UE, as in Ultimate Ears, quietly launched their best Bluetooth speaker (yet) a few weeks ago, the UE Boom. That isn’t to say they didn’t issue a press release. Rather the press blitz was limited, at least compared to the company’s product launch last year, which was far more extensive and included me garnering an early hands-on. The design makes it one of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market.
But that isn’t to say the UE Boom isn’t worthy of the proverbial spotlight. It’s worthy of a spot on our list of the top 10 best portable speakers under $100. And while it is possible to narrow your options down by features – some have a speakerphone, while others can charge your 5V devices – for the most part, they’ll all be relatively the same on paper. So how does the UE Boom stack up?
First off, the UE Boom offers excellent sound quality given its relatively small size. It’s on par with JBL’s Charge, and while it can’t power up a device, it produces a comparable amount of amplitude and fidelity. Put another way, the UE Boom can fill up a small room with sound, deliver a decent sound stage (relatively speaking), and even squeeze out some lows, though they’re far from Earth-shattering. Although you’ll want to check out its cousin, the UE Boom 3, as our review points out some nice benefits.
The UE Boom’s design feels very high-end in the hand. At a glance, it appears to be finished in plastic and cloth, though UE points out that it boasts some sort of “plasma coating”, which they say makes it both stain and water-resistant. I can’t attest to its ability to deter water, but for the weeks I’ve been using the UE Boom, its plastic, rubbery finish, which contains oversized volume buttons, is relatively blemish-free despite it rocking a white facade. Check out our TEGO Audio CERA Wireless Portable Speaker review for a portable speaker.
That said, the UE Boom is very simple in terms of features, at least at a glance. On one end sports power and Bluetooth pairing button. The other is a small hanger to hook it onto a Carabiner or some other comparable device, as well as a 3.5mm input and MicroUSB port. You may also want to go through our UE Roll Bluetooth Speaker review for a Bluetooth speaker with a unique design.
What you can’t see is that it also features NFC, allowing you to pair your compatible device with a simple tap. And if you’ve got two UE Booms you can pair them together and form a stereo speaker, provided of course you’re running the company’s accompanying application on your smartphone. Unfortunately, UE only sent me one Boom, so I wasn’t able to test this latter feature.
Another feature you can’t see, is the speaker’s speakerphone, or more specifically mic. It works astoundingly well, and even from a distance of 4-6 feet, my words, which I recorded to voicemail, were discernible. However, there was no mistaking that I was on a speakerphone. Nevertheless, the feature is no better and no worse than a stand-alone phone’s speakerphone.
Battery wise the UE Boom is both impressive on and off the paper. The company claims a 15-hour playback time, and based on my experience this seems to be on par, though it will vary depending on the volume at which you playback music. Charging takes 3.4 hours – this is UE’s spec’d time as I didn’t monitor this. Nevertheless, since it powers up using a MicroUSB port, you can easily find a compatible cord, though one is included in the box. Of note, pushing the volume plus and minus buttons simultaneously will cause the UE Boom to announce how much battery power is left.
The asking price for the UE Boom is $200. For that, you’ll have your choice of black with red highlights, white with a mix of blue and yellow, yellow and blue, or red and white. Generally speaking, this is the going rate for a Bluetooth speaker of this ilk. And by all accounts, the UE Boom works just as well as the rest of the pact, if not slightly better. That being said, few Bluetooth speakers can connect with another to form a stereo pair, and for that, at least conceptually, I applaud UE for offering something few have, even if there is a higher (i.e. double) cost associated with achieving this.
So I have to be honest and tell you that I’m torn. There is nothing really wrong with the UE Boom. It works, with the exception that it’s round and can roll off counters provided it’s got enough inertia to overcome its rubbery bumper that contains the volume buttons. I’d like to see a price point that is below $150, but if UE were to do that they’d be instantly cannibalizing sales of the UE Mobile Boombox, a smaller Bluetooth speaker that sells for $100 and offers far less sound quality. So that begs the question: is the UE Boom twice as good as their Mobile Boombox? The answer: yes and then some.