Ecoxgear’s new EcoSlate is the second speaker we’ve looked at from the company recently, which specializes in ruggedized products for outdoor lifestyles. While we were a bit disappointed with last year’s Sol Jam — an average and somewhat awkwardly-shaped speaker with a solar panel on top — EcoSlate promises to be a much more versatile speaker both in terms of its design and its audio fidelity, with standard Bluetooth connectivity along with the ability to pair multiple speakers, illuminated buttons on top, and an integrated lantern.
EcoSlate is available in three fun colors — orange (pictured), mint green, and electric blue — in addition to the more typical black and gray designs, adding a more appealing splash of style to the typically boring black matte rubber that we’ve started to find tiresome. In addition to the speaker itself, the package includes a micro USB to USB charging cable, a 1A USB charging adapter. and a carabiner and lanyard for hanging the speaker. We particularly applaud Ecoxgear for including the power adapter; it’s a small thing, but nice to see in an era when many speaker manufacturers have been omitting power adapters — and in some cases even micro USB cables — in order to cut costs and packaging.
The top of the speaker features a full row of nine backlit buttons for power, pairing, volume, previous/next track, play/pause/answer, and lantern control. A row of four LEDs provide a general indication of battery level, with additional status LEDs for power, charging, Bluetooth, and multi-speaker pairing. The backlighting on the buttons can be turned off by holding down the lantern button for a few seconds, leaving only the power button and Bluetooth buttons faintly illuminated in green and blue, respectively. Standard 1/4-20 UNC thread mounts are found on both the bottom and right side of the speaker, which are used to attach the included lanyard or mount the speaker onto a stand.
Under a well-secured waterproof cover on the rear of the speaker are ports are a 3.5mm audio input port, a micro USB charging port, and a 1A USB port for juicing up an iPhone, along with a master on/off switch. The cover locks into place with a twist to stay closed, and is attached to the speaker with a strap so when it’s open you can keep it out of the way of the ports without risking losing it. EcoSlate is IP68 rated — dustproof, shockproof, and waterproof — and also floats on water.
Bluetooth pairing of EcoSlate went about as smoothly as we expected, with the speaker powering on in pairing mode and easily detected by our iPhone without any issues at all. Volume control is fully linked between the speaker and the iPhone, and battery status is shown in the iPhone status bar. Voice prompts are also provided to guide you through the process. EcoSlate also offers its own “EcoConnect” dual-speaker pairing mode, but we weren’t able to test this as we only received a single review unit. EcoSlate promises up to 12 hours of playback or talk time on a single charge, although using the built-in lantern of power bank features will naturally eat into your play time.
In terms of sound quality, Ecoxgear appears to have made some improvements over last year’s Sol Jam. EcoSlate still packs in a pair of 10W drivers, but perhaps due to the omission of the active subwoofer, we found EcoSlate’s sound to provide more clarity and less muddiness at higher volumes. We still wouldn’t go so far as to call the sound quality great, but it’s definitely an improvement on Sol Jam and slightly edges out other outdoor speakers we’ve recently looked at in the $100-$150 price range. With 20W of power, EcoSlate also gets quite loud for its size — a definite asset for an outdoor speaker — at maximum volume it’s definitely louder than most people would want to use indoors, and the dual passive subwoofers still provide more than enough bass, and there’s surprisingly little to no distortion at the higher volume levels.
We were also pleasantly surprised by EcoSlate’s built-in mic. Most speakers toss in speakerphone capabilities as an afterthought, and we’ve come to expect very little of the feature, but EcoSlate provided very good clarity on both ends of the call, even from a distance of several feet from the speaker. EcoSlate also provides the ability to trigger Siri by holding down the play/pause button, and we had no difficulty with Siri understanding anything we said to it through the speaker. EcoSlate also includes a 200 lumen LED wide-beam lantern that radiates from the left side that can be toggled on and cycled through three brightness levels, although Ecoxgear doesn’t provide any details on what impact this has on battery life.
As popular as rugged outdoor speakers have become, in most cases we’ve found that there’s almost always a tradeoff between sound quality, outdoor features, and price, and EcoSlate is no exception in this area, although we think it manages the balance fairly well. If sound quality is your primary concern, there are better options in this price range, but of course those wouldn’t be speakers you’d likely want to take with you camping or to the beach. On the other hand, we think it’s fair to say that audiophile sound quality isn’t usually a priority in most outdoor listening environments, so it’s something that’s far easier to let go of when you’re buying a speaker expressly for this purpose, and that’s pretty much where EcoSlate fits in — it’s a speaker designed for outdoor adventures rather than dinner parties, and it gets our strong general recommendation for people with that lifestyle.
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