Review: Logitech UE Mobile Boombox
Ever since the Jawbone Jambox endeavored to redefine "small portable wireless speakers," virtually every established speaker maker has taken a shot at the category. Having dominated the larger portable speaker category for years with sophisticated multi-driver speakers, Logitech's first stab at a direct Jambox competitor was the far simpler Mini Boombox, a compact two-driver speaker that appeared to be an OEM design -- nearly identical to the Strax XqBeats, which we reviewed and didn't particularly like back in 2011. Late last year, Logitech replaced the Mini Boombox with the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox ($100), a more distinctive version that fixes some of its predecessor's issues while preserving the same general concept. It's a much better accessory, though the market now includes some more capable competitors.
Measuring 4.3” wide by 2.3” tall by 2.6” deep, the Mobile Boombox trades its predecessor’s glossy plastic body and capacitive top controls for a combination of colored metallic and rubberized surfaces. Similar to the Westinghouse Unplug but much smaller, the body is now a rounded-off box of thick rubber, matching or contrasting in color with painted metal front and rear grilles—similar to the $250 Logitech UE Boombox, but much smaller, and conspicuously lacking the fancy aluminum handle. A tiny blue light is centered right between the rubber and metal surfaces, clearly and inoffensively indicating power and pairing status.
Three large, pressure-sensitive buttons on the top now clearly indicate volume down, pairing, and volume up features, while a tiny microphone hole is found behind the pairing button. Missing this time are the prior model’s tiny dedicated track and play/pause controls, which isn’t a huge loss given how terrible all of the buttons were on the original version of this speaker. However, their absence prevents Mobile Boombox from controlling Siri, music playback, or other features of the wirelessly connected iOS device; the pairing button here is truly only for pairing.
You’ll still find an on/off switch, micro-USB charging port, and auxiliary audio port on the back, but Logitech has left off their labeling as the features are pretty obvious. By contrast, large UE logos have been embossed into the left and right sides, matching rather than contrasting against the color of the rubber. On that note, solely light gray or solely black versions of the Mobile Boombox are available, as are three two-toned versions with brightly colored grilles and neutral bodies. Logitech includes a wall power adapter and a relatively short Micro-USB charging cable in each package.
The Mobile Boombox’s specifications are respectable. There are two 1” drivers inside for audio, a 10-hour rechargeable battery, and a Bluetooth wireless chip capable of remembering eight devices, with up to two connected at the same time. Logitech promises that the Bluetooth feature works from 50-foot distances—longer than many wireless audio systems—and in our testing, it streamed even a bit beyond that length despite wall obstructions. Like the company’s full-sized Boombox, it also emits pleasantly musical chimes when powering on and pairing, turning off silently when you flip the rear switch. Users familiar with the prior Mini Boombox will note that the concept, size, and features haven’t changed much from the Mini Boombox, but Logitech has polished the execution considerably.
Due both to its small size and relatively low price, the Mobile Boombox is in a position where it can’t sound great on an absolute scale, just a relative one—and even then, it’s in the “good” zone. With only 4.3” of width to accommodate the twin 1” speakers, there’s not a lot of room for stereo separation, and as is common with audio drivers of that size, the sound skews significantly towards the midrange rather than crisp highs or deep lows. Consequently, the audio is reasonably clear but not particularly dynamic, and you can expect to hear only modest left- and right-channel separation from an apparent field of around six inches. With both the iOS device and the speaker at their maximum levels, the peak volume level falls short of small room-filling; there’s enough sonic power to let you hear music at your desk or from a bookshelf, but not much more.
This shouldn’t be a shock given the unit’s iPhone-like footprint, but exponential performance gains can be had at the same price if you’re willing to step up a little in size to JBL’s Flip, or the considerably larger Soundfreaq Sound Kick. Each sells for under $100 and delivers additional power beyond the Mobile Boombox, with Flip offering wider stereo separation and a noticeably higher peak volume level, and Sound Kick using a pop-out rear chamber to add extra bass. However, there’s no question that Mobile Boombox is the smallest of the units, comes in the most colors, and has the longest battery life; its rivals run for around five hours, give or take a bit.
Speakerphone performance is another possible differentiator in Mobile Boombox’s favor. Sound Kick doesn’t have a built-in microphone, and works solely as a stereo speaker system, so the fact that Mobile Boombox includes a mic is definitely a plus. While the microphone isn’t as clear as the one in Flip, and similarly falls a bit short of the array built into the iPhone—callers told us that the Mobile Boombox sounded “fuzzier” and sometimes “robotic” by comparison—it works, and our callers didn’t complain until they’d heard superior options.
Overall, the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox is a very good little portable speaker: it’s not quite the rival of its top $100 competitors in sound quality or volume level, but its compact size, color options, and other little frills make it appealing nonetheless. The simplicity of its controls, clean design, and solid wireless performance are all welcome; though they could be further improved upon, this model represents a solid jump upwards from its Mini Boombox predecessor. It’s worthy of our strong general recommendation, and should be given particularly serious consideration if size trumps sonic performance for your particular needs.