octiv Duo, you do get more than what comes with the Mini. First and foremost, there are two docks instead of one, which lets you connect and charge two Apple iPhones or iPods at the same time. On the side of the unit, you'll also find a USB port for charging a non-Apple cell phone or a device such as an e-reader; you'll need to supply the USB cable. It's not earth shattering, but it's one of those great little value-added features that helps distinguish the Octiv Duo from the myriad other iPhone docks on the market. The Octiv Duo also has a mini-jack auxiliary input on the rear so you can play audio from non-Apple products.
Like all other "Made for iPhone" products, Altec electromagnetically shielded the Octiv Duo, so you can use an iPhone without having to toggle it into airplane mode.
Some users complained that the Octiv Mini didn't offer enough support for docked iPhones or iPod Touches. Since everything has to be controlled from your touch screen, the fear was that you might end up damaging the device's connector while, say, hitting the virtual snooze button a little too hard. For that reason, Altec has included a couple of adapter sleeves for the iPhone 3G and the iPod Touch that have higher collars. At the end of the day, we didn't think they made much of difference.
As mentioned above, the second compatible app available is Music Mix; you use it for playing music when you dock two iPhones or iPod Touches. You launch the app on your Touch or iPhone, then dock your second Apple music player and the app links your two music players and shuffles your music--we had a little trouble getting our iPod Touch to link up with an iPhone, but after docking it a couple of times, they finally joined up. You only need to install the app on one of the two docked players.
Once linked, you can decide how much you want to listen to the songs on each device by adjusting a virtual slider from within the app. For instance, if you don't want to insult a significant other who has an iPod docked next to yours, you can set the slider to 50 percent, the midway point. But if you're as bold as to prefer your music, you can move the slider accordingly, adjusting the slider to the right or left, depending on which dock your player is in. Whether it's cool or a bit silly is something you'll have to determine.
The Octiv Mini has no buttons to speak of--you have to control everything through your iPod or iPhone--but Altec has put some buttons on the Duo. The "source" button lets you choose between the left and right docks or the auxiliary input on the back (yes, you can connect other audio devices with an optional cable). It also has buttons for power and volume.
Altec also includes a small circular remote for controlling the basic functions of your iPod or iPhone. What's nifty about the remote control is that it adheres magnetically to a spot on the back of the unit so you can stow it for safekeeping. You wouldn't even know it's there unless you looked. However, its circular shape is unusual, and the button layout takes a bit of getting used to.
In terms of sound, this is definitely a step up from the mono (read: no stereo) Octiv and a bigger step up from your typical clock radio. But don't expect to get the kind of detail or bass that you'd get from more-expensive, larger iPod-iPhone speaker systems. Also, because the speaker is so small, you shouldn't expect much in the way of stereo separation.
Still, for a small speaker, the sound is decent enough, and there's just enough bass and clarity to make you say to yourself, "This thing sound OK," which is a compliment for a $99 speaker. It's also worth noting that this little guy plays fairly loud and is a good fit for a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and other places where you don't do your critical listening. (As we said in our Octiv Mini review, we ended up listening to a lot of Pandora radio and it's certainly well suited to lower-bit-rate music because it doesn't accentuate its flaws like some higher-end speakers do).
As for price, in this range, the Octiv Duo faces a lot of competition. But its dual docks, the unit's compact size, decent sound and styling, along with the included remote, and app-enhancing features--not to mention that useful extra USB power up--give the Duo enough distinguishing traits to make us recommend it.