Beats Pill review: Mini Bluetooth speaker with some pop

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The Good The Beats by Dr. Dre Pill is a portable Bluetooth speaker with striking design, good sound and volume for its size, decent battery life, and speakerphone capabilities. It has tap-to-pair capabilities for NFC-enabled smartphones phones, Apt-X technology, and line inputs and outputs. It also comes with a nice carrying case.

The Bad The Pill is somewhat pricey, and Apple iOS 6 users may encounter an unacceptable amount of Bluetooth hiccuping. The speaker doesn't acquit itself terribly well with big bass tracks from artists like Dr. Dre.

The Bottom Line The Beats Pill outperforms the Jawbone Jambox and has a couple of intriguing extra features, but the speaker is overpriced at $199.

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6.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 7
  • Value 5

In recent months I've reviewed several compact, portable Bluetooth speakers and the list of Jawbone Jambox competitors just keeps growing. One of the higher-profile entries in the field is the $199 Beats by Dr. Dre Pill, which, needless to say, looks like a pill -- the capsule kind, anyway.

While it wasn't without a few glitches, its striking design, strong sound for its size, and some extra features, such as tap-to-pair NFC (for smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 that support near-field communication), an audio output, and Apt-X technology, help set it apart, though it is overpriced.

Overall, I found the 10.9-ounce Pill, which comes in three colors (black, red, white) to be one of the better-designed mini portable Bluetooth speakers out there. It's slightly bigger and heavier than the Jambox and I liked its cylindrical shape -- it fits nicely in hand. The product ships with a quality carrying case and the Pill stows away in your luggage or backpack easily enough. It's a little bulky for laptop bags, though it'll fit fine so long as you're not toting around too much stuff the way I typically do.

Available in black, red, or white, the speaker comes packaged like a pill. Sarah Tew/CNET

Not surprisingly, the bottom of the unit is rubberized to help keep it from moving around when you crank the volume and fire up a bass-heavy track. In my tests, it stayed in one place even at higher volumes.

The Beats Pill speaker has got some pop.
The Pill has a total of 4 drivers and plays loud for its compact size. Sarah Tew/CNET

As noted, the Pill has a couple of extra features. Like the Jambox and the Jabra Solemate, it has a built-in speakerphone. If a call comes in while you're streaming music to the speaker, you can hit the "B" button on the front of the speaker to take the call and the music will pause.

The speaker has both an audio input and an output. Its built-in rechargeable battery charges via USB. Sarah Tew/CNET

The aforementioned tap-to-pair NFC feature, which I tried with a Samsung Galaxy S3, sounds better than it really is because it only saves you a few seconds of setup time, if that.

The speaker in its protective carrying case. Sarah Tew/CNET

As for the Apt-X technology, it's supposed to enhance audio fidelity, but I personally had trouble telling the difference in sound quality when I streamed from the Apt-X-enabled Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 4S, which doesn't have Apt-X.

The final feature worth highlighting is the Pill's connectivity. It charges via USB and has both an audio input and an audio output. Most of these little portable speakers have an input for connecting non-Bluetooth devices, so no biggie there. But the audio output is kind of interesting. It allows you to connect the speaker to AV receiver or amp and stream audio wirelessly from your computer or mobile device to the Pill, which then outputs sound to your home audio system. In other words, the Pill can be used as a pass-through Bluetooth receiver. I'm not sure how many people will bother with this feature since this is first and foremost a mobile speaker. But it may appeal to some folks.