We weren't such big fans of Beats' original Pill, but the company's jumbo-size model is well-designed and performs much better.
Editors' note (June 3, 2015): Apple and Beats have recalled this product due to an overheating problem. Our list of best Bluetooth speakers has plenty of great alternatives in the meantime.
First, an apology. We're a little tardy in reviewing the Beats Pill XL, the bigger brother to the standard Beats Pill Bluetooth speaker. Part of the reason for that may have been that I was underwhelmed by the original Pill , which was decent enough but cost too much ($200) when it was released a while back.
Thankfully, the Beats Pill XL, which lists for $300 but retails for about $270 (£260 UK, AU$400) online in a variety of color options, is a far better-sounding speaker.
While it obviously isn't as compact as its little brother, it weighs a manageable 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) and has a built in handle that makes it easy to carry around. It's really a nice design feature. I also liked the pause/play button in the middle of the speaker. It looks like a harmless Beats logo, but in fact, it does something.
You get volume controls on the speaker, though no controls for skipping tracks forward or back. You'll have to do that from your Bluetooth-enabled phone or tablet. And yes, even though Beats is now owned by Apple, this speaker works with Android and Windows devices.
Additional features include NFC tap-to-pair technology for phones that support it, a USB charging port and speakerphone capabilities (the speakerphone works pretty well but isn't business-grade). There's an audio input, plus an audio output that allows you to daisy-chain additional speakers.
Unlike the standard Pill, the XL, which appears to use Bluetooth 2.1, doesn't support the AptX codec, but in my book that isn't a big deal.
If you can afford two of these guys, you can sync two Pill XLs together and augment the sound or turn one into a left speaker and the other into a right speaker for stereo sound. (I didn't test this because I only had one Pill XL, but I've done it with two standard Pills and they paired without a hitch).
Battery life is rated at 15 hours, which is good, and the speaker will automatically turn off after 10 minutes of no signal detection to conserve power.
The only real strikes against the speaker are that it doesn't come with any sort of carrying case and that it requires its own AC adapter to charge up, not a standard Micro-USB connection. But those certainly aren't deal-breakers, as somewhat larger portable speakers like this tend to require AC power to charge and often don't come with a carrying case.
The speaker produces big sound for its size with strong bass and decent clarity, though it's somewhat hyped in both the bass and treble. It has that happy-face sound profile that's so popular these days and does best with R&B, EDM, hip-hop and acoustic material, though it isn't terribly warm in the midrange.
I ran a bunch of tracks through it and depending on what you're playing, it can go from sounding very impressive for its size to sounding not so good, but that's par for the course for these types of portable Bluetooth speakers, even premium priced ones.
Most importantly the sound compares favorably to other premium portable Bluetooth speakers in the $250-$300 price range. It did well with stuff like Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," One Republic's "I Lived," Usher's "I Don't Mind" and Sam Hunt's "Take Your Time."
When I turned to more rock-oriented tracks with more instruments playing at the same time, it just couldn't resolve the music and sounded pretty crunchy (that's another way of saying it had some harsh moments). The Smashing Pumpkins' "Being Beige" got rough when the electric guitars kicked in, and the same was true of The Bleachers' "Wild Heart," which is a tough track for most Bluetooth speakers, as is Vampire Weekend's "Diane Young."
On the plus side, the speaker didn't distort much, even at higher volumes, and does a decent job limiting certain frequencies when it gets pushed too hard. However, sometimes you can hear the speaker holding itself back a little to avoid distorting.
All that said, while this speaker isn't going to impress audiophiles, it plays loud and produces a lot of bass for its small size, and most people will be pretty wowed with what it's capable of. I don't want to sell the average listener short, but these types of speakers aren't meant for critical listening, their meant to be easily moved around, whether it's from room to room or from the patio to the beach. And for what it's designed for, it performs very well.
The combination of the Pill XL's strong sound, excellent design and feature set make it a reasonable value despite its elevated price tag. I wouldn't call it a steal, but it's a very likable portable Bluetooth speaker.