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Thursday, August 28, 2014

In Which I Review the Mini Jambox Bluetooth Speaker I Got for Free

Posted by Ned Lannamann on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 11:44 AM

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The Mini Jambox from Jawbone—An Affluent American Lifestyle Gadget Review™

I've been skeptical of bluetooth speakers—not for any audiophile reasons, but just because I couldn't ever think of a situation where I'd need one. I spent a bunch of time and effort wiring my home for sound, including the back deck, and I can control what's playing via wifi, whether it's a dusty record on the turntable or a brand-new album streaming from Spotify on my phone. It's a pretty slick setup, and it's exactly what I wanted in terms of what I could afford, cobbled together from older speakers and components and a pretty versatile amplifier. But when a rep from AT&T emailed me and asked if he could send me a Mini Jambox for review, how could I say no?

The Mini Jambox is the newer version of the Jambox, a portable, reasonably powerful bluetooth speaker that made a splash when it debuted a few years ago. The Mini is smaller, of course, but from what I can tell, not much of the power has been sacrificed. Having not been a bluetooth-speaker user prior to scoring the Mini, I can't really compare it to its bigger brother—or to other bluetooth speakers in general—but I can say that, as a skeptic, I was quickly swayed into the advantages of portable speakers in general, and the Mini Jambox in particular.

First of all, it's stupid-easy to use. You basically turn the speaker on, switch on bluetooth on your phone or iPad, and they find each other. This makes it easy for your friends to connect with it, too, so they can easily play you something special they've got loaded on their phone. When you turn it on, the Mini Jambox makes this incredibly satisfying electronic "whhhhhhWOOSHHHPKFFFF" sound that's loud enough to make the speaker rumble in your hand. It's kinda sick.

Secondly, it's very portable. It's six inches long, just under an inch deep, and two-and-a-quarter inches tall. It fits easily in my pocket, although the corners are kinda sharp. It's not the best-looking thing in the world, but at least it doesn't have a logo splashed across the front. Its looks are unobtrusive, which trumps flashy.

The real question, though, is the sound. And the sound is: fine. It's fine! Music sounds totally fine. The bass is fine, the treble is fine, the clarity is fine. Considering how small it is, that's more than satisfactory. Would I ever pick it over my house speakers? No. But in the past few weeks of using the Mini Jambox, it's already become indispensable.

It was perfect for trips to the beach, absolutely perfect. The sun, sand, and salt didn't seem to do it any harm. It was just loud enough to be heard over the crashing waves but not loud enough to bother anyone else on the beach. I didn't hit the river this year, but I imagine it would do just as well there. Camping? Yes, although the battery lasts about 10 hours or so. Basically, any outdoor excursion will allow it to shine.

And no, it's not super loud. I would love it if you could make it a couple clicks louder. But the advantage is that it's never too loud (I'm super aware of disturbing others, especially when listening to music). I've started using it in the car, too, to listen to streaming podcasts, and it's great there, too. (Again, it could be just a little bit louder.) It's also a speaker phone and I imagine it would be super handy in the car for that reason, too, although I haven't used it.

I've also started to bring it into the bathroom for shower-times. The bathroom's the one room in my home I forgot to wire (damn it!) and the radio I have in there has the problems that all radios in Portland have—namely, that Portland radio sucks. (Cannot wait for XRAY to start broadcasting on 107.1 later this year.) I've found uses for the Mini Jambox that I didn't anticipate, and its ease of use and extreme portability allow me to recommend it without reservation.

There's an app to download, which I didn't download (the reviews are horrendous) and there's a way to sync two speakers to get some actual stereo separation, but you'll need to make an account on the Jawbone website, so screw that. If you're trying to get sparkling stereophonic sound, the Mini Jambox isn't the way to go. I signed into nothing and downloaded nothing, and I like everything I can get from this thing.

No, it won't replace a proper pair of good speakers. No, it probably shouldn't be your only audio option unless you're really strapped for space (and money, although the Mini Jambox isn't super cheap—it's got a reduced price right now, but is still a little spendy). It might be a fantastic choice for kids to listen to stuff in their bedrooms. And if you're got even one river or beach trip left this summer, you'll want to bring along someone who's got one of these.

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