While it costs slightly more, the $199 Beats Pill outperforms the Jawbone Jambox and has a couple of intriguing extra features.
In recent months I've reviewed several compact, portable Bluetooth speakers and the list of
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
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.
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.
As noted, the Pill has a couple of extra features. Like the Jambox and the
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.
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.
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
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.