When Jawbone released the Big Jambox, it was the first big tech brand with a super-sized wireless speaker to up-size from the original Jambox. Then Ultimate Ears jumped onto the bandwagon with the Boombox. Now, Beats has its own plus-size Bluetooth speaker, taking the design of its original Pill and giving it a serious dose of steroids. If you want to go big, the Beats Pill XL is the Bluetooth speaker to choose.
What Is It?
- Speakers: 2x 20mm tweeters, 2x 50mm woofers, 1x passive radiator
- Wi-Fi: No
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Connectivity: NFC, 3.5mm in & out, USB 2.0
- Dimensions: 338x104x104mm, 1.49kg
- Warranty: 1 Year
The Pill 2.0 lays out the basic philosophy and feature-set behind the $399 Pill XL, so if you're considering a Bluetooth speaker that's a great place to start reading. Basically, the Pill XL takes the rechargeable battery-powered, stereo-speaker, Bluetooth-and-NFC design of the Pill 2.0 and makes it larger, with dedicated woofer drivers alongside two outward-facing tweeters, a bass radiator at the back, a significantly larger battery, and an integrated carry handle.
The design of the Pill XL is going to be divisive. I happen to think it looks like a Baywatch flotation device, but other Gizmodo office dwellers seem to like the oversized Beats logo, smoothly curved edges and the integrated handle, which has two cutouts for you to get your hand in, and the lower cutout also functions as the base of the speaker itself.
Since you'll be primarily connecting to the Pill XL over Bluetooth, the vast majority of your controlling will be done directly through your smartphone, but if you want to tap away directly at the Pill there are a couple of buttons to make yourself aware of. The central Beats logo is actually a button in itself, in the same way that the centre clicker of your iPhone or Android wired headset is — tap once to pause, once again to play, twice to skip forward, thrice to skip back, and so on. Around the back, you'll find touch-sensitive volume up and down.
A Beginner's Guide To Portable Bluetooth Speakers For Your Phone Or Tablet
At almost 1.5kg, the Beats Pill XL isn't exactly light, but at the same time it's a fair bit lighter than its competitors. It doesn't come with a carry case, which is a bit annoying, so expect it to get a bit dusty and dirty if you take it out and about. Annoyingly, it charges over a dedicated AC charger rather than microUSB, so you can't charge it off the same cable as your Android phone or tablet or Wi-Fi hotspot. Ports at the back, hidden behind a rubberised port cover, include a full-size USB output to charge your phone or tablet, as well as 3.5mm input and output jacks. You won't need these every day, but they'll come in handy.
What Is It Good At?
Being larger than most of the other mainstream Bluetooth speakers out there, Beats has bestowed the XL with a sound quality advantage purely because of its extra mass and extra enclosure capacity. The Pill XL's sound quality is, for its size, good. It's very much a Beats product, and that means it's heavy on the treble and heavy on the bass, with a minor mid-range hole that might leave some music ringing hollow — but this is a device that begs to be turned up to 11 to compensate, further boosting those especially high and low notes.
This is a speaker that sounds best when you're playing electronic or dance music; anything with a strong repetitive bassline, the lower frequency the better, sounds excellent with the sonic power of the Pill XL behind it. The passive bass radiator at the back of the XL works in concert with the twin woofers to extend surprisingly low frequencies for a portable speaker and for a cabinet of its size, and the tweeters, which are positioned on the outer edges of the Pill's length and fire outwards, create a relatively wide soundstage for a single-speaker system. The bulk and power of the Pill XL is roughly equivalent to two UE Booms in Double Up stereo mode, although that kind of a setup has a wider stereo image thanks to its flexible positioning.
The battery of the Pill XL is much, much larger than the diminutive Pill 2.0's, and that means it's able to run twice as long — 15 hours — while producing much more expansive sound at better quality and at a significantly louder volume. If you're willing to sacrifice some of that battery life, you can charge an external device like an iPhone or Android phone via the rear full-size USB port, provided you have a cable handy and provided you don't mind the relatively slow charge rate compared to a wall socket.
The Pill XL improves on the standard connectivity of Bluetooth with NFC, as well as 3.5mm analog audio jacks for both input and output. That means that you can hook up a device that doesn't have Bluetooth to play directly through the XL, or you can hook up a second Pill XL through a daisy-chained output-to-input connection, although you won't exactly get a stereo image. Of course, a 3.5mm cable is included in the box along with Beats' other excellently built accessories.
What Is It Not Good At?
I had some issues getting the NFC working correctly on the Beats Pill XL. If you're the kind of power user that switches between devices regularly, NFC can sometimes be a boon — for easily switching between different Bluetooth connections, for example. In my experience, where some phones work with the Pill XL's NFC flawlessly, some are a little more finicky; the LG G3 only connected over Bluetooth around half the times I tried it where the Samsung Galaxy S5 worked every single attempt. Your mileage may vary, but in my testing it was imperfect.
That same NFC connection can be used to pair two Beats Pill XL speakers wirelessly — tap the corresponding speakers' NFC tags against each other and sit back until the music sorts itself out. I had similar teething issues to the phone-speaker connection, where the connection between two Pill XLs didn't work every time, but with a little bit of effort, trial and error, it eventually happened.
Not having a microUSB charger is probably the Pill XL's biggest flaw, in my opinion. Having to draw a fair bit of power to charge, I can understand the preference for a bespoke connector, but with high-amperage USB chargers like the Oppo Find 7's 25 Watt wall wart becoming more popular, I would have much preferred the microUSB standard be used and for said Pill XL charger to be able to hook up and fast-charge a compatible smartphone or tablet. It's a minor concern, but it would have been extra convenient.
I should probably write a form paragraph for this for all Beats (and Bose) products, but the Pill XL is expensive. Probably a little more expensive than its sound quality and features otherwise justify — you're definitely paying for the Beats brand name as well as the actual content of the Pill XL's character. Whether that extra price premium is completely worth it is up to you — I think I'd be willing to pay a small premium for that trusted name, but probably not all the way to the Pill XL's $399 RRP. If you can find it at a slight discount somewhere, it becomes better value and an easier purchase.
Should You Buy It?
The $399 Beats Pill XL is the Pill 2.0 writ large. It has largely the same feature-set, and its battery life is similarly good but not great. For its size, and equally given its size advantage, it produces powerful sound — more than enough to fill a medium-sized room with impressively loud and musical audio. It also has that Beats hallmark of especially bass-driven music; there's plenty of high-end extension but this speaker is an easy sell for anyone into their beat-driven electronica and dubstep.
There are a few issues with the Pill XL's connectivity, namely the fact that it requires a bespoke and bulky AC charger and can't charge itself over the microUSB connector of other Beats speakers and headphones. NFC also wasn't perfect in my testing, not working with every phone and occasionally failing to pass through a Bluetooth connection. You do get 3.5mm input and output, though, which comes in handy for legacy devices.
If you're looking for a large and portable Bluetooth speaker, though, the Beats Pill XL acquits itself well and should definitely be part of your shortlist. It is quite expensive, but that's largely a function of its size and all-in-one nature. For listening to music, especially the bass-heavy tracks that the yoof of today like, it is a surprisingly good speaker.