Summer is prime time for new Bluetooth speakers, and Ecoxgear’s Sol Jam ($150) seems to match the summer vibe completely. The IP67 waterproof speaker is topped by a solar panel which purports to use “power from virtually any light source” to continuously charge the speaker. Sol Jam packs two 10-watt speakers and a subwoofer into its rather compact frame. A sealable panel on the back of the speaker covers a 1A charging port for an iPhone. Sol Jam comes with a micro-USB cable, optional AC wall adapter for charging, and a carabiner, which can be clipped onto either side of the speaker.
Sol Jam is a smallish speaker, weighing a bit more than 1.5 pounds, and measuring roughly 6.2” x 5” x 3”. A solar panel occupies the top of the speaker, along with a bunch of buttons — power, Bluetooth, volume, back, forward, play/pause/speakerphone, and battery level. The speakers are front-facing, and the sides have holes to accommodate the included carabiner. If that’s not enough, a hole for a standard mount is on the bottom of the speaker, and the sealed port on the rear allows for recharging Sol Jam, charging an iPhone, and plugging in an audio cable.
It’s notable that Sol Jam is IP67-rated, giving it complete dust protection and allowing it to be submersible — but that point likely won’t matter much, as the speaker does indeed float. Sol Jam is feature-heavy for its size, but its design doesn’t do much for us aesthetically. Solar panels aside, we’ve grown tired of all the black matte rubber that’s become nearly omnipresent in Bluetooth speakers. (There is a Sol Jam model with an orange speaker grille, not seen here, which looks to add at least a bit of welcome color.)
Sol Jam’s sound is good, not great, for its size, and a bit disappointing for its price. The bass is fine — the subwoofer can actually shake the speaker across a flat surface — but the speaker lacks clarity compared to competitors, and certain songs can sound muddled at higher volumes. Based on sound alone, Sol Jam strikes us as more of a $80-$100 speaker. We also encountered a strange volume issue: while our iPhone could control the speaker’s volume just fine at first, that wasn’t the case in later tests. Pushing the speaker’s own volume buttons worked as expected, controlling the music — but the volume could no longer be controlled from an iPhone. Perhaps something minor was at fault with our unit, but we thought it was worth noting, as Bluetooth speaker users generally don’t want to have to be near the speaker to change the volume.
While we love Sol Jam’s great features, most of them aren’t that unique at this point, and regardless, the sound still comes first. So if this strikes us as a speaker that should be somewhere in the $100 range, is the solar panel enough to justify the extra money?
Consider this: it’s tough to quantify just how much a solar panel affects the speaker during real world use, especially when considering that you’re not seeing exact battery percentages. But let’s say Sol Jam does indeed provide a minor battery boost from nearby light sources. The speaker already has a battery that runs for 12 hours, which seems like far longer than you’d run Sol Jam, in even a few outings. (This isn’t a speaker we’d pick for a long outdoor party, for instance.) So any effect from the solar panel would arguably be negligible. If you’re still intrigued by the idea of extra backup power, Sol Jam is worth a look — it does have a number of noteworthy features. But its sound limitations restrain our overall recommendation.
Company and Price
Model: Sol Jam
Compatible: Bluetooth-compatible devices