Grace Digital Ecoxgear Ecoxbt Bluetooth speaker review: Portable, waterproof, and pool-friendly
This sub-$100 portable Bluetooth speaker is waterproof, plays loud for its size, and has speakerphone capabilities.
Wireless Bluetooth speakers come in all shapes and sizes and cost anywhere between $40 and $500. At around $99, Grace Digital's weirdly named Ecoxgear Ecoxbt sits at a pricing sweet spot for the portable wireless speaker market, and while I wouldn't describe it as the most attractive speaker in the world, its design and features -- particularly its waterproofing -- are well suited for outdoor use. It also offers decent sound for its size and price.
Design and features
From afar, the speaker can look a little cheap. But pick it up and it gains some stature. First starters, it's got a bit of heft to it, weighing in at 1.58 pounds. And the speaker has a pretty sturdy feel. I particularly liked how the inside of the handles on each side of the speaker are sort of ribbed (there are a series of small humps inside the handle), making the handles easy to grip.
You can pick the speaker up with one hand or two, and it's easy to carry around. The Ecoxbt comes with a carabiner that you can attach to a small strap on the back of the speaker. You could then clip the speaker onto a backpack or perhaps even a belt loop, though it would look a little silly (and be a little uncomfortable) carrying this around on your waist.
This is a speaker that you can put in your luggage, but it's not nearly as compact as Jawbone's popular
The speaker, which comes in black, red, and orange trim colors, has a built-in rechargeable battery that offers 10 hours of battery life. The USB charging port (it's an older Mini-USB port, not Micro-USB) and auxiliary input (for non-Bluetooth devices) are hidden behind a removable door on the back of the speaker. The door has an O-ring to keep water out and must be pressed firmly into place after charging to keep any moisture out. A lanyard is included, like the lanyard you attach to lens caps on certain cameras, so you can attach the door to the handle to avoid losing it.
Aside from the waterproof design, the biggest extra here is speakerphone capabilities. There's an answer/end button on top for cell phone calls, and the microphone is on the front of the unit just below the speaker grille.
As far as other buttons go, you get volume controls but no transport controls (Pause/Play, Skip forward/back). Instead, you're expected to use the device's transport controls, whether it be a smartphone, tablet, computer, or other Bluetooth-enabled gadget.
Like all compact Bluetooth speakers, the Ecoxgear Ecoxbt has its limitations -- none of these small wireless speakers sounds truly fantastic -- but I think most people will be impressed by how loud the speaker plays. It puts out more volume than the smaller Jambox, but it doesn't sound as good. Despite its small size the Jambox delivers more bass and sounds a little cleaner. I also thought the JBL Flip, which is our current top choice for a sub-$100 portable Bluetooth speaker, sounds better (it, too, offers clearer, better-balanced sound).
Of course, speakers like the Ecoxgear Ecoxbt aren't exactly meant for critical listening, and it offers comparatively decent sound for the price. Really, its biggest drawback is that it sounds a little thin, particularly with bass-heavy tracks. So while the bass holds up well enough so long as you don't really crank the volume, it just seems a little restrained or clipped. I should also mention that while this is technically a stereo speaker, because the two drivers are so close together you get little to no stereo separation unless you're sitting 2 or 3 feet away from it.
Those knocks aside, as I said, the majority of people will think it sounds impressive for its size. As with all Bluetooth speakers, you will get some dropouts (the range for Bluetooth streaming is about 33 feet, but you'll do better or worse depending on your environment), but I only had a few during my listening tests using an iPhone 4S, iPad Mini, and Samsung Galaxy S3.
Speakerphone performance was fine, though you'll want to stay within a few feet of the speaker when talking or callers may say that you sound a bit muffled and ask you to repeat yourself.
The speaker's 10 hours of rated battery life is good for a compact Bluetooth speaker, and unless you're really blasting your music, you should be able to get through most of the day and perhaps even part of the night. The speaker sounds best at midlevel volumes, and since it's strongest in the midrange, it's going to do its best work with acoustical material and so-called "light" music.
I ran some Swedish House Mafia through it; it'll certainly belt the tunes out, it's just not going have much oomph to it, especially if you're sitting or standing a good distance (20 feet or more) away from the speaker.
But, hey, for background music at the barbecue, it's going to sound just fine. And I wouldn't be surprised if some of your friends are interested in picking one up after seeing and hearing it in action.
Grace Digital's Ecoxgear Ecoxbt is one of those products that's well-designed and well-priced for its target market -- namely, folks who want a fairly rugged, waterproof speaker that they can move around the house or take outside without worrying if it gets splashed on or even dropped in the pool. While critical listeners will find faults in its sound quality, it does put out a good amount of volume for its small size and is decent enough for casual listening.
All in all, while it's not exactly sleek, it is a likable wireless speaker that's easy to recommend at this price, particularly if you're looking for an outdoor-oriented unit with a waterproof design.