Portable hi-fi speakers are all the rage at the moment. Syncing with your smartphone or tablet or notebook over Bluetooth, these battery-powered boomboxes are great for picnics, trips to the beach or on speakerphone duties (if you want to feel like Bosley from Charlie's Angels, at least).
Logitech-owned Ultimate Ears has a new wireless speaker out for just this purpose. It's called the Mini Boom, and as the name suggests, it's the mini version of the original Boom. Running over Bluetooth, the UE Mini Boom claims up to 10 hours of battery life during continuous music playback, with 15 metres' wireless range.
The speaker itself is very small considering its impressive battery claims. It's available in five different grille/body colours -- black/black, red/black, green/black, white/orange, and green/purple. We tested the black on black version, which looks great. The Mini Boom is very well constructed; the grille is sturdy, and the rubberised plastic shell does a good job of keeping away dust and dirt and grime.
The biggest difference the original Boom and the Mini is that the smaller version isn't waterproof. While it's definitely built strongly enough to survive a bit of punishment and throwing around, the Mini won't survive if you drop it in a swimming pool. Where you could seal the Boom with a port cover supplied by Logitech, the Mini has a rear microUSB port, 3.5mm jack and open-air bass port.
It's a slight pity that the Mini Boom isn't waterproof (and everything-proof) like its larger sibling. We really liked having the reassurance that wherever we took it and whatever we did to it, the original Boom would keep on playing; you'll have to be slightly more careful with the Mini.
The power switch is also a on/off toggle rather than a soft-press switch. What are soft-press are the Mini Boom's three top buttons: volume up/down, and the multi-mode Bluetooth control. Hold the Bluetooth button to enter device pairing mode, or tap it twice to connect a second Mini Boom for Ultimate Ears' nifty 'Double Up' feature: two wireless speakers playing the same music or audio.
Bluetooth range is rated to 15 metres (50 feet) by Ultimate Ears, and we'd happily back up that claim. We tried out the Mini Boom in a large house, and with the speaker in the most central room we were able to move all around the house with smartphone in pocket without the Bluetooth connection dropping out.
Similarly, battery life is good. We got to around eight and a half hours on the Mini Boom's charge straight out of the box, but after a full recharge and complete run-down, we measured just under 9 hours and 30 minutes of constant half-volume playback time.
Here's the best news: the Ultimate Ears Mini Boom sounds really great for its compact size (which is 111 x 67 x 61mm, and a hair over 300g). With a single Mini Boom speaker synced to your smartphone, there's more than enough sound to fill a small room or office, with a surprisingly deep extension for bass courtesy of the rear bass port.
The reproduction of higher notes isn't perfect, and bass can distort slightly at mid-high to maximum volume, but for 95 per cent of the listening we did, we were impressed with the Mini Boom's sound quality. It's slightly less impressive in a larger room at full power than in a more intimate setting, but it still gets the job done.
Compared to the elder statesman Boom, the Mini Boom definitely sounds quieter and less musical -- there's not as powerful a bass kick or as crisp a hi-hat crash -- but the difference is completely understandable given the two speakers' size difference and price disparity.
Where you can use a single Boom in a medium-sized room, you'll need two Mini Booms -- and that's where Logitech's Double Up mode comes in handy. Hook up a second speaker -- still over Bluetooth, so there are no fiddly cables needed -- and get twice the sound.
If you use the companion mobile device apps -- on both Android and iOS -- you're able to adjust various device settings, one of which is Double Up. When you hit Double Up (you'll need a second UE Mini Boom, obviously), you're taken through a short syncing process.
After the two speakers are hooked up wirelessly to each other, you're able to select between having one speaker play stereo left audio and one on stereo right, or having both speakers play exactly the same audio for a simple volume boost. The stereo mode works excellently if you have both speakers placed near each other, ideally in a left-right configuration -- it turns the pair of Mini Booms into a proper high quality portable audio setup.
There's a lot to like about the Ultimate Ears Mini Boom -- it's one of those devices that doesn't really do anything wrong. It does a great job of projecting clear, powerful audio, it's sturdily constructed, it's easy to use, and it's not even particularly expensive.
At $99.95 each, an individual Ultimate Ears Mini Boom isn't exactly going to break the bank. It'll have more than enough volume to suit most users, but if you need some extra sound, why not buy a second when you need it? We really like the Mini Boom, just as we liked the original. It's cheaper, more compact, lasts almost as long on a single battery charge, and sounds pretty damn good compared to other speakers its size.