Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II review: Bose's Bluetooth speaker gets even better

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The Good For such a small, portable Bluetooth speaker, the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II sounds great and plays impressively loud without distorting. It also has a built-in rechargeable battery, an auxiliary input, a rugged design, and the option to swap out protective covers (one of which is included).

The Bad The speaker is somewhat pricey and has no speakerphone capabilities. Also, its battery life could be a little better.

The Bottom Line While the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II may no longer be in a class by itself, it's still near the top of the portable Bluetooth speaker category.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

The original SoundLink Wireless Mobile came out in 2011 and received an Editors' Choice Award from CNET because at the time of its release it delivered best-in-class performance from a compact, stylish Bluetooth speaker.

The new SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II, which looks virtually identical to the original model, includes new neodymium transducers and an updated digital signal processing algorithm that gives the speaker slightly better sound. Those modifications, plus a tweak to the design of the integrated protective cover/stand (it comes in leather or nylon) and the system's ability to now remember up to six devices for automatic pairing, are the key updates. In short, Bose has made an excellent portable speaker slightly better. But the landscape has changed, with competition in the high-end Bluetooth speaker realm now more fierce than ever, with products such as the $300 Jawbone Big Jambox.

As I said in my review of the original SoundLink Wireless Mobile, Bose seems to have taken a few design cues from Apple: along with the compact shape and clean, elegant design, the unit is equipped with a magnetic protective combined cover and stand that automatically turns the speaker off when closed. Not surprisingly, Bose is selling additional nylon and leather covers in a wider variety of colors for $30 and $50, respectively, in case you want to make a change later.

The new cover has a 'bi-fold' design. Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the Smart Cover for the iPad, the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile II's cover comes in two grades: nylon and leather. But you get the leather cover from the get-go only if you step up to the higher-end version of speaker, which costs an extra $50 and has what the company calls an "automotive-grade" chrome trim.

As I said, both versions of the cover have been slightly redesigned. The cover now folds in half (it has a "bi-fold" design). Instead of the whole cover flipping back to convert into a stand, you flip the cover back and fold it in half (you can also extend the whole cover back without folding it -- it works fine as stand in that configuration as well). I assume Bose went with the new cover design so you could prop the speaker up in narrower spaces without having the stand extend back those few extra inches. In any case, I liked the change and think it gives you a little more flexibility as far placement goes without sacrificing any stability.

The speaker from the side -- it's impressively compact. Sarah Tew/CNET

Now on to the speaker itself. The first thing you notice about it when you pick it up is that while it may be small, it's got some heft to it, weighing in at 2.78 pounds. It's 5 inches tall, 9.5 inches wide, and a scant 1.9 inches thick.

That depth -- or lack thereof -- is really the most impressive part of the design. But while the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile II speaker looks sleek, perhaps even a bit dainty, and would seem more suited to indoor listening, Bose has made a point of touting how durable and rugged the unit is. The company says it has extensively drop-tested the product, and even put it in a chamber and exposed to simulated salt-air fog. So, yes, this is designed to be a portable, outdoorsy product.

Like its predecessor, the speaker has a built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery that's rated for 3 to 4 hours of use at high volume between charges and double that at moderate volume levels. (Should the battery go dead a replacement battery is available through Bose's customer service department for $59.95).

Alas, Bose didn't increase the battery life in moving to 2.0 version of the speaker -- it still falls well short of the Big Jambox's rated battery life (15 hours). The Bose's battery life is more on par with the portable Apple AirPlay speakers I've reviewed -- and yes, Bose now makes an AirPlay unit as well, the SoundLink Air, which starts at $349.

The Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II has a wireless range of about 30 feet (I managed over 40 feet) and works with any A2DP Bluetooth-enabled device, which includes nearly all smartphones and most tablets, including the iPad. Around back you'll find a standard 3.5mm audio input for connecting (via an included cable) any other audio devices that don't offer Bluetooth, like an iPod Classic, for instance.

Rear of the speaker. Sarah Tew/CNET

I had no trouble pairing an iPhone 4S, a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, and an iPad Mini with the speaker. You simply hold down the Bluetooth button on top of the speaker and it goes into pairing mode. After you select "Bose SoundLink Wireless" from the Bluetooth setup menu on your phone or other device, after a few seconds you should be linked up wirelessly to the speaker and be able to stream audio to it.

In all, the connection was pretty stable, but I did run into the occasional hiccup. It was an instructive reminder that Bluetooth, like all wireless tech, just doesn't have the 100 percent reliability of a wired connection.

Another note: the SoundLink Wireless Mobile does not offer speakerphone capabilities the way the Jawbone Big Jambox does, for example. Could it someday offer that feature? Alas, no, considering there's no built-in microphone that I'm aware of. However, there is a Micro-USB port on the back of the speaker labeled "service," which is for firmware upgrades; Bose says it will offer software upgrades to make sure the speaker is compatible with future phones.

We should also mention that the SoundLink Wireless Mobile speaker doesn't come with a remote. That's because you shouldn't need one since you'll be able to control the volume -- and everything else -- from your smartphone.

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