When we got our first glimpse of Altec Lansing's Octiv Stage MP450 docking speaker system for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod, we were pretty intrigued by its design--it reminded us of the old armature G4 iMacs.
Basically, once you've docked your iPad, the built-in "rotating connection arm" allows you to adjust the iPad to be viewed in portrait or landscape mode at multiple viewing angles. When you place it in an almost flat position, you can even type on your iPad while it's docked.
Altec Lansing has geared this accessory ($149.99 list) toward people who want to watch video on their iPads--whether it be in the kitchen, bedroom, or anywhere else--and the company has built the speaker with that in mind. The company says its Audio Alignment technology "provides distinctive center channel voicing and enhanced stereo delivery for distortion-free performance even at full volume." The system also has a 3.5mm auxiliary jack for connecting additional audio sources.
As far as features go, that's really it. There's a power button and volume controls on the front of the speaker, and you get a small remote. We would've liked to see the USB port found in the Octiv Duo for charging phones and other portable devices. And some might like a pass-through USB port for syncing your iPad with a computer.
Those minor gripes aside, what we were hoping for was better sound. The bass is rather thin, and our music just didn't sound all that vibrant or detailed, although the quality was acceptable for casual listening.
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.