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Beats Pill review: Mini Bluetooth speaker with some pop

While it costs slightly more, the $199 Beats Pill outperforms the Jawbone Jambox and has a couple of intriguing extra features.

David Carnoy
David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
5 min read

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.


Beats Pill

The Good

The <b>Beats by Dr. Dre Pill</b> 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.

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.

The speaker up close. Sarah Tew/CNET

From a sound standpoint, the Pill is comparatively quite decent. It plays very loud for its size -- it can fill a small room with sound -- and offers relatively detailed sound (notice the use of the word "relatively") with respectable bass compared with other tiny speakers in its class. You can augment that bass a bit by moving the speaker closer to a wall or place it in a corner so you get some reflection.

I compared it with both the Jawbone Jambox and the Jabra Solemate and it offered slightly better sound than both. It was clearer and had tighter bass than the Solemate and played louder than the Jambox with less distortion at higher volumes. Speakerphone performance was also good.

Despite that praise, the Pill does have its limitations. By that I mean it just doesn't have the dynamic range of larger speakers, so it will roll off the low end (read: flatten it out) and like a lot of these small speakers it's strongest in the midrange, so it comes out sounding best with lighter fare and acoustical material.

I should also point out that while this is designated as a stereo speaker, since the drivers are so close together you get little to no stereo separation, though the speaker's onboard digital processing does its best to make you think the speaker sounds more open and spacious. I got the best sound by sitting 2 to 3 feet away from it and it serves as a perfectly capable laptop or desktop speaker. I also thought it sounded good with movies; I paired it with an iPad Mini and a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

Battery life was decent, not great. I got around 6 hours at modest volume levels. You can do better at lower volumes or worse if you really crank the speaker.

The one performance strike I found against the speaker was that it occasionally cut out on me when I was using it with the iPhone 4S. While I got the occasional Bluetooth hiccup using it with a couple of Android devices, it completely disconnected on me a few times with the iPhone 4S and the connection was generally unstable. I reset my phone and it got a little better, but I still ran into problems. I think this is due to a glitch in iOS 6 where Apple upgraded its Bluetooth profile to the latest version and possibly created a Bluetooth bug so to speak (manufacturers may be forced to upgrade their firmware). Hopefully, this issue will be addressed with a firmware upgrade, or perhaps an iOS upgrade.

The Pill has a lot going for, but also some drawbacks. The Pill has an impressive design, sounds a bit better than certain competing products, has a strong feature set, and its accompanying carrying case is nice. However, I did encounter some hiccups during playback with my iPhone 4S. That's could very well be an Apple's software issue (it worked fine with a Samsung Galaxy S3), so I'm not ready to blame Beats. But it was still a little disconcerting.

Ultimately, my bigger gripe is that it's overpriced at $199.99. Since the Pill came out, plenty of new mini Bluetooth speakers have hit the market, and such products as the JBL FLip at half the price are much better deals. Also, the $199 UE Boom is a superior product, with significantly better sound, a water-resistant design, and better battery life.

So while I still like the Pill, I just don't think I'd pay $199 for it.

Editor's note: When it was first reviewed, the Beats Pill received a score of 3.5 stars. But with new products hitting the market that offer better performance for the money, we've lowered the rating to 3 stars.


Beats Pill

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 7Value 5
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