While we called out the Jawbone Jambox two years ago as overpriced and sonically underequipped, there was no question that the small, boxy $200 speaker landed in what’s known as a blue ocean — a segment of the market where there wasn’t a lot of direct competition. After repackaging Soundmatters’ pioneering small Bluetooth speaker foxL in a more stylish Yves Behar-designed enclosure, Jawbone aggressively marketed the Jambox in an increasingly diverse range of colors and textures, winning fans who were less concerned about the sonic performance for the price than its clean looks. Major and minor speaker makers alike took notice, and rushed various small wireless alternatives to market, trying strategies ranging from “same price, better performance” to “lower price, similar performance” and “lower price, lower performance.” Having covered many earlier and in some cases superior options in prior reviews, we’re taking quick looks today at seven new Jambox alternatives, all less expensive than Jawbone’s basic model. The prices range from $59 to $150, and though their shapes, features, and performance vary considerably, any one will save you at least $50 relative to the Jambox, and several markedly outperform it, too.
All of today’s speakers have several things in common. They’re all built primarily as Bluetooth wireless speakers with support for Bluetooth 2.0 and newer devices, which is to say that they’ll work in wireless mode with all iPads, all iPod touches and iPhones except the original models, and even the latest seventh-generation iPod nano—reliably at 30-foot distances, sometimes longer. Each has an auxiliary 3.5mm wired option if you needed it. Every speaker comes with a charging cable and has a rechargeable battery built in, with a run time of roughly 4 and sometimes more hours, though longevity is dependent on the volume level you pick. And finally, they’re all super portable: though their shapes are different, each could be placed in a purse or backpack with ease, though there’s variation in the resilience of the materials chosen by each developer, so some will emerge more unscathed than others.
iLuv’s latest option is called iSP202 MobiTour ($80), and as you might guess from these photos, it’s taking on the Jambox by radically undercutting its price and making some design tradeoffs. Roughly a half-inch longer than the Jambox and a quarter-inch taller at its peak, MobiTour uses an angular, entirely plastic design that ranges from a quarter- to a half-inch thinner in depth, appearing to be reclining when set on a flat surface. iLuv uses the extra surface area on its face to clearly identify three speaker drivers, and offers MobiTour in nine colors that are similar to options in Apple’s current iPod nano lineup. A micro USB to USB cable is included for charging the battery, which iLuv only claims lasts “for extended play.”
Between the unit’s plastic chassis, radiating dot pattern front, and heavily sticker-cluttered back, there’s no confusing MobiTour’s design with the classier Jambox—even the top volume and play/pause buttons are plain, with a simpler power switch to the side—but it’s clear that iLuv’s pitch is simpler. MobiTour performs audio at the same volume level as Jambox, but unlike JBL’s Flip, iLuv strips out the speakerphone functionality and some of the sonic depth to achieve an even lower price point.
Consequently, MobiTour sounds even closer to a pocket radio, with a flatter, midrange-focused presentation of songs that isn’t really noteworthy in any way. There’s modest stereo separation in what appear to be left- and right-channel tweeters, focused on treble, while the central driver is a midrange performer without any particular aptitude in bass. Songs that have a little low-end oomph on Jambox are basically flat on MobiTour; only high-pitched notes or beats stand out a little. This is a budget speaker that sounds like a budget speaker—below the Jambox in all regards, but a lot less expensive.
The two most appealing aspects of MobiTour are the variety of available colors and the low price, which push this model firmly into flat B territory. While the sonic performance isn’t great, iLuv’s price tag and cosmetic variety are so aggressive by small Bluetooth speaker standards that MobiTour is a viable option for highly budget-conscious users. It’s not the best little wireless speaker we’ve heard, but it’s one of the most affordable, and worthy of our general recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: iLuv (a unit of jWIN)
Model: iSP202 MobiTour
Compatible: All Bluetooth-Capable iPods, All iPhones, iPads