Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III review: The Lexus of Bluetooth speakers

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The Good The Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III sounds great for a compact Bluetooth speaker, playing louder than its predecessor and offering much better battery life. It also has a sleek and sturdy design, an auxiliary input, and the option to swap out protective covers (sold separately).

The Bad The speaker is pricey and has no speakerphone capabilities; requires dedicated AC adapter for charging (doesn't charge via Micro-USB).

The Bottom Line Though it remains somewhat pricey, the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III is a superlative portable wireless loudspeaker, improving on its already impressive predecessor.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Sound 9
  • Value 8

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth speakers are among the most popular -- if not, the most popular -- portable wireless speakers in terms of sales. Last year, the company launched the impressive $200 SoundLink Mini, a micro model, and now in early 2014, it's revamped its larger portable Bluetooth speaker, releasing the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III ($299.95).

The III is similar in size to the previous two generations of the speaker but changes its design, and improves its battery life, and according to Bose it also plays louder and sounds better.

The SoundLink III is slightly wider than the previous versions, measuring about 5 inches high, 10 inches wide, and 2 inches deep, and weighing in at 3 pounds. The original SoundLink Mobile Speaker, which came out in 2011, and the SoundLink Mobile Speaker II both offered around 8 hours of battery life. The new model ups that number to 14 hours.

Earlier models had a built-in cover that converted into a stand. However, the SoundLink III does away with the integrated cover and as with the SoundLink Mini, you can purchase an optional accessory cover for $34.95 in various colors. In other words, if you want some added protection, it'll cost you.

Design and Features
I liked the design of the early SoundLink Bluetooth speakers and liked how the cover converted into a stand. Bose hasn't fundamentally changed the look of the speaker, but it has straightened out its lines, and the new model has a flat base (previous versions had a slight angle to the base and you had to use the cover/stand to prop up a speaker).

Once again, you're left with a speaker that has a clean, elegant design and seems sturdy and well-built. While it's a bit pricey at $300, at least it looks and feels like a premium product.

If you're using the speaker indoors and not moving it around all that much, you probably don't need the optional cover. But if you plan on taking it outdoors -- it works well out on the patio or by the pool -- the cover is a good idea and it's well designed, with a zipper on the side to make it easier to get on and off the speaker (the cover for the Mini is a little hard to get on and off quickly).

The SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III wearing the optional $34.95 cover, which comes in multiple colors.

Pairing with my Bluetooth test devices proved to be a smooth process and the speaker will remember your device after the initial pairing (it will automatically pair when you turn it on so long as you have Bluetooth enabled on your device).

For better or worse, you don't get much in the way of bells and whistles. The speaker has some on-board buttons for controlling volume, muting the sound, switching to the auxiliary input (no cable included but you can connect non-Bluetooth devices to the speaker this way). However, there's no pause/play button or transport controls (skip forward/back) on the speaker itself and it doesn't come with any sort of remote so you'll have to use your Bluetooth device to control everything. For the majority of people that won't be a problem, but some people like to have at least a pause/play button on the speaker.

The speaker has no pause/play button or transport controls and doesn't have speakerphone capabilities.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In the past, Bose has eschewed such extras as a built-in speakerphone, aptX and near-field communication support for devices that support those features. I personally don't see any use for NFC tap-to-pair in these types of speakers (you pair once, and then it pairs automatically afterward, so who needs NFC?). And aptX, which is supposed to make music streamed over Bluetooth sound better, doesn't seem to make a significant difference with a speaker this small. But some people really do want the speakerphone capabilities. I also like it when these speakers have a USB port for charging devices (you use the speaker's battery to juice your device).

It's worth mentioning the charging situation. Like its predecessor, this model uses an AC adapter for charging. There's a Micro-USB port on the back, but it's just for future firmware upgrades, not charging. The downside to having to charge the speaker with an AC adapter is that you have to carrying it around with you and if you end up losing it, you have to get a new one rather than just use another common Micro-USB cable for charging.

As noted, Bose says the new speaker sounds better than its predecessors. The speaker is equipped with four neodymium transducers and dual-opposing passive radiators which, according to Bose, "combine with a new digital signal processing algorithm and improved electronics to play louder than its predecessor, while maintaining balanced and natural sound at higher listening levels." Got that?