Do you ever miss your old Sony Discman? Find yourself longing for that rounded, flat, vaguely ovoid shape? Well, you can have it — in a portable speaker. The new UE Roll is the smallest — and cutest — Bluetooth speaker yet from Ultimate Ears, and it takes over from the already impressive Mini Boom. Despite its small size, it actually sounds pretty damn good.
What Is It?
- Waterproof: Yes (IPX7)
- Bluetooth: Yes (4.0 LE)
- Wi-Fi: No
- Playback Controls: Yes
- Battery Life (claimed): 8 hours
- Charging: yes (microUSB 2.0)
- Ports: microUSB 2.0, 3.5mm stereo analog audio
The $149.95 UE Roll is a circular, flying saucer-shaped wireless speaker in the same vein as the original UE Boom and its Megaboom cousin. Packing in Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (but no Wi-Fi), the Roll is designed to pair with your smartphone or tablet — or laptop, if you're keen — and play your entire music collection wirelessly whether it's streamed from Spotify or Rdio or Apple Music or beamed directly from your device's local storage.
Ultimate Ears claims nine hours of battery life from the Roll's internal, non-removable, microUSB-rechargeable battery. It's waterproof too, as well as drop- and dust- and everything else within reason-proof. The Roll's standout feature, though, is the bungee cord stretched across its back panel — hooking into a curved section on the rear of the speaker's casing, it'll let you hang the little flying saucer from any of a huge variety of hooks and hangers and loops and other pieces of the world. I've spent a lot of my last week with the UE Roll with it attached to the MOLLE webbing on my Goruck backpack, just because it's possible. You know how a lot of those Beats Bluetooth speaker cases include a little carabiner? This is that, but on the speaker itself.
UE says the Roll has a Bluetooth 4.0 range of 65 feet — as near as makes no difference to 20 metres — and I'd say that that's perfectly accurate in a real-world test. As long as you have the speaker out in the open, you can definitely expect to move around a small house or an apartment with your smartphone or tablet without losing the connection. If you have double-bricked walls, thick concrete or a steel-framed house that will almost certainly change, but you'll still get Bluetooth coverage that should be more than enough for the average user.
Gizmodo Video Guide: Bluetooth speakers provide richer sound than your phone, so they’re perfect for parties at home or hanging out at the beach. And with brands like Beats, UE Boom and Jabra all competing for your dollars, there’s lots of attractive speakers to choose from.
Available in a bunch of different colours and graffiti patterns — I tested a red-on-blue one, but there's also red-on-black and yellow-on-purple as well as even funkier urbanThe UE Roll measures 135mm around its circular diameter, and is 40mm deep at its thickest point. At 340g, it's a little more solid than you expect from such a small speaker, but it's certainly not heavy considering the 300 gram weight of the Mini Boom it supercedes, as well as the 538g and 877g weight of its respective bigger Boom and Megaboom siblings. 360-degree sound is the Roll's calling card, according to UE — because it's a saucer-shaped speaker,
What's It Good At?
For a speaker with the UE Roll's internal dimensions — that is, not much — it actually sounds pretty damn good. It doesn't quite have the same lower bass extension that the Boom or Megaboom possess — both of which have an unreasonable amount of lower-frequency oomph for their size — but for the most part it's able to produce music that is well rounded and that doesn't sound tinny. It sounds its best at moderate to higher volumes; maximum power leaves its bass flagging slightly and at volumes near minimum you're restricted to mostly treble — enjoy it turned up to four-fifths of its maximum power in a small to medium room to get the most out of it.
Battery life, from the couple of charge-up and run-down tests that I've done so far, is right up there with UE's claims of nine hours of moderate volume playback. In fact, I pushed the Roll to one step down from maximum power and left it playing for over seven hours — when I checked in, it was still going. Charging over microUSB is quick, too, taking under an hour to recharge from nearly empty to completely full.
And it's waterproof, as is every other UE speaker apart from the Mini Boom. The Roll is IPX7 rated, which means it'll survive immersion in a metre of water for 30 minutes — and in practice it's more than sturdy enough to stand up to mist or rain or water splashed from a pool. It's a very well built speaker too, and while I wouldn't advise dropping it intentionally the Roll should be OK if you accidentally knock it off a tabletop or accidentally drop it down a flight of stairs.
It's also really fun to use; part of that comes from the accompanying UE Roll app (for both Android and iOS, I tested both with the Roll and found them to work identically), which has all the features you'd expect — it can adjust the speaker's volume, turn it on and off as you like (it'll let you turn it back on from switched off through low-power Bluetooth 4.0), set a bass-boosting (ignore) or custom (definitely do not ignore) equaliser, set an alarm, read the manual and update firmware at your leisure. But even the process of just turning the speaker up by tapping the oversized plus and minus buttons is a gratifying experience — just the feel of the buttons is great.
The UE Roll's retail pack is great — rip the sticker off the back and the speaker literally rolls out, and you also get one of Ultimate Ears' excellent flat, fluoro yellow USB to microUSB cables in the box. (No 2-amp USB wall charger, though, like the original UE Boom has.) I really like the fact that the Roll's packaging is entirely constructed out of a single sheet of waxed paper, too. It's not exactly a selling point, but the package itself is cool and really easy to dispose of. I'm definitely the kind of person that hoards gadget boxes, but for a relatively cheap speaker it's good to get rid of as simply as possible.
And, of course, it's worth mentioning that the UE Roll can be paired to a second identical speaker with the double-tap of the Bluetooth button or a couple of taps with the app; you can choose from Double Up mode which outputs downmixed audio across both devices and the Stereo mode that outputs individual stereo audio channels to each — left for the left speaker, right for the right speaker. If you're in a room where a single UE Roll (or Boom, or even Megaboom) is out of its depth, Double Up is a genuinely useful and fantastic-sounding feature that I think is probably one of the biggest selling points of the entire Ultimate Ears wireless speaker line-up.
What's It Not Good At?
For what is at the end of the day a small rechargeable Bluetooth speaker — even though it puts out a surprisingly large amount of surprisingly well rounded sound for its price — the UE Roll is an expensive piece of audio hardware. $150 is the asking price, which means it's really quite close to the original UE Boom in how much it'll cost you from your electronics retailer of choice. When the Boom is only a few dollars more expensive, I'd have to recommend that you choose it instead — it sounds better, goes louder, and has more bass as well as a longer battery life.
Unfortunately, the Roll doesn't include a built-in microphone and for that reason, you won't be able to use it as a speakerphone like previous models. This is slightly disappointing considering that's just what the Mini Boom was great at — a little desk-bound or portable Bluetooth speaker that you could also use for phone calls — but it's not a huge problem given that Ultimate Ears isn't shy about positioning the Roll and its other speakers as primarily music-playing and party-pumping speakers.
Ultimate Ears has a little floatie life preserver accessory built for the UE Roll that lets it float in a pool; this is an amazing little extra if you intend to use the speaker for a bit of poolside fun. There's only one problem — you only get it if you buy the Roll through Ultimate Ears' website. No word on whether we'll see it in Australian stores, but it would have been nice if it was just included in the box. In any case, you'll get one while stocks last if you buy through the Aussie online store.
It's also slightly slugged by Australia tax; the US$99 speaker costs $150 over here. That's not a huge premium over the roughly $125 direct currency conversion as of this review's original publishing date, but if you're thinking of buying one you will pay a small amount extra versus our American cousins. It's not really a big deal, to be honest, but we thought it worth mentioning.
Should You Buy It?
The $149.95 UE Roll is, all things told, a pretty impressive speaker. It has a lot of oomph for its size, and the fact that I have been comparing it with the significantly larger and heavier Boom is a huge point in its favour. It's a fascinating form factor for a portable Bluetooth speaker to be, mostly due to that snap-and-go bungee cord that lets you hang it or wrap it around pretty much anything.
Battery life is impressive too, because there can't have been much space within the Roll's chassis to fit in a cell of any significant size. You can find speakers with longer battery life, but as it stands the Roll will last for the entire length of a lazy Sunday picnic or a day in the pool, and that's what matters. It charges quickly too, if you end up having to give it some more juice in the middle of a playthrough.
If you need a small Bluetooth speaker, this is one of the best. It sounds every bit as good as the UE Mini Boom it supersedes, it's waterproof and sturdy, it has a good battery and good Bluetooth range. There are no huge problems with the UE Roll beyond a slightly premium price tag — which means that it's easy for me to recommend this alongside the UE Boom and Megaboom as a no-brainer set of small, medium and large Bluetooth speakers for you to get.