There is now a huge selection of audio docks on the market, but the ones that tend to stand out are the high-end models that boast impressive sonics, such as the Vita Audio R2i and Philips Fidelio DS9000, or those that have something a little bit different to offer.
The Altec Lansing Octiv 202 Dual Audio Dock certainly offers something a little different as it is capable of accommodating two devices at the same time. Of course, it is not the only dock around to offer such a feature, but this one comes with its own free app that lets you shuffle music between the two players, as well as an alarm clock app. What's more, it is designed to fit neatly into tight gaps and dead spaces, such as the corner of the kitchen worktop - a feature which sounds so simple but is something of a rarity on products of this type. The dock is certified as Made for iPhone and Made for iPod, although you'll need to make sure that whatever device you're using has OS 3.1 or later or it won't work.
After following the handy set-up instructions that are printed on the inside of the box when you open up the lid, the first thing that struck us about the Octiv 202 is the shape. Sporting a chassis that's been chiselled down into a right angle at the back, it's ideal for pushing into a corner. Finished in matte black, the dock is fairly unobtrusive, with the four glossy buttons along the top adding a touch of class. The buttons are for power, changing the source and for adjusting the volume. There's also a handy little circular remote control that, when not in use, magnetically grips onto the back of the unit. This has got a few more options, such as track skip controls and buttons to help you navigate around the devices' menu screens.
The dock comes with two adaptors so that you can accommodate an iPhone 3/3GS and a third gen iPod touch, but we found that we didn't actually need the 3GS adaptor as the protective case on our phone made it sit comfortably in the cradle without any extra help. Along with space for two iDevices, there's an auxiliary input for hooking up a non-Apple player as well as a built-in USB port that lets you charge an extra device such as a camera.
Once the iPhones/iPods are in place, you simply need to hit the power button on the top of the dock. Pressing the Source button will switch between the left and right-hand device and the auxiliary input, whilst there are three orange lights that run along the top of the unit to show you which of the inputs is currently being used.
The sound quality is really quite impressive for a dock at this price point. The mid-range is clear and warm, and even the bass sounds pretty good considering the size and power of the speakers. The volume goes up pretty high, but even cranking it up as far as possible without deafening ourselves, the sonics remained consistent with no obvious tinny sounds creeping in.
You can customise the background of the free Alarm Rock app and tweak several other minor settings, but the main draw is that it lets you pick a song from your iTunes library to wake up to. Choose wisely, is our advice.
The Music Mix app does what it says on the tin - creating a random mix of music between the two iPods. You can pick the track that you want to start with, simply by selecting it from your music collection before you open up the app, but after that it's down to the technical wizardry to decide what you listen to. Using a sliding scale bar, the app lets you decide what percentage of music is to come from each of the two devices, which is good news if your partner has appalling taste in music and an iTunes library to match.
Using a shuffle-style mix may work well for some, particularly if most of your music is of the same genre. However, if you've got a sizeable music collection spanning plenty of genres and obscure bands, then the sudden appearance of ghost tracks or a surprise rendition of one of Rage Against the Machine's saltier efforts during a relaxing cup of tea could put you off forever. Also, the display only shows the name of the track and not the artist, so if you want to find out who a forgotten song is by then you're out of luck.
The app also includes a "Juice Meter" which gives you a large graphic of the how much battery charge there is on each device.
Although there's no doubt about the usefulness of having a dock that can charge two iPods or iPhones at the same time, the Music Mix app will probably divide opinion - you'll either love it or hate it. Having said that, the Alarm Rock app is really very useful. But it's sound quality that counts when it comes to iPod docks, and the Octiv 202 really delivers in this area, making it a great buy.