Not content with just releasing new in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones, both wired and wireless, Bose also has a new rechargeable speaker. The SoundLink Colour is a compact, powerful, portable Bluetooth speaker that isn't without its compromises, but does a great job for actually playing music and other audio wirelessly from your smartphone.
What Is It?
- Bluetooth: Yes (3.0)
- Inputs: 3.5mm stereo analog audio
- Playback Controls: Yes
- Waterproof: No
- Battery Life (claimed): 8 hours
- Charging: microUSB (cable included)
The $179 SoundLink Colour is a compact Bluetooth speaker, measuring 128mm x 134mm x 53mm and weighing a solid 570g, available in five colours -- the standard white and black, as well as more fashion-forward red, blue and pastel green. The red is definitely the most attractive in my book, while the black is probably the most professional and will retain that classic Bose resale value.
While it's not waterproof, Bose's newest portable Bluetooth speaker -- available alongside the also-portable, also-Bluetooth SoundLink Mini -- is very sturdily built, with a thick scuff-proof plastic shell. The buttons on top of the speaker, of which there are six for power, Bluetooth, auxiliary input, play/pause and volume, are finished in a soft and compliant rubber. There are four small rubber feet on the SoundLink Colour's base, because while you can rest it on its rear while playing music, you'll get the best sound out of it when it's upright.
Charging the SoundLink Colour's integrated 8-hour lithium-ion battery is done over microUSB, and below that port is a single 3.5mm auxiliary stereo audio input, giving you direct access to the Colour's speaker if you don't want to use Bluetooth or you're connecting a legacy device. With such a non-audiophile speaker, you're constrained by the quality of its speaker driver rather than the connection you're using, but it's nice to have the choice of the two.
What Is It Good At?
I never expect the world from Bluetooth speakers, or from portable speakers at all, but I came away from my time with the Bose SoundLink Colour quite impressed. For such a small speaker -- its enclosure is only 53mm thick -- the sound that it puts out is well rounded, albeit not incredibly loud. There's a good amount of mid-bass and it's matched well to higher notes that aren't especially piercing but are part of generally detailed sound -- not the clearest and crispest you've heard, but more than detailed enough to make your Spotify playlist sound good while you're at the beach or out on a bushwalk or in your short-stay hotel room.
The Bose SoundLink Colour has voice prompts that tell you when the speaker is connected to your smartphone (switch it on and within a second it reports "connected to Xperia Z3 Compact", or "connected to LG G3", or whatever your phone's Bluetooth name is), when it's disconnected, when it's running low on power, and so on. While you could do the same with a complementary app or with a display on the speaker itself, the voice prompts make sense in practice and work well. The synthetic voice isn't Siri-grade in quality, but it gets the job done nicely.
Bose has got the sizing of the SoundLink Colour just right, too. It's just small enough to be carried with one hand, it's small enough to slip into a backpack, and it's small enough to sit on a crowded bookshelf or bedside table or in any of those innumerable nooks and crannies around your house, but it is big enough at the same time to produce some quality sound.
It's a small thing, but having physical buttons, clearly labeled and simply organised and easy to comprehend, is honestly such a breath of fresh air. Bose has a really refreshing attitude of keeping its products simple -- critics would suggest too simple -- that means that anyone can pick them up and use them with no effort or explanation or complicated induction process whatsoever.
What Is It Not Good At?
Bose only rates the SoundLink Colour at 8 hours of playback, and I got around the same result in testing -- maybe half an hour less. This is an OK result, but considering that the UE Boom gets 15 hours, the competition is pretty stiff. Charging takes around 3 hours, which is acceptable but not especially fast at the same time. You'll get a full day's playback out of the SoundLink Colour, to be fair, and that's all that most people will want.
The SoundLink Colour isn't especially expensive, but it is a premium product thanks to that Bose branding and as such you will pay a few dollars more than roughly comparable products from competing marques like Ultimate Ears, Jawbone, Braven and Sony. It's not a huge price disparity, but it's worth doing a bit of research into other Bluetooth portable speakers around the $150 to $200 price point and seeing which you like the best overall.
Bose has engineered the SoundLink Colour for distortion-free playback and to retain its sound signature at all volume levels, with the trade-off that while it can extend to quite loud playback -- medium-room-filling audio -- it won't play as loud as some of its strongest competitors. It also misses out on those competitors' ability to hook up a second speaker in stereo over Bluetooth, doubling your audio and doubling the soundstage and immersion of your music. It's not as versatile as the best of the best, but Bose's philosophy of not doing too much is evident in the SoundLink Colour's features list.
Should You Buy It?
The Bose SoundLink Colour is surprisingly cheap for a Bose product, coming in at a middling $179 RRP. You won't find it much cheaper around the big-box retail stores -- this is Bose, after all -- but it's squarely in the realm of the UE Boom and the Jawbone Jambox with which it competes on sound quality and quality of design and construction. These other choices are pretty damn competitive, but Bose keeps up with the Joneses.
If you wanted to pick a feature that helps the SoundLink Colour stand out from the crowd, it's the voice prompts. Knowing immediately when you're connected may not seem like the sexiest thing, but it's helpful. The overall feel of the speaker, too -- the quality of the buttons, the timbre of the sound, the feel of the plastic -- is top notch. It's standard high quality Bose fare.
If the Bose brand name holds special cachet with you, or if you like its design, or its mix of sound quality and voice prompts and other features, then the SoundLink Colour becomes even more enticing than it would otherwise be. I'd suggest you compare it head-to-head with other Bluetooth speakers when making a decision on which to buy, but rest assured that the SoundLink Colour sits up there with the best of the best.