Despite a glut of extremely similar options, there’s no sign that the ultra-portable Bluetooth speaker category will lack for new releases any time soon: hardly a week passes without one or two new alternatives hitting our offices for review. The latest to arrive is Jabra’s Solemate Mini ($99), which at 4.9″ wide by 2.1″ deep and 2.3″ tall is in the same “just bigger than pocket-sized” category occupied by id America’s TouchTone and Ultimate Ears’ UE Mini Boom, albeit with its own industrial design and sonic tweaks.
On paper, Solemate Mini could have been released by pretty much any company given its specifications. Offered in black or three bright primary colors, it has a rubberized top and bottom with a metallic central grille, mimicking the look and height of Jawbone’s original Jambox, albeit here with a narrower, deeper chassis. Two 1.4” drivers can be seen through its front grille, with a 3.5”-long by 1.4”-tall bass radiator behind a matching grille on the back.
Inside are a Bluetooth 3.0 wireless chip and an eight-hour active/three-month standby rechargeable battery, controlled by a power switch on the right side with adjacent micro-USB charging and auxiliary audio input ports. The most distinctive design touch is the bottom surface, which has tooth-like ridges and a reverse S-shaped channel that holds an included 3.5mm audio cable, should you want to use it without the Bluetooth feature. If it wasn’t for the bottom, which is also found on larger Solemate units, Solemate Mini would look so close to the aforementioned companies’ small speakers that it could be part of any of their families; there’s nothing else here that stands out in any way. A micro-USB cable is included for recharging.
Like UE Mini Boom, Solemate Mini has a spartan top surface: there are + and – buttons for volume, alongside a central Siri/Bluetooth pairing button. Rather than changing a track’s play/pause status, a quick tap of this button instead indicates Solemate’s remaining battery power via spoken words, while double-tapping redials an iPhone’s last telephone call recipient. While the three buttons otherwise work as expected, you give up the track controls found on TouchTone and some other speakers, a modest inconvenience. It’s worth mentioning that Jabra does include some amusing voice guidance for pairing — a man who sounds like he really wants to be your soul mate — along with some rock-like synthesizer music that’s seemingly straight out of the 1990’s. Like TouchTone’s George Takei-alike prompter, Solemate’s speech is better than bleeps and chirps, and good for a quick laugh during initial setup.
Sonically, there’s very little to say about Solemate Mini that hasn’t been said dozens of times before about functionally similar speakers. The drivers put out midrange- and bass-focused sound at volumes that are short of small-room filling, but adequate for hearing your music louder than any iOS device’s own speakers. Streaming lag is minimal, so voices in TV shows and movies sync up pretty closely with what’s on your device’s screen, and an integrated microphone works nearly as well for speakerphone calling as the ones built into current iPhones; callers noted only a slightly mechanical edge in the treble when we spoke. In direct comparisons, we noted that Solemate’s peak amplitude falls noticeably short of the top volume levels of both TouchTone and UE Mini Boom, a minus offset by Jabra’s somewhat warmer sound. Stereo separation is minimal, barely extending beyond the small unit’s edges.
Overall, Solemate Mini is a fine little speaker, but at a time when so many other options are available with similar pricing and performance, it doesn’t have much to stand apart from the pack. It says something that the biggest standout feature is the promised three-month standby time, which is to say that if you recharge it and come back to it a month later, you’ll have an atypically good chance of finding enough remaining power to use it for several hours of playback. On the other hand, TouchTone delivers a louder but similarly-sized speaker with more control functionality and less battery life at a lower $80 price point, while UE Mini Boom bests Solemate Mini with higher volumes, slightly superior active battery life, and a dual-device streaming mode for around $100. We’d call this design just good enough to merit our flat B rating and general recommendation: it’s a nice small audio system at a reasonable price, without any major surprises in the pros or the cons.
Company and Price
Models: Solemate Mini
Compatible: All Bluetooth-Capable iPods, All iPhones, iPads