Beats by Dre's new Pill+ was already in development before Apple bought Beats last year for $3 billion, but the new Bluetooth portable speaker, which hits stores in November for $230, does leverage some Apple technology: Like the iPhone, it charges with an included Lightning cable.
If you own an Apple iOS device that means carrying around one less cable. How Android phone owners will feel is unclear, but Beats says the Lightning cable and power supply provide a "quick full charge in just 3 hours." Battery life is rated at 12 hours, up from the 7 hours the original Pill provided.
The sound is also improved. I ran some test tracks through the Pill+ during a preview demo in a hotel room in New York and it performed very well for a compact speaker, playing louder than the original Pill with better clarity and tighter bass.
It's slightly larger than the original and Beats reps told me the driver design is new and the "tweeter and woofer separation uses the same acoustic mechanics found in professional recording studios around the world."
Alas, I wasn't able to whip out a JBL Charge 2+ , UE Boom 2 , or Bose SoundLink Mini II to do any sound comparisons, but Beats reps hinted that the product's engineers were very familiar with the competition and had designed the speaker to offer superior performance.
However, with all Bluetooth speakers this size there's only so much performance you can get out of them. While the Pill+ is designed to minimize distortion at higher volumes, you'll still get some distortion with certain tracks, particularly complicated tracks with a lot instruments playing at the same time.
As with the previous Pill models, the Beats logo on the speaker doubles as a pause/play button and you also get volume controls and speakerphone capabilities. And like the original Pill, this model has a USB out port for charging your portable devices, as well as an audio input for connecting non-Bluetooth devices.
At the demo, Beats also showed me its upcoming Beats Pill+app for iOS and Android devices. Using the new app, two users can simultaneously connect their smartphones to the speaker and alternate playing music (Beats calls this DJ mode, a feature available on a few other Bluetooth speakers).
You can also wirelessly pair two Pill+ speakers to augment the sound or create a stereo pair for dedicated left and right playback. (With the old Pill you paired two speakers by "bumping" them together using NFC tap-to-pair technology. But with this new model you pair exclusively via the app). The app has a fuel gauge that shows the battery life of each connected speaker.
The big question is whether the Beats Pill+ is worth its $230 price. That's a lot to pay for a portable speaker, though premium "mini" Bluetooth speakers like the UE Boom 2 and Bose SoundLink Mini sell for around $200.
While Beats has yet to announce international pricing and availability, the Pill+ hits U.S. stores -- including apple.com and other Beats retailers -- in November. We should have our full review up before then.