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Sony SRS-BTV5 portable Bluetooth speaker review:

Wireless ball speaker just misses the plate

I can't say I was wowed by the sound from the SRS-BTV5. Not that it sounded any worse than many of these compact ball speakers, but I was disappointed it didn't sound any better. Yeah, you get more sound than you'd get from your smartphone or tablet speakers, but it was still fairly restrained and thin. I'm sure that someone who hasn't heard a lot of these tiny speakers will be impressed with just how much sound it's capable of producing for its size. But it just doesn't distinguish itself from the pack.

The slider switch on the bottom of the speaker puts the unit into pairing and NFC modes. sarah Tew/CNET

In my tests, I put it up against the Philips Sound Shooter Wireless, which has similar features (except no NFC), but costs around $50 (it seems to only be available in Apple stores at this time). The Philips clearly sounded better, offering more bass and fuller sound. It, too, has speakerphone capabilities.

As for the speakerphone on the SRS-BTV5, it sounded fine, and this would make for a good little speakerphone to have on your desk. It does offer significantly louder and clearer sound than the internal speakerphone on smartphones.

As I said in the intro, I had some trouble with the NFC, even after closely following the instructions, which tell you to download the free NFC Easy Connect app from the Google Play store. I tried it with a Samsung Galaxy S3 as well as a Sony Xperia T phone (I tried the Sony phone with and without the app installed).

On several occasions, the phone seemed to pair using NFC, but the sound kept coming out of the phone's speaker, not the SRS-BTV5. I tried NFC with both a black SRS-BTV5 and a white SRS-BTV5 and failed. What was frustrating was that it seemed to come close to working, but then it didn't. Finally, after about 30 minutes of trial and error, I gave up.

I was able to manually pair the speaker with a Samsung Galaxy S3 and a Sony Xperia phone. I also paired it with an iPhone 4S and an iPad Mini without a hitch (no iPhone offers NFC at this time).

The microphone and call end/answer button for speakerphone calls. Sarah Tew/CNET

At the end of the day, I didn't care that much whether I could pair with NFC or not -- it might save you a few seconds -- but it should work. Of course, you can blame the user (me) for screwing something up -- and that may well very be the case -- but I'm just reporting my experiences with the product. Others may have better luck with NFC.

The SRS-BTV5's strengths are its design and feature set. It's an attractive little wireless speaker that takes up little room in a bag and is an improvement over the speakers in your smartphone, tablet, and even many laptops. It seems well built and offers speakerphone and NFC capabilities.

Alas, while it sounded fine for what it is, it didn't sound better than all the other little ball speakers out there, some of which cost less. For example, the Philips Sound Shooter Wireless sounds superior and costs $50. Despite my problems with the NFC, I liked the Sony SRS-BTV5. I just think you can do a little better for your money.

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