BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker review: Distinctive design with weak sound

BlackBerry’s new $99.99 Mini Stereo Speaker connects to smartphones over wireless Bluetooth, is compact, and clips to clothes, but delivers wimpy sound.

Brian Bennett

Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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The BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker doesn't look like your average Bluetooth wireless speaker. Crafted in the shape of a U, this tiny Bluetooth smartphone accessory can be pinned to shirts, bag straps, and other articles of clothing so you can enjoy phone audio out loud and with your hands free. The gadget also functions as a speakerphone for hands-free calls. At $99.99, however, the speaker isn't exactly an impulse buy. Also, other portable speaker systems such as JBL's Flip deliver much better sound for the same price.

BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker

BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker

The Good

The <b>BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker</b> is small and easy to carry, and has a unique clippable design.

The Bad

The speaker is expensive and its sound lacks bass, richness, and clarity.

The Bottom Line

The BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker has an interesting clippable shape, but at a price of $99.99, other portable audio devices are a better deal.

The clippable BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker (pictures)

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Design and features
I can't deny that this gadget has a pretty unconventional design. Unlike typical Bluetooth speakers, which tend to be boring rectangular boxes or drab cylinders, the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker is shaped like a clip.

BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker
The BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker can be fitted to bag straps and other clothing. Sarah Tew/CNET

The idea is to use the speaker's U-shaped body to slide it onto bag straps, shirt collars, or other items of clothing. Once it's attached, you can easily listen to music and other audio in stereo while on the move, or conduct hands-free calls since the device also doubles as a speakerphone.

You charge the speaker's rechargeable battery via a Micro-USB port, and the gadget has a line-in 3.5mm audio jack to connect non-Bluetooth devices. The only physical controls are a power switch, volume buttons, and a Play/Pause/call key.

A Micro-USB port for charging and a 3.5mm line-in jack. Sarah Tew/CNET

Weighing just 3.5 ounces, and tiny enough to fit in the palm of the hand, the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker is highly portable. At its compact size it's effortless to carry, whether stowed in a bag, clipped to a strap, or even stuffed into a large pocket.

Setting up the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker is a simple process. I just flipped on the power switch and made sure my BlackBerry Z10 test unit's Bluetooth radio was activated and in discoverable mode. After scanning for the speaker in the phone's list of nearby Bluetooth devices, I paired and connected the two gadgets in seconds.

Unfortunately, the tradeoff of the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker's tiny stature is that it lacks the audio muscle of bigger wireless speakers. With small drivers and a minuscule chassis, the Mini Stereo doesn't have the space to develop much richness or depth of sound. As a result, music played through the device was tinny, muddy, and flat. Volume did get fairly loud, but there was no bass to speak of, a shortcoming I especially noticed listening to dance, electronic, and rap tracks.

The Speaker features a volume rocker as well as a Play/Pause button that doubles as a call key. Sarah Tew/CNET

By comparison, audio piped through the JBL Flip had much more oomph in terms of bass, stereo separation, and volume. High, mid-, and low frequencies were more balanced, too, when stacked up against the BlackBerry Mini's brash, lifeless frequency response. To be fair, though, the Flip's footprint is about three times the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker's.

Using the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker to make calls gave mixed results. On my end, voices sounded surprisingly rich and warm. People I was speaking with, however, described my voice as thin and muffled. They also complained that I sounded distant, particularly when I used the device clipped to a chest-level bag strap.

One bright spot in the speaker's performance, though, is its long battery life. BlackBerry claims the device will provide up to 16 hours of talk time and can stream music for as long as 14 hours on a single charge. In my experience, after an initial charge the speaker persevered through my entire weeklong test period, which consisted of light use (a few hours a day), without needing a recharge.

I won't deny that the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker is ultracompact and has an interesting design that sets it apart from other wireless speakers. Still, the primary task of any audio system is to produce sound that's pleasing to the ears. Unfortunately, this accessory falls short in this crucial regard. Sure, its battery has admirable longevity, but for $100 there are other, much better-sounding options.

I also have doubts about the practical appeal of the BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker. I'm not sure who would want to blast tunes or make calls via a bag strap, or even where or when you would do this. The best possible use that springs to mind is for a cyclist looking for a way to listen to music and make calls without relying on headphones. If you plan to use your portable speaker for entertaining a group, then I suggest opting for either the aforementioned JBL Flip ($99) or Logitech's UE Mobile Boombox ($99.99). Both of these produce fuller, more booming sound for the same price.

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