JBL Flip 3 review: A top portable Bluetooth speaker for the money

For the same price you can get the UE Roll, which is totally waterproof and is another speaker I like a lot at this price. The Roll has a flatter design and is more outdoor-oriented (it doesn't have a speakerphone), but the two speakers sound somewhat similar. The Flip 3 plays a little louder, however.

I also compared the Flip 3 to the UE Boom and JBL's own Charge 2+, which has 15 watts of power. Both of those models sound a little fuller and offer slightly deeper bass.

The optimal listening distance for the Flip 3 is somewhere between 3 and 12 feet (1 and 4 meters) with the volume set around 75 percent. Going back and forth between the more expensive UE Boom, I found it disperses sound better over a wider area and sounds better than the Flip 3 when you're standing farther away from it. Of course, none of these small speakers offer much, if any, stereo separation.

The view from above. Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but with all these compact Bluetooth speakers, performance varies from track to track. Case in point: the Veronicas' "You Ruined Me" and "Untouched" tracks. "You Ruined Me," a rock ballad, is well suited to the Flip 3's strengths -- all these compact speakers tend to sound best in the mid-range. But the harder driving "Untouched" gets a little rough when the electric guitar kicks in and other instruments are playing. The UE Boom and Charge 2+ fare slightly better, but virtually all these small Bluetooth speakers distort when you crank the volume and hit them with bass-heavy or complicated material.

That's a bit of a long-winded way of saying these types of speakers aren't for critical listeners, but the majority of people will be impressed with how the Flip 3 sounds for its size, especially in places like the kitchen, the bedroom or in the backyard. We listen to a lot of these little speakers, and although we always find fault with them, some -- including this one -- perform better than others.

Conclusion

If you're comparing this model to the JBL Charge 2+, which costs around $30 more, that speaker's a little larger, weighing 600 grams as opposed to 450, sounds a little better, and has 2 more hours of battery life, as well as a USB charging port to juice up your phone. I rate the Charge 2+ a little higher, but if you want a more compact speaker and are also looking to save some money, the Flip 3's impressive for a small speaker at this price and well worth checking out.