Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker review: The wireless speaker Apple could have made

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12

The Good The Bose SoundLink Mini is a very sleek, very compact wireless Bluetooth speaker that sounds very good for its small size. It also has excellent build quality, with a unibody aluminum enclosure, and includes a charging cradle that you can leave plugged in.

The Bad Fairly pricey; no speakerphone capabilities; protective case costs extra.

The Bottom Line While it's fairly expensive at $200, the Bose SoundLink Mini is one of few standout products in the ultracompact wireless speaker category, featuring a top-notch design and very good sound for its tiny size.

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

Editors' note: As of June 2015, this product has been discontinued and replaced by its successor, the Bose SoundLink Mini II. The new model keeps the same list price while adding longer battery life, speakerphone support and replacing the proprietary AC charger with one that's compatible with standard micro-USB cables.

It's a good thing Bose has its logo splayed across the front of its new ultracompact wireless Bluetooth speaker, the SoundLink Mini, because if it didn't, you just might think it was made by Apple.

There's something very "i" about it -- and not just the Mini that's part of its name. Perhaps it's the unibody aluminum enclosure that surrounds the two small drivers and front and back radiators. Or the fact that at 1.5 pounds it feels considerably more substantial than many of the tiny all-plastic Bluetooth speakers now on the market. Whatever it is, this is a sleek-looking, very compact wireless speaker.

It also happens to sound good. For what it is, anyway. After all, there's only so much sound -- or shall I say quality sound -- that you can get out of a palm-size speaker. But as a whole there are enough enticements, including a bundled charging cradle, to make you overlook the small drawbacks, namely the lack of speakerphone functionality and a somewhat high price tag.

Design and features
As with its larger SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II, Bose is targeting a broad audience with this product, and the Mini is designed to be very simple to use, with clearly labeled buttons on the top. Like all Bluetooth speakers, it will stream audio wirelessly from virtually any smartphone or tablet, plus any Bluetooth-enabled PC or audio player. The speaker remembers up to six devices, so you'll only need to sync each one once. Your device should automatically pair again with the speaker if it's in range with Bluetooth activated and the speaker is turned on.

The SoundLink Mini has a very clean and simple design. Sarah Tew/CNET

I liked that the unit comes with a desktop charging cradle. You can also plug the included AC adapter directly into the unit, so you don't have to take the cradle with you when you travel. However, it does not charge via USB, so you do need the AC adapter (the prongs on the adapter fold flat, which is helpful, but it's still another accessory you have carry around with you). On the plus side, speakers that require charging from an AC adapter tend to be more powerful and output more sound.

While the cradle is a nice extra, everything else will cost you. Bose is selling protective sleeves for a whopping $25 each, and a carrying case will set you back $45. I didn't test the carrying case, but the sleeve, which comes in a few different color options, is nice. It doesn't quite protect the whole speaker, but most of it -- and the nice thing is that you can still charge the speaker in the cradle without removing it from the sleeve.

The back of the speaker (sitting in the charging dock). Sarah Tew/CNET

In terms of connectivity, there's an auxiliary input on the side for non-Bluetooth devices as well as a Micro-USB port on the back for potential firmware upgrades.

I really liked the whole look and feel of the speaker, but like Bose's step-up SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II, it has no integrated speakerphone, which is too bad. I find it a little weird, only because the unit looks like it's made to sit on a bedside table or home-office desk, where it would come in handy as a speakerphone. For most people this won't be a deal-breaker (I suspect Bose has done its market research and determined that the speakerphone is an underused feature in Bluetooth speakers), but this is a must-have feature for some consumers.