When it comes to speaker design, the world of hi-fi audio can get pretty outlandish. Beyond the basic rectangle, you have speakers that look like pyramids, spheres, wavy towers, and flat planes.
But until now, there hasn't been one that looks like a traveler's coffee mug.
iCreation's SpeeCup is more than just a speaker. The 8.5-inch-tall casing also contains Bluetooth hardware, integrated play controls, and a battery with 20 hours of charge. The battery helps the SpeeCup's portability: I could use it in my car, then take it into a hotel or use it in my home.
When paired with a phone, the SpeeCup not only can play music, but also works as a hands-free phone system.
The curious design of the SpeeCup let it fit easily into my car's cupholder. Also of use in the car is the device's 1/8th-inch auxiliary output port. With an adapter cable, I could plug it into the auxiliary input port and have the SpeeCup's audio play over the car's speakers. However, in some cars the SpeeCup will prove too tall, getting in the way of the shifter and parking brake.
Set into the SpeeCup's side next to the audio output is a Micro-USB jack, which works as its charging port. iCreation includes a 12-volt power adapter with two USB ports in the end, so I could keep the SpeeCup and my phone charging at the same time.
Somewhat inconveniently, the power switch is inset in the base of the thing. When I wanted to power it down to save the battery charge, I had to pick it up and fumble for the switch, not something I would want to do every time I got in or out of the car. A button or switch on top would be more convenient.
Not that the top isn't already crowded with controls. A black plastic ring, which iCreation calls the SmartControl, includes buttons for pausing and playing music, and answering a phone call. The whole ring rotates slightly right or left to change the volume.
Inside the ring sit buttons for skipping music tracks and activating voice command. For the SpeeCup's neatest trick, it includes sensors for gesture control.
Gesture control is off by default on the SpeeCup, which led to many instances of me waving my hand back and forth over it, expecting something to happen like some failed magician. I merely had to hold down the back skip button to turn on gesture control, but this feature deactivated every time I switched the device off and on.
When gesture control was on, I could cause music to switch to the next track by waving my hand over the top of the SpeeCup. I could also make it answer an incoming phone call in similar fashion.
Of course, it was equally easy to push the buttons on the top to answer calls or skip tracks, but gesture control was more impressive.
Tapping the SpeeCup's top, dead center, activated Siri on my paired iPhone, and should also work with Samsung's S Voice Drive. The small microphone in the top of the SpeeCup did a good job of sending my voice commands to the phone, letting me request music by name, start navigation, and call my contacts.
The rotating ring volume adjustment is less successful, as turning it ended up turning the entire device. I easily memorized the positioning of the various controls so that I didn't have to look down at it while driving, but the orientation of the controls was thrown off when I moved the volume dial.
However, the volume dial didn't really come into play when I plugged the SpeeCup into my car's stereo through the auxiliary audio port, as I could just use the car's own volume control.
I was somewhat impressed by the SpeeCup's audio quality. Its small speaker, visible through ports in the sides of the SpeeCup, points upward at a dome, which radiates the sound waves outward. Another port lower in the casing serves for the bass reflex part of the speaker, not something most Bluetooth speakers offer.
Music playing through the speaker sounded rich and balanced, with good clarity from low to high frequencies. The sound is reasonably powerful for the size of the speaker.
However, as the SpeeCup only has a single speaker, it won't broadcast in stereo. As such it won't stage the sound or provide an immersive listening experience.
Compared with the many Bluetooth speakers on the market, the SpeeCup offers a nice set of features along with quality sound output. The gesture control feature is a neat trick on top of the standard buttons.
Designed like a travel mug, it fits well into a car. However, a Bluetooth adapter such as the Kinivo BTC450 or Gogroove Smartmini works as a more compact and less expensive way to connect a phone to a car stereo.
The SpeeCup's size also makes it a bit of a burden for carrying from place to place, and it will take up a chunk of luggage space when traveling. At about half the SpeeCup's height, the Philips SoundShooter Wireless is a better size for portability.