Bluetooth speakers

4 Bluetooth speakers: Improve your mobile sound

Today's smartphones and tablets still have less-than-stellar speakers. Try one of these for a better audio experience.

Bluetooth speakers

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Dimensions: 6.8 x 2.5 x 2.7 in.

Weight: 21.5 oz.

Price: $199.99

At first glance, the Jabra Solemate is the most traditional-looking of the four Bluetooth speakers reviewed here. However, if you look closer, it has some interesting details.

The 5.6-oz. device has a slightly boxy, rectangular design (6.8 x 2.5 x 2.7 in.) with rounded corners. A grille wraps all the way around, hiding three front-facing speakers and a rear bass panel.

Jabra Solemate
Jabra Solemate

One gets the idea that the Solemate was named by people with a sense of humor. The bottom of the speaker is ridged rubber, very much like the sole of a jogging sneaker. Embedded inside that rubber is a slim indentation that contains a 3.5mm audio-in cable; if your music source doesn't have Bluetooth, you can just pull out that cable.

The top of the Solemate has three buttons: one for volume down, one for volume up and a third that lets you answer and end phone calls. Surprisingly, there is no way to manually pause the music on the device.

Several more controls on one side of the speaker include a micro-USB jack (the device comes with a USB cable and a separate AC jack), a headphone jack and a tiny switch that lets you turn the device on or off or enable the Bluetooth. Two LEDs indicate the status of the Bluetooth connection and the battery level.

On the other side of the speaker, there is a small handle loop. The Solemate also comes with its own hear-through travel bag that lets you use the speaker even in inclement weather. It is available in either black or white; according to the company, you get up to 8 hours play time.

If you like devices that talk back to you, the Solemate is definitely the one to get. When you start up the Bluetooth, you get a rap beat and a male voice says, "Go ahead and connect me." The voice lets you also know when you've made the connection and, if you tap the answer/end call button, you get a verbal report on your battery status. At first, I found it a bit startling, but I must admit it's clearer than the usual code of beeps and buzzes that other devices use.

How did it sound?

I found the Solemate's sound to be clear and crisp, although it wasn't quite up to the standards of the Switch or the Pill, and some of the audio details that I got from the other two were slightly blurred here. Volume seems to bring out the best in the Solemate; when it got louder (and it could get very loud), the beat of the bass seemed to increase in relation to the music, and there was little distortion.

As a speakerphone, the Solemate performed adequately, although there were some digital drop-outs (not as much as with the Zooka, however). While I'm not sure I'd depend on it for long calls, it would perform adequately in a pinch.

Bottom line

The Solemate is a good Bluetooth speaker with a decent bass range and good sound, especially when it gets nice and loud. It is also a convenient travel speaker; it comes with both a protective bag and an embedded audio-in cable. However, I think it might be more attractive to buyers if the cost was slightly lower, especially considering the competition.


Although it's got a fun and innovative form factor, the Carbon Audio Zooka simply didn't have the audio chops to compete with the other three devices in this roundup. The sound from its two speakers was adequate, but not nearly as clear or deep as the other three. However, if you want a gift for an enthusiastic tablet user, and don't want to spend more than $100, you could consider it.

The Jabra Solemate did a fine job, and especially excelled at offering volume without distortion. It also provided a fine bass line, and I liked its design; if you occasionally use non-Bluetooth devices, the embedded audio-in cable is handy.

However, I think the two winners here are the Native Union Switch and the Beats Pill. In fact, I had a great deal of trouble choosing between them. Both offered very clear, sharp sound with good ranges and fine bass. The Beats Pill did a bit better at this last, so songs with a heavy background beat, such as the Blood, Sweat & Tears number, did really well.

On the other hand, the Switch was slightly clearer, so choral numbers with intertwining melodies, such as Bernstein's Candide finale, came off extremely well. I also felt that the Pill occasionally sounded a bit flattened with less bass-dependent orchestral numbers; but both did fine with quieter numbers, such as a single voice and piano.

So as far as those two are concerned, I would choose depending on what your needs are. The Pill's design is more convenient for carrying around than the Switch (even though it's slightly heavier), and if you want something to throw into your backpack or suitcase, this is the one to look at.

However, if you're looking for a speaker to use in a home office, I'd go for the Switch. It doesn't only offer fine sound (and is priced $50 less than the Pill), but it was the only speaker of the four that worked as a speakerphone without any digital glitches to get in the way.

Barbara Krasnoff is reviews editor at Computerworld. When she isn't either editing or reviewing, she blogs at The Interesting Bits ... and Bytes; you can also follow her on Twitter (@BarbaraKrasnoff).

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