Altec Lansing inMotion im600 iPod Speakers

Smaller iPod-compatible speaker systems like this one are usually described as "speakers" (as opposed to "systems"). The Altec Lansing inMotion gets points for not calling itself an i-something. What's seductive about it, though, is its shape-shifting ability.

Push a button in the center of the front panel and a spring-loaded mechanism abruptly adds to appendages to the front and back. The two additions together form a stand that allows the inMotion to sit on its bottom edge with a slight backward incline. On the front of the stand are the iPod docking connector, a blue backlit LED power button to the left of the dock, and plus/minus volume buttons to the right. Two-inch drivers lie behind a sturdy metal grille.

While the back of the stand is a simple plastic flap, the button-flip maneuver does cause it to expose a few more things of interest, including a mini-USB jack, composite video output, subwoofer output, auxiliary input, and a jack for the detachable wall-wart power cord. The product is rechargable, its lithium-ion battery running 7.5 hours per charge.

There is a rod antenna at the right side for the built-in FM radio. The FM tuner was good enough to receive a borderline signal in a dodgy location, namely my desk, which is across the room from windows facing a courtyard on the fourth floor of a ten-floor building. (Unless you count the penthouse. Then it's 11 floors. I envy the people in the penthouse except when it rains or the elevator breaks.) When plugged in the wall, inMotion works with the iPod alarm function, awakening you to whatever awful noise you listen to, you little barbarian.

A few more controls along the top, above a small B&W LCD, are all tiny buttons. They include forward and reverse navigation keys, a one-button source select, and an SFX "stereo expander" button that expands imaging by a few inches without introducing any serious distortion. The small remote measures 1.3 by 3.3 inches. It duplicates all the controls and adds four radio presets.

The unit, when folded up, measures about 6 inches high by 9 wide by 1.75 deep--about the size of a tallish hardcover book--and weighs just above two pounds. Depth expands to 4.75 inches when you press the magic button.

There's no need to go nuts describing the sound except to say that it's very good, even pleasing. Bass is light but not altogether absent. There's enough to make voices sound natural but not enough to make them sound boomy (a common malady in this kind of product). If you want more bass, the sub-out makes that possible in a rough-and-ready way--without sub volume or crossover controls.

The inMotion is the best product of its size that I've heard. It doesn't play as loud, or sound as good, as the Apple Hi-Fi, but it's also much smaller, more portable, and less than half the price. Next time I toss an iPod-compatible noisemaker into a carry-on, it'll be this simple but cleverly designed product.

Price: $149 from Best Buy, Apple.

Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater and tastemaster of Happy Pig's Hot 100 New York Restaurants.