Deck by Sol Republic portable Bluetooth speaker review: Slim size, big sound

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MSRP: $199.99

The Good The Deck by Sol Republic speaker's slimness makes it easy to slip into a bag for on-the-go use. It offers big sound for its size, has a "multiuser" Heist mode, NFC tap-to-pair support, and a built-in speakerphone, and comes with a simple but nice carrying case. It can also stream audio from up to 300 feet away from your device -- much farther than other Bluetooth speakers.

The Bad Should cost about $50 less.

The Bottom Line While it's priced about $50 too high, the Deck by Sol Republic is an appealing portable wireless speaker that delivers decent sound, a good feature set, and superb wireless range.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Sound 7
  • Value 6

Review Sections

It took a while for me to figure out what the new Deck Bluetooth speaker from Sol Republic and Motorola reminded me of. Then it hit me: my old clamshell carrying case for the Sony PSP.

Indeed, it's the same shape as the PSP and Vita, but beyond the portable-game-console similarities, its relatively flat design invokes a sportier, hipper version of the office speakerphone. The idea behind that design is that since it's so slim, the Deck slips easily into a bag, making it easy to take with you wherever you go.

I liked how it looked and it's pretty lightweight, weighing only 11.5 ounces. If yellow (aka "lemon lime" isn't your color, it also comes in red, blue, or simple black.

There are volume controls on the top of the speaker, as well a multifunction button with the Motorola label on it that pauses and plays your music, answers calls in speakerphone mode -- yes, there's an integrated microphone -- and also skips tracks forward and back. (That speakerphone performed well: callers said I sounded loud and clear on their end.)

The Deck fires upward and has a special boost mode for outdoor use. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Deck does have a few notable extra features. Like the Jawbone Jambox, it has voice prompts to let you know your device is paired and how full the battery is. And for those who have NFC-enabled devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Moto X that this speaker was launched with (Sol Republic and Motorola have announced a new accessories partnership that also includes headphones), you can tap the speaker with your device to pair them.

More interesting is the Heist mode. After you flip a little switch on the side of the speaker, shifting from single-user mode to multiuser mode, you and your friends can pair up to five devices with the Deck, each of which is assigned a different color LED. You can stream music from only one device at a time, but if you hit play on a second device that's connected, the Sol logo on the top of the speaker changes color, and that device takes over the music playback. Thus, the name Heist.

You flip a switch on the back to go into Heist mode. Also: the bottom of the speaker is rubberized to keep it from moving around while playing music (click on image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

The other feature worth mentioning is that the speaker has both an audio input and audio output, so you can connect an audio device that isn't Bluetooth-enabled or daisy-chain multiple Decks together to get bigger sound. You could also connect the speaker to a home stereo system using the audio output jack (separate cable required) and use it as a Bluetooth receiver. However, you can't combine two Decks wirelessly and have one be the left speaker and one be the right for true stereo sound.

One of the impressive things about the speaker is that it boasts much better range than your typical Bluetooth speaker. Sol Republic says it has a range of 300 feet, which is 10 times the 30-foot range that most Bluetooth speakers offer. I didn't trot off 300 feet, but I did set the speaker down on one side of our office and walk as far as I could to the other side of the office (it's probably a good 200 feet) and the sound didn't lapse. The Deck had the best range of any Bluetooth speaker I've tested so far.

Battery life is rated at 10 hours, which is fairly decent. At more moderate volume levels, you should be able to get through the day (by day I mean daylight hours).

The speaker's bass port (click on image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET