Picking out the best portable bluetooth speaker for you

Jambox in the garden
Photo source: abrackin on flickr

Portable bluetooth speakers are great for playing music wirelessly from your phone or iPod touch (4th gen and above) in the car, outside, while on a trip in the hotel room, or in any room of the house. However, there are a TON of portable (rechargeable battery within, that is) bluetooth speakers out there, and unfortunately not a lot of information to help make the decision on which speaker to buy. So make sure to check out a few features below before picking out a portable bluetooth speaker to pair with your phone or iPod.

Features to look for:

  • Replaceable battery. A few speakers offer this nice option, and some even use a common cell phone battery that you can find (cheaply) on Amazon or eBay. Examples: GOgroove SRC, Nokia Play 360
  • Built in microphone. Yes, since these are bluetooth devices, they oddly enough often have a microphone built in as well for use as a speakerphone.
  • Long battery life. Battery life can vary a lot from speaker to speaker, so watch out, and check out the reviews to see how long the battery might last. Of course volume and music choices may change battery life as well, so buyer beware.
  • USB charging. Phone low on juice? Plug it into the… speaker? Yes, that’s right, some offer back-up charging for your phone if need be. Examples: TDK Life on Record A33
  • Warranty. When looking at speakers, you may notice that some come from basically unknown companies. Probably not the best choice, but even those often will have a 1 year warranty included. However, if you want some sort of peace of mind, pick a well-known brand, like Nokia, Cambridge Soundworks, Jawbone or Monster (yes, I am recommending Monster oddly enough — just please don’t buy their overpriced cables). Examples: Nokia Play 360, Jawbone JAMBOX, Monster Micro Clarity, OontZ by Cambridge SoundWorks
  • Size. Bigger is often better when looking at these small speakers, however, it often comes with a bigger price to boot. If you extend your budget to the $200+ range, you can get a large, still portable, bluetooth speaker that sounds great. Example: Jambone BIG JAMBOX
  • Price. Ah yes, price, the constraint that keeps us from owning one of everything (not a bad thing!). Price can vary drastically, although often (but not always) price increases with size and build quality. So as the saying goes, you get what you pay for — just make sure you’re not overpaying (check slickdeals.net or fatwallet.com for a hot deal before buying).
  • Great reviews (4 stars of 5 stars at the least). Unfortunately since many of these have not been on the market longer than even a few months, so it really is hard to know which speaker will be the best, durable speaker. Or even a speaker that won’t die after light usage. Nonetheless, check out Amazon reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations for now, or wait until a few of the cheap brands die off in the next year before making your choice.

Feeling overwhelmed yet? Well, that’s the nature of the game with new technology, and portable bluetooth speakers are new technology. Luckily they’re fun devices to have around. So either pick a cheap option and expect to upgrade in a year or two (or when it breaks unexpectedly), or spend the dough to go with a name brand that will replace your speaker for yours when or if it breaks.

All options under $99 (in no particular order!):
Anker Portable Bluetooth 4.0 Speaker (handheld size)
V7 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker and Stand
EasyAcc 2nd Generation Bluetooth Speaker
JLab Crasher Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Urge Basics Soundbrick Bluetooth Stereo Speaker w/ Built-in Mic
The OontZ Angle Ultra-Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker by Cambridge SoundWorks
The OontZ Ultra-Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker by Cambridge SoundWorks
Logitech UE 984-000298 Mobile Boombox Bluetooth Speaker and Speakerphone
Photive CYREN Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker with Built in Speakerphone & 8 hour Rechargeable Battery
Bem HL2022D Bluetooth Mobile Speaker for Smartphones
a.m.p SP1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker
HMDX Jam Plus Portable Speaker
GOgroove BlueSYNC EDG Portable Bluetooth Speaker with Wireless Stereo , Rechargeable Battery & Blue LED Accent
mPulse GO Rechargeable Portable Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Speaker Box with 3.5mm Aux Port
Gear4, Inc. StreetParty Wireless Portable Speaker for Any Smartphone with Bluetooth
Monster ClarityHD Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
CHIL ChilBox Bluetooth Speaker with Speakerphone
GOgroove BlueSYNC SRC Portable Bluetooth Stereo Speaker
Nokia Play 360 Bluetooth Speaker

Options usually over $100 (also in no particular order!):
Sony Bluetooth Wireless Speaker system
TDK Life on Record A33 Wireless Weatherproof speaker
Jawbone JAMBOX Wireless Bluetooth Speaker (note, this is the smaller one)
Jawbone BIG JAMBOX Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
Grace Digital GDI-EGRX607 ECOXGEAR – ECOROX Rugged and Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
Beats by Dr. Dre Pill Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
Braven BZ625BGB 625s Wireless Bluetooth Speaker/PowerBank
Native Union SWITCH Bluetooth Speaker
Monster Micro Clarity Bluetooth Speakers

Our favorite pick around $50: Photive CYREN 
It’s a great price, sounds decent (for a small speaker), has great reviews, looks nice and solid, although there are some reliability issues (as there is with most portable speakers, even the higher priced units) — arguably they’re less reliable in part because people carry them everywhere. But at under $50 (the lowest I have seen it is $29.95), you can buy a new one in a year or so without breaking the budget.

 

Our favorite pick at any price: Jawbone BIG JAMBOX
If you want something nice and hefty that will fill a room with solid sound (but still wireless), the BIG Jambox is your best friend. The only issue is the price, which is pretty hefty in the ~$250 range, but as they say, you get what you pay for — and you definitely get a lot more “oomf” at this price point.