Altec Lansing’s inMotion Air is a compact Bluetooth speaker system that works well with Macs and iOS devices alike. The inMotion Air is full of angles: The unit itself leans back, the speaker drivers seem to lean back into the unit, the on-board controls sit on a superfluously angled edge, and even the system’s wireless remote control and USB dongle sport dramatically decorative angles.
The inMotion Air measures 13.2 inches wide, 3.5 inches deep, and 4.1 inches tall, and weighs less than two pounds, making it easily transportable. The unit’s surface is covered in soft, black rubber. I liked the feel of this finish, but despite being rubbery, it was a little slippery in my hands—I quickly learned to carry the Air using the built-in handle on the unit’s back edge.
Because the inMotion Air connects via Bluetooth, you can pair it with pretty much any device in Apple’s current arsenal. Pairing is straightforward: You press and hold the Pairing button on the inMotion Air to enter pairing mode, and then use the Bluetooth settings on the other device—the Bluetooth screen in iOS’s Settings app, or the Bluetooth pane in Mac OS X’s System Preferences—to complete the process. (The Air can be paired with only a single device at a time.)
The inMotion Air also ships with a USB dongle that lets you use the speakers with older Macs that don’t have built-in Bluetooth, although there’s good reason to use this dongle with Bluetooth-enabled Macs, as well—according to Altec Lansing, it extends Bluetooth range from the standard distance of approximately 30 feet to an impressive 300 feet. Indeed, I was able to stream music from demonstrably further using the dongle than I could with my Mac’s built-in Bluetooth connection. I don’t know that I got a full 300 feet away, but the range was certainly impressive.
Seven metal (and, of course, angled) buttons run along an angled edge near the top of the inMotion Air: Power, Bluetooth/Source, Volume Down, Volume Up, Previous, Next, and Play/Pause. On the back of the unit, there’s a cozy slide-in storage area for the remote. With the remote removed, you can access a tiny On/Off switch. While this may seem like an inconvenient location, you’re meant to leave the switch in the On position unless you won’t be using the inMotion Air for an extended period of time—the system won’t even charge unless the switch is in the On position. (For everyday use, you use the aforementioned Power button on top of the unit to turn the system on and off.)
Also on the rear of the device are a port for the included AC adapter and a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) line-in jack for connecting another audio source. You can listen to only one source—Bluetooth or line-in—at a time, and you switch between the two using the aforementioned Source button.
The slim remote control is slightly odd to hold because of the its angled edges. The remote includes buttons for Source, Power, Volume Up and Down, Preview, Next, Play/Pause, Mute, ESS, and Launch. The last two buttons merit further explanation. ESS toggles the system’s Expanded Sound Stage feature—Altec Lansing’s proprietary technology meant to “widen the stereo image to fill a room with sound.” I found that the feature did indeed make the overall stereo image seem wider than the system’s physical dimensions, but at the expense of bass and midrange frequencies—the former became far weaker, and the latter sounded more muddled. I ended up leaving the feature disabled most of the time. (Annoyingly, there’s no visual indicator of ESS status on the unit or the remote. If you’re not sure whether it’s on, you can toggle it back and forth—it’s usually easy to tell which mode sounds “wider”—but if that doesn’t help, you’ll need to power the device off and then on again to reset the setting.)
The Launch button is meant to launch the default music player on your computer. I found that it did nothing, whether paired with my Mac (via Bluetooth or the USB dongle) or my iOS devices.
The USB dongle sports a unique feature that makes it even more useful: a 3.5mm audio-out jack that lets you stream music to the inMotion Air while simultaneously listening through speakers—say, your normal computer speakers—connected to the jack. On the other hand—perhaps because of this additional input—the dongle is so large that on my MacBook Pro, it blocks the second USB port when inserted in the first.
The inMotion Air includes a built-in, rechargeable battery, which Altec Lansing says should provide six to seven hours of continuous playback. That estimate meshed with my experience—I got just shy of six and a half hours listening, via Bluetooth, at a fairly loud volume.
The inMotion Air sports a pair of 3-inch, full-range drivers along with apt-X technology designed to improve the fidelity of Bluetooth audio. The end result sounds good, and the inMotion Air can get impressively loud. However, thanks to its small drivers and enclosure, the system won’t satisfy bass addicts—the lower frequencies are there, but soft. Still, the inMotion Air sounds clear, and midrange and treble frequencies shine.
Macworld’s buying advice
At $200, the inMotion Air faces tough competition from the excellent Jawbone Jambox portable Bluetooth speaker system ( ), which is much smaller and (in my opinion) more attractive. The inMotion Air, however, can play notably louder and offers more playback controls; a wireless remote; and more connection options. If your first choice is portability, the Jambox is probably the better buy. But if you place a higher value on audio quality and control, the inMotion Air better addresses those needs.